Israel and the Palestinian territories are projected to be among the countries most prone to acute water shortages and resultant conflict in the coming decades, according to a new report published this week.
Middle Eastern states constitute 14 of the 33 most water stressed countries in a World Resources Institute study predicting growing competition over and depletion of water resources across the globe in the coming decades.
Among the most “extremely highly stressed” countries in the study were Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, San Marino, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Palestine and Israel, which all ranked 5 out of a possible 5 in an index ranking countries’ susceptibility in 2040. Saudi Arabia clocked in at a close 4.99.
Growing competition over diminishing resources could precipitate greater political instability, conflict, and economic pressure, the report said.
The Middle East, the WRI said in its report, “already arguably the least water secure in the world, draws heavily upon groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future.”
It pointed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of several Mideast flash points in which access to water has played a “significant dimension.” The Gaza Strip is projected to run out of drinking water by 2020.
The organization pointed to climate change, shifting precipitation patterns, population growth and urbanization as factors contributing to the shift in water resources worldwide.
“Whatever the drivers, extremely high water stress creates an environment in which companies, farms and residents are highly dependent on limited amounts of water and vulnerable to the slightest change in supply,” the report said. “Such situations severely threaten national water security and economic growth.”
A NASA study published in 2013 found that freshwater reserves in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins had lost 117 million acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of its total stored freshwater — one of the fastest rates on the planet between 2003 and 2010.
Israel’s placement on the extreme risk list came despite great strides in recent years to supplement limited rainfall and surface water with desalination and water recycling.
Israel operates four desalinization plants (with a fifth set to open) along the Mediterranean coast that together produce nearly 600 million cubic meters of water, almost nearly 70 percent of the country’s domestic consumption, according to a recent Haaretz report.
The last decade severely tested Israel’s water reservoirs as a result of poor winter rainfalls. Coastal and mountain aquifers are depleted and the level of the Sea of Galilee, a major source of fresh water, remains several meters below the optimal upper level.