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MENA water availability depleting fast

Last updated: Saturday, January 05, 2013 1:15 AM

JEDDAH – The Middle East and North Africa region is the most water-scarce region in the world, and based on current World Bank current estimates, water availability in the region is expected to fall by half by 2025 and will have reached absolute water scarcity by 2050.

According to the Washington-based bank, the region is home to 6.3 percent of the world’s population yet it has just 1.4 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water.

With rapid urbanization taking place across the Middle East and huge investments being made in infrastructure together with a parallel growth in population, water security has been boosted up the agenda.

About two-thirds of the Middle East and North Africa’s water requirements are currently supplied through desalination. This is not an option that can be sustained in the long-term due to a lack of rivers in the region and no existing technologies which meet the region’s rising demand for fresh water.

The GCC has become the global leader in desalination, a title that evolved out of necessity due to the region’s desert landscape.

To address the issue, the GCC is planning to develop about $100-120 billion-worth of water infrastructure projects, predominantly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The amount of investment reflects the importance the region’s authorities have placed on the issue. These projects are aimed at increasing desalination capacity by 71 percent by 2016.

“Water resources face serious challenges around the world. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may live in areas with moderate to severe water shortages.

Working collaboratively with other businesses, governments and civil society organizations, we believe we can make a positive difference on the world’s water challenges.

We hope the International Water Summit will bring to light both the necessity and the solutions to water conservation,” said Antoine Tayyar, Public Affairs and Communications Director, Coca-Cola Middle East, ahead of the International Water Summit (IWS) taking place in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 15-17, 2013, in which the Coca-Cola Company will discuss global and regional methods of water footprint reduction.

Coca-Cola will also discuss the various social initiatives it has launched in the Middle East as a response to the serious water challenge the region faces, Tayyar added.

“Coca Cola’s global water stewardship goal is to safely return to nature and to communities an amount of water equivalent to what is uses in all its beverages and their production by 2020,” he said.

The Coca-Cola system has a series of water targets it hopes to achieve, said Tayyar, including “reducing its water-use ratio to improve water efficiency and recycling water used in its manufacturing processes at all plants by ensuring water is treated and returned to the environment at a level that supports aquatic life.”

All six of the main rivers in the Middle East (the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Jordan, the Nile, the Litani and the Orontes) have played crucial roles in the development and sustainability of great civilizations. Each river basin has its own particular characteristics and specific riparian states. Riparian states are states connected by the fact they share a water resource like a river or a groundwater aquifer.

Therefore, it is impossible to approach the Middle East as a whole in terms of hydrology and hydropolitical features.

The overwhelming common denominator in all six basins, however, is the potential of water body management to foster peace and stability in the region. Managing the water supply in the Middle East has always been an integral part of ensuring stability of communities, districts, regions and countries.

For thousands of years, the Middle East has been an arid region, and human survival in a desert environment is only possible if the water supply is guaranteed.

Solving the water scarcity problem lies mainly in managing demand. Most of the water demand comes from irrigated agriculture, which should be heavily reduced or even nullified. This would mean a major shift from subsistence agriculture to a more diversified economy. Experts believe that moving away from agriculture is the only way for Middle Eastern countries to solve their water scarcity and distribution problems. Water currently used in food production could help be used toward restoring the water balance in the region. For this to occur, Middle Eastern nations need to diversify their economies and import more food, growing less of their own wheat thereby utilizing less water resources on agricultural production.

Since 2005, Coca-Cola has been involved with 386 community water projects across 94 countries. In the last five years, the company has invested almost $250 million in community water partnerships with 532 global organizations, including WWF, USAID, The Nature Conservancy, CARE, UNDP.

Examples of some of the community initiatives are watershed protection, expanding community drinking water and sanitation access, water for productive use, agricultural water efficiency as well as education and awareness programs.

Coca-Cola improved its water efficiency by 19.4 percent between 2004 and 2011. Based on 2010 unit-case volume, Coca-Cola estimates that 35 percent, or 53.3 billion liters, of the water used in its finished beverages has been replenished through the 386 community water projects. — SG/QJM

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