Water Shortages in the Middle East (7/18/2010)

The Middle East is facing water shortages throughout the region, due to rapid population growth in an area with little water to begin with. In large part this could be alleviated by importing food supplies from countries that can produce it with less irrigation than the Middle East, thereby freeing up irrigation water for other uses, but this move also increases dependence on foreign trade for even basic needs, something that does not sit well with many leaders.

Two countries in particular are facing a water crisis: Jordan and Oman. Jordan’s water situation is dire because even if all of the water previously used for irrigation during the 1990s was redirected to the cities, it would not be enough to meet projected urban demand (Beaumont, 2002, p. 331). Another issue is that Jordan has been pumping out far more ground water than can be replaced (Beaumont, 2002, p. 331). This is an unsustainable pattern that cannot continue forever. Unlike many other countries in the region, Jordan cannot resolve this problem on its own. With no coastline, desalinization is not possible for them, at least not directly. Any solution for Jordan will require a third party. Beaumont says that it is possible Lebanon might be able to help Jordan by supplying Israel with more water to Lake Kinneret, thereby allowing Jordan to take more water from the Yarmouk (2002, p. 331). It is unlikely in today’s political climate for such cooperation between a Jewish state and Lebanon to take place A more likely solution would be for Jordan to fund desalinization facilities with Israeli cooperation near Aqaba and build a pipeline to carry the water back east to Jordan (2002, p. 331).

Oman is also facing a water crisis, although their crisis is not as severe or imminent as Jordan’s. To meet its projected urban demand, Oman will have to divert 61% of irrigation water to the cities, a move that will disrupt local agriculture and is at best a short term solution. Oman, like Jordan, also has been extracting ground water at a rate far beyond sustainable levels, and when the wells begin to dry up, Oman will have only one possible solution to its water shortage: desalinization to meet its expanding urban demand for water (Beaumont, 2002, p. 332).


Beaumont, P. (2002). Water policies for the Middle East in the 21st century: The new economic realities. Water Resources Development 18(2). Accessed from APUS online classroom.

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