Groundwater — Countries in the region are withdrawing water from underground reservoirs faster than it can be replenished. Pictured here: Crop circles in Saudi Arabia draw on groundwater for irrigation. Groundwater — Libya relies on its subterranean aquifers. Since , the Great Man-Made River -- a network of underground pipes -- has carried groundwater from southern Libya to places like the Ajdabiya reservoir, pictured here, on the northern coast. Desalination — To overcome water scarcity and meet increasing demand, MENA countries have long been producing their own water.
A popular method is to separate salt from seawater in a process called desalination.
Desalination — MENA accounts for nearly half of the world's desalination capacity, according to World Bank calculations , making it the largest desalination market in the world. Desalination is widely practiced in the oil-rich nations of the Gulf, at plants like this one in Qatar.
Desalination — According to the International Desalination Association , more than million people around the world rely on desalinated water for their everyday needs. Desalination — But desalination in the Middle East has a significant environmental cost because it relies on energy-intensive thermal desalination plants. Waste left over from the process is often discharged into the sea and can damage marine ecosystems.
Here, discharge from a plant in Kuwait flows into the Persian Gulf.
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Wastewater treatment — Another nonconventional water resource is treated wastewater. Wastewater is typically recycled at treatment plants, like this one in Jordan, for use in irrigation. Wastewater treatment — Physical, chemical and biological processes are used to remove contaminants from wastewater.
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Wastewater treatment — However, according to a World Bank report , 57 percent of the wastewater collected in MENA is returned to the environment untreated. Cloud seeding — The United Arab Emirates has invested in another solution to tackle the water problem -- rainfall-enhancing technology called cloud seeding. During cloud seeding missions, aircraft eject salt crystals from flares mounted on their wings to stimulate condensation and the growth of water droplets.
The salts used for seeding are "no more toxic than table salts," she added. Rainwater harvesting — Rainwater harvesting is another low-cost solution in the region whereby rainwater runoff is collected, filtered and stored for use. Such measures have been used for millennia in the region, according to the World Bank. Tanks and cisterns -- such as this one in Yemen -- provide important supply sources for many rural and urban communities. Confronting 'absolute water scarcity'. Water scarcity has been a challenge for hundreds of years in MENA. Today, rapid population and economic growth, shared water supplies across borders, and the effects of climate change including frequent droughts, declining rainfall and high evaporation rates have significantly impacted water supplies in the region, according to the Arab Regional Report.
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A total of 13 countries in the MENA region fell under the benchmark for "absolute water scarcity" in , as per the latest available data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Countries suffer from absolute water scarcity when their annual water supply from natural sources drops below cubic meters per person to satisfy household, agricultural and industrial needs. Seven of these countries facing absolute scarcity are found in the Arabian Peninsula, known for its fierce desert climate and minimal precipitation.
As a result, some countries are consuming much more water than they can sustain. Related: Is this the Arab world's next 'great city? Unsustainable water use occurs in areas where water is taken from rivers and underground layers of rock saturated with water, known as aquifers, at a rate faster than it is replenished by rain, according to the World Bank report.
Middle East faces water shortages for the next 25 years, study says
Consequently, a small percentage of water diverted from agriculture would yield abundant quantities for all other uses at little cost. Removing ha ac from irrigation would provide 50 litres There is, however, great resistance to the reallocation of agricultural water in most government agencies, particularly those concerned with food production and "food self-sufficiency. In this case the water reallocated from agriculture can be replaced by importing food that would have required considerable irrigation if grown locally. Moving away from water-based sanitation to dry toilets will save considerable amounts of water in the future.
Water losses in municipal systems continue to be very large and could be greatly reduced by better maintenance and management of the systems. Conservation of water in households and industry can also be useful. Finally, pricing of water remains a powerful tool that can be used to help implement the reallocations between water users and to stimulate improved efficiency of water use. Establishment of tradable water rights and markets for water along with privatization of the water-supply utilities would also go a long way toward achieving a less-water-constricted future. The solutions described above are typically characterized as "demand-side" options.
Unfortunately, most of the current proposals are still linked to what are called "supply-side" options. For example, the large-scale Libyan diversions from the Nubian Aquifer are designed to increase the supply to the coastal cities at huge expense without requiring Libyans to face up to the real environmental costs of supplying the water. Apart from additional investment in desalination for urban or industrial users, the era of supply-side development has all but come to an end in the region, and it is unrealistic to expect that any such megaprojects will be economically and environmentally sustainable.
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