AMMAN (CNN) – The Middle East has witnessed persistent drought and temperatures so high that they are barely fit for human life. Add climate change to water mismanagement and overuse, and projections for the future of water here are grim.
Some Middle Eastern countries are pumping huge amounts of water from the ground for irrigation as they seek to improve their food self-sufficiency, Charles Iceland, the global director of water at the World Resources Institute (WRI), told CNN. That’s happening as they experience a decrease in rainfall.
“They’re using more water than is available routinely through rain. And so groundwater levels are consequently falling because you’re taking water out faster than it’s being replenished by the rainfall,” he said.
“Both declining rainfall and increasing demand in these countries are causing many rivers, lakes, and wetlands to dry up,” Iceland said.
The consequences of water becoming even scarcer are dire: Areas could become uninhabitable; tensions over how to share and manage water resources like rivers and lakes could worsen; more political violence could erupt.
The Middle East’s winters are projected to get drier the more the world warms, and while the summers will be wetter, the heat is expected to offset its water gains, according to scientists’ latest projections published earlier this month by the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change report.
“The problem is, with this whole temperature rise, whatever rainfall will come will evaporate because it is so hot,” Mansour Almazroui, director at the Center of Excellence for Climate Change Research at Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University, told CNN.
“The other thing is, “This rain is not necessarily going to be usual rain. There’s going to be extreme rainfall, meaning that floods like those happening in China, in Germany, in Belgium, these floods will be a big problem for the Middle East. This is really a big climate change issue.”
In Jordan, one of the most water stressed countries in the world, people have become used to living with very little water.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that Jordanians will have to halve their per capita use of water by the end of the century. Most Jordanians on lower incomes will live on 40 liters a day, for all their needs -- drinking, bathing and washing clothes and dishes, for example. The average American today uses around 10 times that amount.
Groundwater levels in parts of the country are dropping by well over one meter a year, studies show, and waves of refugees from many countries in the region have put extra pressure on the already stressed resource.
As the climate continues to warm and water runs scarce, part of the solution in the Middle East will have to involve reducing water use in agriculture. That can also mean changing the kind of food farmers grow and export.