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Coping with land and water problems

In all scenarios except Security First, some forms of land use planning and effective arable land protection policies are implemented to prevent actual degradation of the extremely scarce cultivable land in the region. As a result, the rate of land degradation and loss slows down and gradually stabilizes. In a Markets First scenario, the available cropland is managed more carefully than in the past, in the interest of protecting agricultural markets. However, population and economic growth more than counteract these efforts (see chart). Land conservation in Policy First and Sustainability First leads to much slower cropland degradation. In addition, some degraded land is restored, leading to substantially lower net rates than in Markets First or Security First. In Sustainability First reductions in population growth and well-researched advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering further offset these pressures.

Water stress in West Asia continues to increase as water demands exceed available water resources, owing to population growth and expansion of different development sectors (see charts). In Markets First and Security First, deteriorating water quality and increasing competition between sectors, users or both, hampers food production and leads to conflicts (mainly between the domestic and agricultural sectors), increasing water-related health problems. Water withdrawals are slightly higher in Security First, due to more water-cooled thermal electricity production. Improved irrigation efficiency and minor shifts in irrigated areas (under Markets First only) lead to decreasing water withdrawals for irrigation. In total, water withdrawals increase slightly under both scenarios, leading to an increase in areas with severe water stress and affecting over 200 million people. Demand management and conservation policies are introduced gradually in Markets First as the degree of water scarcity rises in individual countries but there is no strategic water resources planning in a Security First world. In this scenario, water scarcity reaches its highest levels in the Arabian Peninsula, in terms of the number of the population affected, and groundwater resources, the principal source of water in this sub-region, are depleted and deteriorate to the extent that they are no longer directly usable.

Number of people living in areas with severe water stress: West Asia (million persons)

All the pie charts show total region impacts. The top left pie shows the current situation, the relative size of the others reflects the magnitude of impacts by 2032 under the four scenarios. West Asia is one of the most water stressed regions of the world, with over 80 per cent of its area under severe water stress and over 70 million people (or nearly 90 per cent of the region's total population) living in these areas. In both sub-regions, the irrigation sector dominates the total water withdrawals, both under current conditions as well as under all four scenarios.

Source: WaterGAP 2.1 (see technical annex)

Population living in areas with severe water stress: West Asia (%)

When more than 40 per cent of the renewable water resources of a river basin are being withdrawn for human use the river basin is considered to be under severe water stress.

Source: WaterGAP 2.1 (see technical annex)

Key to charts

Under the Policy First and Sustainability First scenarios, reductions in irrigated areas in the region, combined with structural changes in the way water is used in industry, lead to reductions in total water withdrawals. Accordingly some river basins drop out of the severe water stress category. In Policy First, the area under water stress is stabilized by adopting strategic water resources management to increase water use efficiency and resource protection. A major policy shift, from 'supply augmentation' towards 'demand management and conservation' occurs. This shift is achieved through water pricing, awareness and education campaigns, enforcement of legislation and management of marginal water, as well as more efficient allocation of water resources among the competing economic sectors. In Sustainability First, the increase of freshwater made available by desalination technology, wide application of biotechnology in the field of food production and decrease in population growth rate in the region, help to counteract the effects of additional demand related to higher economic growth. In both scenarios, however, water scarcity persists and affects growing numbers of people as water demand continues to exceed available water resources.

The impact of water stress in the different scenarios also depends on relations between individual countries in West Asia and on West Asia's relations with other regions. About 60 per cent of surface water resources originate from outside the region. In Security First, countries sharing river basins fail to sign conventions and agreements on sharing and management of water resources, including surface and groundwater, or on monitoring their quantity and quality. In Markets First, equitable sharing of surface water resources among such countries might eventually be reached, limiting conflicts and tension. This shift also helps overall development, increases agricultural production and reduces uncertainty in planning. Even so, construction of dams in upstream countries continues, curbing downstream flows, increasing tension in the region and impacting river and marine ecosystems downstream. This situation is exacerbated by cyclical droughts common to the region. In Security First, conflicts and tension increase within the region, as well as with countries outside the region, eventually leading to water wars. These concerns ease in Policy First and Sustainability First as countries negotiate agreements on the equitable sharing of surface water resources.

Such steps are taken further in Sustainability First. A total catchment management approach is widely adopted and conventions agreed on sharing and managing groundwater resources to safeguard both quantity and quality. There is also greater cooperation between countries on dam construction, including environmental impact assessments that look at potential impacts on downstream parts of the river and marine ecosystems.