03/24/2022, 13.18
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UN warns water crisis in the Middle East is getting worse

North Africa is also affected. The water problem compounds food supply problems (primarily wheat) caused by the war in Ukraine. UNICEF ​​notes that the situation will get worse. Long-standing structural problems have compounded the emergency. Risk is highest in Yemen and the Gaza Strip; in the latter, the salinisation of aquifer is becoming a serious issue.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released on Tuesday,[*] World Water Day, a dire warning concerning water shortages in the Middle East and North Africa.

The water crisis in some parts of the region is becoming increasingly alarming – especially in Yemen and the Strip of Gaza, already under huge strains – compounding the risk of hunger exacerbated by the crisis in stocks caused by the war in Ukraine,

“Water scarcity is only going to get worse in this region,” said UNICEF’s regional climate change adviser, Chris Cormency, citing the effects of climate change.

Long-standing structural problems are aggravating the local water emergency, since “nearly half of the water is unaccounted for or lost in leakages” due to weak water systems that do not adequately preserve water being pumped. 

The crisis, which goes back decades, has remained unresolved. An August 2021 report by UNICEF stated that groundwater has been over-used to meet agricultural needs, starting in the 1970s, when motorised pumps were introduced.

Since then, the problem has worsened as a result of "inadequate governance arrangements, including weak water resource management policies and a lack of regulation.”

Internationally, on average agriculture uses 70 per cent of water, but in the Middle East and North Africa, the figure is up to 80 per cent according to the UN agency.

The World Resources Institute confirms the emergency. In a 2019 study, it found that 11 of the 17 countries most at risk are in the region: Qatar, Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman.

In Yemen, the disruption of public services, especially healthcare and water management, has triggered large-scale displacements and spread diseases such as cholera, making the population even more vulnerable.

Only one third of the Yemeni population is connected to a water supply and 9.4 million people are at risk of waterborne diseases, malnutrition and other life-threatening conditions.

Furthermore, in one of the poorest countries in the world, civil war has had a strong impact on access to water and sanitation.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, the depletion of the territory’s only coastal aquifer has aggravated the local water crisis. As a result, there is "a continuous, high rate drop in the groundwater level in most areas of the Gaza Strip," this according to Mazen Al-Banna, from the local water authority.

Another problem is the progressive salinisation of water, so much so that 98 per cent of the water is unfit for drinking.

Last but not least, the blockade imposed by Israel in 2006, Al-Banna adds, makes it impossible to import materials needed to implement water treatment and sewage plans.

[*] 22 March was first formally adopted in December 1992.

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