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 900 mm/year in Comoros and 661 mm/year in Lebanon in 2014 (2013-2017).[2] Renewable water resources per capita reached 736 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, 13.3% (nearly 53.2 million people) of the population in the Arab region accessed safely managed drinking water services (SDG indicator 6.1.1) in 2015, while 37.2 million people accessed surface water (rivers, lakes and ponds) and 13.4 million accessed unimproved drinking water services (including unprotected dug wells and unprotected springs). [4,5]  At the same time, 37.7% (nearly 150.1 million people) of the region’s population accessed safely managed sanitation services (SDG indicator 6.2.1) in 2015.[4] On the other hand, 6.3% (around 35 million people) of the population continued to practice “open defecation” in the region in 2015.[4]

 

With a population of 415 million in 2017[6], food security is also a major concern for several Arab countries. The Arab region continued to be the largest food deficit region in the world with an ever-growing food gap between domestic production and consumption that increased in monetary terms from USD 18 billion in 2005 to USD 34 billion in 2014.[7] Despite an increase in the Food Production Index from 82.7 in 2000 to 104.3 in 2014[8], 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.[9] With food production is greatly affected by water availability, crop productivity in the region is considered low, specifically for staple cereals, whose yield averaged 1,826.3 kg/ha in 2016, compared to a World average of 3,966.8 kg/ha.[8]

 

As several Arab countries in the region are affected by protracted conflicts, scarcity of natural resources and recurrent droughts, this has left many people and children at the risk of undernourishment. As such, the prevalence of undernourishment (SDG indicator 2.1.1) increased from 9.2% in 2011 to 11% in 2015.[8] In conflict-affected Yemen and Iraq, the prevalence of undernourishment leveled at 28.8% and 27.8%, respectively, in 2015.[8] According to latest available data on stunting (SDG indicator 2.2.1), the highest prevalence is found in Yemen at 46.8% in 2013, while the lowest rate observed in Kuwait at 4.9% in 2015.[10,11] On wasting (SDG indicator 2.2.2), the highest prevalence rates are found in Djibouti at 21.5% in 2012 followed by Yemen and Sudan at 16.3% in 2013 and 2014 respectively, while the lowest rate is also observed in Palestine at 1.2% in 2014.[10,12]

 

 

This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of 12 March 2018. 

 


  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 (FAO)
  3. ADP Team computations based on figures extracted from AQUASTAT and World Population Prospects, Population Division, United Nations on 12 March 2018
  4. ADP Team computations based on national data sets available on the online database of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) (2015), accessed 12 March 2018.
  5. The JMP Drinking water database classification includes access to at least basic, basic service, limited service, surface water, safely managed service, and unimproved service. Safely managed drinking water service comprises an improved water source which is located on premises, available when needed and free of fecal and priority contamination.
  6. World Population Prospects, Population Division, United Nations
  7. Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), 2017. “Arab Environment in 10 years”; edited by Najib Saab; Beirut, Lebanon.
  8. World Development Indicators, The World Bank
  9. Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), 2014. Arab Environment 7: Food Security Challenges and Prospects; edited by A. Sadik, M. El-Solh and N. Saab (Eds.); Beirut, Lebanon.
  10. SDG Indicators Global Database, United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD)
  11. No data are available for Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
  12. No data are available for Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.


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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