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The Middle East, which also referred to as the Mideast, is the region made up of countries in the Western Asia and Northern Africa. This region includes the states of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey. This region has a hot and dry climate characterised by low rainfall. This region also has vast deserts, which spread from North Africa to some western Asian countries. The largest desert in the world, the Sahara, runs across North Africa. In the South Arabian Peninsula, there is a sand dune with an area of more than 100km. However, some of the Middle East regions are served well by rivers and adequate rainfall. The Tigris-Euphrates river system, comprised by river Tigris and river Euphrates, is located in west Asia. It is traditionally known as Mesopotamia, and it is shared by Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Unlike the hot and dry Sahara desert, the Mesopotamia has a cold and wet climate.  The Jordan River, which flows into the red sea via the Jordan rift, is another key water source with a distinct wet climate

Problem Statement

Historically, the unavailability of water in the Middle East has been a serious concern. Renewable water sources per capita in many of the countries of the Middle East are less than 1000 cubic meters per year; this is the level that defines dearth of water. The water availability is measured in terms of the annual renewable freshwater per person. If the total renewable freshwater resources of a country lie between 1000 cubic meters and 1700 cubic meters per person per year, that country is considered to be water stressed. The countries that lack renewable freshwater have an average of less than 1000 cubic meters per year per capita. The Middle East is home to fifteen of the world’s water-scarce countries. The distributions of this few water resources in the Middle East are also uneven.

More than 80% of the Middle East is occupied by deserts, which receive minimal rainfall. Areas such as Syria, Algeria, Israel and Jordan are facing acute water shortages due to climatic changes. These regions usually experience erratic rainfalls, which are then followed by prolonged periods of drought. This makes the Middle East, which is home to 6.3% of the world’s population, the most water- scarce region of the world. This region contains only 1.4 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water.

The demand for fresh water in the Middle East has been aggravated by the increased demand for water in the agricultural sector. This demand for the irrigation water exceeds the naturally available water in the groundwater reservoirs. The increased water demand has led to exhaustion of aquifers, which has led to serious water table decrease. The quality of the groundwater has also gone down because of the constant influx of salt water from the surrounding areas, the discharge of sewage flow into the deserts and the use of fertilisers to excessive levels.

There have been steady growths of the human population in the Middle East, which has caused an increased demand for water in the municipal sector. Factors such as improving lifestyles and urbanisation have also caused an increase in the water demand in the Middle East. Urbanisation requires additional water needed to sustain the urban centres that are constantly cropping up. The water consumption per capita in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, that are rich in resources, is much higher than that of some developed societies. For example, in Abu Dhabi, the per capita demand ranges from 170- 200 litres per day in flats to as high as 270- 1760 litres per day for people living in villas (Doris, 2003, p. 31). The water tariffs in these countries are low and they are not proportional to the high costs of production. These low tariffs allow misuse of this deficient commodity through maintaining public and private parks, washing of cars and to some extent via gardening.

There is a slow progress rate in water development sector with the main challenges being low development and use of the water resources, weak government commitment, deficiency in agricultural water management and the lack of financing and low capacity of institutions. The issue of water shortage has serious impacts on the economy of these countries. This water shortage causes acute food shortages in these countries causing them to rely on imports for their sustenance. A lack of clean water causes the emergence of the water borne diseases brought about by the consumption of dirty water. Water scarcity also forces women and children to take long trips in search for water. Through these constant journeys, most children, especially the girls, fail to attend school. This increases the levels of illiteracy and poverty in these regions (Robert & Pamela, 1993, p. 32).

Goals of the Research

1. To examine the extent of water demand in the Middle East.

2. To find out the causes of high water demand in the middle east

Research Methodology

This reason for this research to be carried out is to establish the causes and the extent of the water demand in the Middle East. The research methodology required gathering of relevant data from specified documents and databases. The data obtained allowed a complete analysis of the research objectives and the achievement of a better understanding of the state of water demand in the Middle East. The method of study used in this research is the descriptive method of research. The descriptive method was preferred because it puts more emphasis on gathering information with the aim of describing rather than interpreting or judging the current situation. This research method aims at verifying formulated hypotheses that refer to the present situation in order to clarify it. It is also a more flexible research method that allows further investigations in new fundamental issues which may come up during the study period. The researcher used this research method to obtain the first hand data from the respondents. This aided in the formulation of rational and sound recommendations on the improvement of the water demand condition experienced in the Middle East. It also aided in the formulation of a valid and informed conclusion.

The research is based on secondary data, which was acquired from previously documented sources. This data was sampled to produce a representative group that was used to meet the objectives of the study. During this research, only the relevant information that helped to meet the research objectives was included.

Population growth

There has been an exponential increase in the population of the people in the Middle East between the years 1970 to 2001. The population has risen from as low as one hundred and seventy three million to three hundred and eighty six million people. This increased population has consequently reduced the average quantity of fresh water available per person by more than half, which is translated as a change from about 3130 cubic meters per capita per year to about 1640 cubic meters per capita per year. The population increase has been especially high in Palestine and Yemen. These two countries are also ironically the two least equipped both technologically and economically to address these problems of water dearth (Farzaneh & Roger 2002, p. 24). Despite the already large population, there is an expected an increase in population due to the large population percentage of young people in the region. More than one third of the population of this region is below the age of fifteen years with a large number of the women reaching their reproductive age. This promises to even further increase the population of these Middle East countries and if not prevented, worsen the state of water availability.


A staggering 60 percent of the Middle East population lives in the urban areas. The number of cities that are cropping up is also increasing. This is causing an unprecedented migration of people from the rural to urban areas. The consumption of water per person per year is higher in urban areas than the rural areas. This rural to urban migration creates an increased demand for water. The rapid rural to urban migration also slows down the development of adequate infrastructures for water control and management. The rapid urbanisation does not allow for the proper development of sewer systems, water regulatory mechanisms or even the development of effective water distribution methods. This consequently leads to loss of water through leakages in the distribution pipes. The uncontrolled use of the running water also encourages its misuse leading to more water wastage.

An increased household demand.

The household water demand refers to the amount of water that one household consumes per year. It is determined by certain factors such as the household size, the distance between a household and the water source, the consumption patterns of the household members and the accessibility of the water. Water consumption therefore varies between large and small households. When a household is closer to a water source, it tends to consume more water compared to a household located far away from a water source (Jeremy 1994, p. 21). The high water consumption in households close to a water source can be explained by the easy accessibility. This allows people to use water keeping it in mind that it is available when needed.

The consumption pattern between household with equal members may differ due to personal differences in the occupants of each household. The growing population in the Middle East has been accompanied by a rise in per capita income and a greater access to running water. These factors have increased demand for fresh water in the Middle East. The increase in per capita income among individuals has also contributed to the increase in urbanization, which consequently increases the water demand.

Deficiency of water infrastructure

The Middle East countries have a significant deficiency in the water infrastructures such as pipelines. This deficiency is especially evident in the North African countries that still use traditional water transport methods such as the use of containers to carry water. These methods of water transport are inefficient and lead to water wastage and the risk of contaminating water borne diseases.

The critically deficient agricultural water management

The agricultural practices employed for irrigation in these countries are still traditional and incapable of conserving water. Most of the crops grown are also highly water intensive crops such as wheat, which require large amounts of water for growth. This only further depletes the already scarce water sources.

Other causes

Other causes of the high water demand in the Middle East include the missing water services and institutional platforms, the lack of financing and low capacity of institutions in the Middle East and the weak government commitment to solving the water problem.


The recommendations for solving this high water demand in the Middle East include:

Slowing the population growth

The size of the population is directly proportional to the amount of water consumed per year in a country. A large population will consume more water compared to a small population. In the Middle East, there is an ever increasing population that is constantly increasing the water demand. Slowing this population growth would impact positively the water demands of these countries. The regulation of the population growth will produce a sustainable population, which will encounter fewer water shortages than the large population. The slowing of the population growth can be achieved through the right education in the families. Families should be advised on reproductive health and get educated on how to achieve and raise families of procreation of desired sizes that they can comfortably maintain. Young adults should also be educated on parenting roles and their rights to help prepare them for the family life.

Recycling the wastewater

In the Middle East, most of the collected waste water is usually discharged untreated into the desert or the sea. This waste water can be recycled for use. The recycling of this waste water has both beneficial economical and also environmental impacts. Economically, it provides an alternative to the expensive water supply schemes of storage, transfer or even desalination of plants. Education of the society to help eradicate perceptions involving recycled water should precede the recycling of waste water. Society should be demystified of the myths that recycled water is impure and unhealthy. Alternatively, the recycled waste water can be used in applications such as car washing, in golf courses, in agriculture and forestry. Since the recycling of waste water requires expensive and sophisticated equipments, the private sector should be encouraged to invest in it and ease the burden on the government ministries involved.

Use of efficient technologies

The use of efficient technologies improves the efficiency of water conservation and has desirable economic implications as it cuts down on the cost. In the irrigation of farm crops, drip irrigation can be used in place of the traditional irrigation methods. In drip irrigation, the amount of water used is significantly reduced since there is no water wastage. The yields observed in drip irrigation are also higher compared to those acquired when using the traditional irrigation methods. This increases the crop yield, food security and also controls the amount of water consumed. Fertigation is also another technology that can be used to conserve water. This technique involves the addition of fertilizers to irrigation water through the use of computer controlled drip techniques. This technique reduces the amount of water consumed and also controls the pollution of ground water as it limits the amount of soil salinization.

The planting of crops consuming less water during growth

Cereals such as wheat are water intensive crops. They require a lot of water to grow, and they have a low return per unit of water and land used. These kinds of crops should be avoided by the Middle East countries as they are both not economically or environmentally viable. The Middle East countries should shift their focus to the less water intensive crops that help to conserve water. They can then import the water intensive crops from other regions, which do not experience water shortages.

Harvesting rainwater and use of chain wells

Rainwater can be harvested from roofs, cisterns and other sources and stored in reservoirs for agricultural and human use. A chain well consists of a series of horizontal tunnels, which are bored into cliffs allowing water to drain out and create an oasis in a normally arid place. These two methods can be effectively used to collect and harvest rainwater during the rainy season.

Involving communities in public education

Communities should be taught the best water conservation methods and then be allowed to participate in the execution of those methods. They can be taught how to operate and maintain water systems. These lessons can be carried out in public gatherings or even inculcated in religious sermons where a large target group can be captured.

Making water distribution more efficient

Measures can be taken to improve the distribution of water to the various households and industries. Such measures include the expansion of the central sewer systems, repairing of the leaking water distribution systems and sewer pipes, rationing and restricting the use of water and putting meters in the water connections. These measures can help reduce the amount of water lost through leakages and misuse.

Revision of the rules governing water usage and rights

Some of the rules that govern the water rights, and or the social rights undermine the management of water. Changes such as legal and institutional reforms, reorganisation of the private and public sectors and the participation of non-governmental organizations could help improve the regulation of the water resources.


This involves the removal of salt from salty water to make it appropriate for human consumption. Although this process requires a lot of heat and may have some negative environmental implications, it is still an alternative way to reduce the water shortage in the Middle East.

Trading water

This involves the transportation of water from one ecosystem to another. Water can be transported via pipeline, boat transport or through vehicles on land. It can help to decrease the water demand in the Middle East especially during periods of scarcity.

The sequential utilization of water

This involves collection and treatment of water that has been used in one place so that it can be directed to another use. Since domestic chores require the cleanest water, these duties can be undertaken first: followed by utilisation of the same water in the industries before the water is finally used in agriculture.


The Middle East is faced with an acute case of high water demand. This demand can be attributed to both the increased growth population and also to a great extent the climatic change. The increase in the population of the Middle East has increased the pressure on the few freshwater sources located in that region. This has forced the people to search for alternative measures such as developing new sources of freshwater including the harvesting of rainwater. The countries most affected by this water shortage are the low income countries that usually experience the fastest population growth in the region. The acute water shortage can, however, be easily addressed when there is political will among the neighbouring countries, which share the water sources e.g. Iraq and Syria, which share the Mesopotamia. These regional co-operations accompanied with the right political atmosphere are the key to addressing the water shortages.


Water is an essential resource in the life of a human being. Almost every activity in a human life depends with the availability of clean water in sufficient amounts. Shortage of water triggers risks in health and halts other developmental activities, in the society. Middle East countries have experienced this problem over a long time. Despite the region having some fresh water rivers such as Tigris, Euphrates, river Jordan and other minor rivers, the region still falls among the areas stricken by water problem. The Middle East is home to fifteen of the world’s water-scarce countries. This makes the Middle East, which is home to 6.3% of the world’s population the most water- scarce region of the world. This region contains only 1.4 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water.

The geographical contributions to this problem include the presence of desert (Sahara desert) and sand dunes. 80% of this region is affected by drought in most part of the year. The water availability is measured in terms of the annual renewable freshwater per person. If the total renewable freshwater resources of a country lie between 1000 cubic meters and 1700 cubic meters per person per year, that country is considered water stressed.

The problem of water shortage in Middle East can be attributed to population growth, urbanization, an increased household demand, deficiency of water infrastructure, the critically deficient agricultural water management among others. The possible recommendations include slowing the population growth, recycling the wastewater, use of efficient technologies, planting crops that are consuming less water, harvesting rainwater, making water distribution more efficient, revision of the rules governing water usage and rights, desalination, trading water and the sequential utilization of water. 

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