Water and Food Security

In most Arab countries, water has become a critical natural resource. Water resources originating from the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile rivers are very limited and shared among many countries. In addition, most countries in the region are classified as arid or semiarid or, receiving less than 250 mm of rainfall annually.[1] In fact, long-term average precipitation ranged from 51 mm/year in Egypt to a maximum of 400mm/year in Palestine and 900mm/year in Comoros in 2014.[2] Renewable water resources per inhabitant reached 650 m3 in 2014, compared to a World average of about 6,000 m3 per inhabitant, placing 13 out of 22 Arab countries in the category of severe water scarcity at less than 500 m3 per capita.[3] 

 

According to the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, approximately 8% (nearly 55 million people) of the population in the Arab region did not have access to an improved drinking water source in 2015, and 9.7% (nearly 66 million people) did not have access to an improved sanitation facility.[4] This number is expected to have increased given the escalation of conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In Syria, for example, 70% of the Syrian population is without regular access to safe drinking water as a result of water cuts and destruction of basic infrastructure.[5]

 

With a population of 392.4million in 2015[6], food security has also become a major concern for Arab countries. Despite an increase in the Food Production Index from 82.6 in 2000 to 118.8 in 2013[7], several Arab countries continue to face serious problems in agriculture production, due to limited economic resources, low technology levels, limited crop patterns and environmental limitations.[8] In the United Arab Emirates and Syria, the Food Production Index reached 68.2 and 82.4 in 2013, respectively.[7] With food production being greatly affected by availability of water, crop productivity in the region is considered low, specifically for staple cereals, whose yield averaged about 1,769.2kg/ha in 2014, compared to a World average of 3,886.2kg/ha.[7] In the same context, most of the Arab countries heavily rely on food imports and the region remains highly vulnerable to volatility in international prices and disruptions in supply chains. 

 

As several countries in the region are affected by protracted conflicts, scarcity of natural resources and recurrent droughts, this has left many people and children under the risk of undernourishment. In conflict-affected Yemen and Iraq, the prevalence of undernourishment leveled at 26.1% and 22.8%, respectively, in 2014.[8] In Djibouti, the prevalence of undernourishment averaged 15.9% in 2014, despite a steady decline from 48.9% in 2000.[8] To have a comprehensive picture on stunting and wasting of children under five in the region, many countries are urged to update their data on the SDGs indicators. According to latest available data on stunting, the highest prevalence is found in Yemen at 46.8% in 2013, while the lowest rate is observed in Palestine at 7.4% in 2014.[7] On wasting, the highest rates are found in Yemen and Sudan at 16.3% and 16.2% in 2013 and 2014 respectively, while the lowest rate is also observed in Palestine at 1.2% in 2014.[7]

 

This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 30 September 2016. 

 


  1. UNDP, 2013. Water Governance in the Arab region: Managing scarcity and securing the future
  2. Aquastat, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  3. ADP Team computations based on figures extracted from AQUASTAT on 04 April 2016
  4. UNESCWA, 2015. “Regional Coordination Mechanism (RCM) Issues Brief for the Arab Sustainable Development Report: Water and Sanitation in the Arab region
  5. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Feb 2016, "2016 Syrian Arab Republic Humanitarian Response Plan"
  6. World Population Prospects, Population Division, United Nations
  7. World Development Indicators, The World Bank
  8. AFED, 2014. “Arab Environment: Food Security. Annual Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development”; A. Sadik, M. El-Solh and N. Saab (Eds.); Beirut, Lebanon.
  9. FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  10. UN Water​


Water and Food Security Statistical Snapshot 2016
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Data Highlighted

  • Renewable water resources per inhabitant in the Arab Region reached 650 m3 in 2014, compared to a World average of about 6,000 m3 per inhabitant, placing 13 out of 22 Arab countries in the category of severe water scarcity at less than 500 m3 per capita.

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