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Water scarcity in the Middle East


Executive Summary

Water scarcity poses a global threat, but its effects are more visible in arid or semi-arid regions like the Middle East, which is one of the most water scarce regions in the world. Factors like climate change and persistent conflict, as witnessed in the Middle East, significantly exacerbate water scarcity and provoke security risks such as socio-economic instability and migration. Given the impact of limited water supplies across social, political and economic domains, water scarcity is better understood within the framework of water security. Indeed, it has the potential to significantly degrade regional security from both the human and governance perspective.

Water scarcity is already a serious problem in the Middle East, especially during periodic droughts. Climate change may exacerbate the problem, functioning as a Damocles’ sword, by limiting the time available to preserve scarce water resources. Not only is water in the Middle East scarce, but it is largely sub-optimized. This means there is substantial room for mitigation measures to augment the efficiency of resource use. These measures are not limited to technology and investment, but also include governance reforms with an overarching strategy of synergy and optimization.

The potential impact of water scarcity on conflict-cooperation dynamics in the region is high, because the region’s water resources are transboundary. A comprehensive regional approach is needed in order to implement an effective and sustainable solution. Furthermore, water scarcity is a potential driver of migration flows within and outside the region, which can have irreversible impacts on neighboring countries in Europe, including many NATO members. NATO should monitor the situation, especially areas where water scarcity and struggles for control of transboundary resources are potential triggers for increased tension and conflict.

In the long term, any sustainable solution requires a combination of effective mitigation measures and international cooperation. Otherwise, the scope and intensity of the impact of water scarcity may cause irreversible harm. Ideally, this fact will enhance regional dialogue and serve as a step towards broader cooperation within the region. NATO, as relevant stakeholder in the international community, should incentivize and support this regional dialogue.


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