x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

World Bank warns of water shortage

A report predicts that availability per person in the Middle East and North Africa will halve by 2050, even without the effects of climate change.

David Grey, a senior water adviser at the World Bank, participates in a panel discussion at the Arab Water Academy.
David Grey, a senior water adviser at the World Bank, participates in a panel discussion at the Arab Water Academy.

ABU DHABI // Water is the Middle East's most vulnerable resource, and will become dangerously scarce within decades unless it is radically better managed, the World Bank said in a report released here yesterday. In the Middle East and North Africa, the world's driest region, "per capita water availability is predicted to halve by 2050 even without the effects of climate change", said the Development and Climate Change study.

It added that climate change would make the problem worse by causing heat waves and droughts. Jamal Saghir, the World Bank's director of energy, transport and water, presented the report to Majid al Mansouri, secretary general of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. A panel of experts in water management, chaired by Mr Saghir, then discussed the findings. Mr al Mansouri also called for more home-grown scientific research on mitigating the impact of greenhouse gases and adapting to climate change.

"We have to look into ways to strengthen our own research and development," he said. The report was released ahead of a meeting scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December, where it is hoped that a new treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be signed. The document will replace the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement that currently regulates greenhouse gases. That treaty expires in 2012.

Progress on drafting the new accord has been criticised as slow, as industrialised and developing nations have found it hard to agree on how to share the economic burden of reducing emissions. The release of the World Bank report coincided with the start of a three-day educational seminar by the Arab Water Academy in the capital. Forty executives and senior officials from around the Arab world have gathered to discuss water sharing and water diplomacy - an issue that will only grow in importance as climate change and population growth strains water resources.

Launched earlier this year, the Arab Water Academy aims to build the technical and management capacity needed for Arab states to better manage their resources. It is an initiative of the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi and the Dubai-based International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture. It is also supported by the Arab Council of Water, the Islamic Development Bank and the World Bank. "More than 95 per cent of the world's population live in countries where at least one water course is shared with other countries," said David Grey, a senior water adviser at the World Bank, at the water academy meeting.

So far, only wealthy states have been required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. However, they also have called for poorer nations such as India, China and Brazil, to commit to cuts as well. Yesterday's report was unequivocal in putting the onus on industrialised states. "High-income countries can and must reduce their carbon footprints," it said. "They cannot continue to fill up an unfair and unsustainable share of the atmospheric commons."

Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, said in a statement that "developing countries are disproportionately affected by climate change - a crisis that is not of their making and for which they are the least prepared. "For that reason, an equitable deal in Copenhagen is vitally important". The report called on rich states to undertake "aggressive action" to stimulate innovation in and demand for low-carbon technologies. Such an approach would also "free some pollution space for developing countries", for whom fighting poverty and stimulating development are bigger priorities.

It warned that "the impacts of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere will be felt for decades, even millennia, making the return to a safe level very difficult". Even stabilising the average global temperature at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would require an enormous effort, said the World Bank. Solutions include better strategic planning, investing in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies, encouraging the fast adoption of solar energy, carbon capture and storage, improved agriculture practices and better water management.

vtodorova@thenational.ae