Access to water is a growing problem that is only set to be exacerbated by climate change. Of the 33 countries that are expected to face extremely high water stress by 2040, nearly half are in the Middle East.
That’s the sobering conclusion of a recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI). The WRI measured future depletion of water in 167 countries by 2020, 2030, and 2040. Researchers used climate models and socioeconomic scenarios to rank countries that are expected to experience water stress by 2040. Of the 33 likely most water-stressed countries in 2040, 14 were in the Middle East, which included Bahrain, Kuwait, and Palestine. Nine countries in the Middle East were considered “extremely highly stressed,” with researchers giving them a score of 5.0 out of 5.0.
The 33 countries that are likely to face extremely high water stress by 2040. Credit: World Resources Institute
This is particularly worrying as a number of these countries are already the least water-secure in the world. Researchers wrote in a blog for the WRI website that the Middle East faces “exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future.”
The world’s demand for water will increase over the next few decades and researchers say it’s unclear as to where all the water will come from. Supplies are likely to be strained as the world population increases, more people move to cities and as an emerging middle class place a growing demand on water-intensive food production and electricity generation.
While violence and political turmoil might be of bigger concern for some, researchers report this is intimately linked with water shortages. The report suggests that water shortages likely contributed to the 2011 Syrian civil war.
“Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilization,” researchers note.
Global superpowers, such as the United States, China and India, should also be concerned about water shortages. The report predicts that high water stress will remain constant through 2040 in all three countries. More specifically, the southwestern U.S. and China’s Ningxia province could see an increase in water stress by 40% to 70%.
“The good news... is countries can take actions to reduce that stress and the risk associated with how they manage water resources,” Betsy Otto, director of the WRI's Global Water Programme, told Reuters.
One recommendation Otto makes to reduce water stress is for countries to recycle waste water. “It doesn't make a lot of sense to treat water to a potable standard, allow it to be used by households and then essentially throw it away,” Otto explained.