Ecology Paper

Water Sustainability in the Middle East: Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Iraq

The minimum human requirement in terms of water consumption is 1000 cubic meters per person per year (Kandel, 2003). The Middle East is one of the water-stressed regions with most countries being unable to satisfy this minimum requirement for their populations. The region owes most of its water crisis to unsustainable water practices, poor water management systems and over-exploitation of water sources by individual countries. In this paper, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, and Iraq are analyzed to evaluate their specific challenges and strategies towards water sustainability.



In the recent years, Egypt has been experiencing a severe and consequential scarcity in water. The situation, which has been slowly building up over the decades, has finally manifested to dangerous levels. The country’s water scarcity, which is being caused by pollution, misuse of water supplies and a growing population, has been worsened by the recent disagreements with countries further up along the Nile.

Misuse of water and pollution

Egypt receives a share of 55 billion cubic meters of the Nile’s water annually following a colonial water-sharing agreement with Sudan. Even though the country receives the biggest share of the Nile water, it still experiences a deficit compared to the quickly growing population which is projected to reach 150 million by 2050.

Surprisingly, despite receiving the biggest share and having a deficit, most of the water goes to waste through industrial leaks, wasteful irrigation strategies and evaporation (Bedawy, 2014). In addition, the use of agricultural fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides have seriously polluted the Nile water with human dumping and industrial disposal poisoning the water further.


Egypt is essentially a desert country; all its agricultural activities depend on irrigation from the Aswan High Dam. Over the years, much of the silt and fertile soil have been washed up and deposited in the dam, leaving much of the land infertile and prone to increased use of artificial fertilizers. The Egyptian government should make a concerted effort to reclaim these soils from the dam and offer incentives for natural and non-artificial forms of fertilizers. This could include campaigns to popularize other forms of farming such as livestock farming.

Moreover, industrial operational regulations should be tightened to punish violators and minimize the release of untreated industrial and agricultural waste. Egyptian stakeholders need to create more governing bodies to handle disposals and sanitation in towns especially along the River Nile and the Aswan High Dam.

Finally, Egypt still employs old irrigation methods such as flooding which are wasteful and lead to massive loss of water through evaporation. The Aswan irrigation schemes have been described as uneconomical and counterproductive owing to this situation. Local governments in collaboration with farmers and the national government’s research and funding agencies should promote new and more productive forms of irrigation that are not wasteful, cause less pollution and produce a wide variety of food products.  

Disagreements with countries further up along the Nile

For many of the previous years, Egypt has benefited from the Nile Treaty that prevented Sudan and other countries from much exploitation of the Nile. Recent collaborations between Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda have led to an agreement that seeks to permit power and irrigation projects along the Nile to proceed in their countries without Egypt’s consultation. The Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia has already been announced and is being hyped as the biggest hydro-electric dam in Africa (Bedawy, 2014). With most of the planning and layout work already underway, Egypt is set to suffer a huge reduction in water levels due to this project.


Egypt has previously been very rigid on having open talks with these countries who have been advocating for dialogue over the colonial-era treaty. The country needs to enter into talks with these countries to reach long-term solutions that are fair not only to them but to Egypt as well. The latter must also look for international supporters and advisors in the drafting of new agreements that preserve the Nile water cycle which is also important in the global water cycle.

United Arab Emirates

The UAE is characterized by luxury lifestyle and non-conservation cultures that have recently borne effects in the water supply situation in the region. The nation mainly sources its water from desalination of saltwater, the use of underground water, and treating wastewater (AlAwar, 2014). The current water crisis in the UAE stems from poor management of water resources, lack of water channeling systems and poor water usage.

Lack of water channeling systems

While the UAE has developed and invested in large sewage treatment plants and stations, much of this water which is intended for irrigation is left unused due to poor channeling structures. Since this water has a small lifespan, delayed delivery to the intended sites causes wastage of already treated wastewater and this results in the usage of desalinated water for irrigation.


Distribution channels from treatment stations need to be diversified to reach other budding regions that are in constant need of irrigation water. Furthermore, efficient management procedures need to be put in place that allows previous ordering and planning before water is actually treated. Investors in the agricultural sector should collaborate with the government to create an efficient water distribution network.

Poor management of water resources and poor water usage

The UAE is reported to have a per capita water usage that is almost double the average global rate (AlAwar, 2014). The estimated wastage at the household level is also extremely high. Most of the water is provided in abundance and for free or at a low cost to all households. This has led to a situation of water wastage due to the perceived abundance of the population. In addition, poor management systems over water resources which are unclear and unregulated have created a hazy water management authority system.


The UAE has to layout water management systems at the national levels for the three main sources of water. The systems should create a stable network that goes down to the household level. On the other hand, the population has to be made more accountable and responsible for water usage through financial and educational strategies. Besides, the country must focus on reducing its water stress which currently threatens to worsen its water crisis.


Jordan’s water has been a common problem for many decades due to the decreasing water levels, the harsh climatic conditions and the population explosion which exerts growing pressure on the limited water supply. This water situation has further been politicized particularly in the context of relations with neighboring countries such as Israel.

Unpreparedness for climatic conditions

Jordan and its neighbors all geographically lie in regions of low rainfall and high temperatures. All the four rivers which rise to form the Jordan River originate in neighboring countries with low rainfall and water shortages. However, Jordan appears to be unprepared every time it is emerging from a period of low rainfall despite the knowledge and previous experiences. The outcome is a situation whereby the country has had to set up specific days weekly during which households have water supply before it is cut off.

Moreover, poor rains over the last five years have hit the country hard, and water levels in neighboring seas have drastically gone down. Still, their agricultural sector is highly water-dependant and the country mostly grows crops that require high amounts of water, a factor that causes further stress on water.


Firstly, Jordan should shift to drought-resistant agriculture and one that does not depend on extremely large amounts of water. At the same time, it needs to put in place better coping and preparedness mechanisms such as water harvesting while simultaneously investing in the desalination of salt water. Finally, the country lies in a dry region bordering countries from which the streams that join to form the Jordan River originate. These countries ought to synchronize water supply and conservation efforts as they are all interdependent (Mays, 2006).

Politicization of the water issue

Jordan has had the water rationing system for decades to the point where it has become the norm. The water issue has been a political focus for years dating back to previous years of political antagonism between Israel and Jordan that culminated in the signing of treaties, relocation of refugees to Jordan and armed conflicts over water sources. The situation is still prevalent today. Meanwhile, the exceptional treatment that some people of the higher political and social class receive through the rationing system has also fuelled political antagonism.


The normalcy associated with the rationing system often means that there is excessive water wastage during these ‘water days’. There is a need to create more awareness to ambitiously conserve even more water in households. Fairness should be applied in the rationing system to prevent certain areas from getting more water or more water days as a long-term effort to prevent further wastage.


Iraq, having been riddled with close to thirty years of war, has a scanty water management system and has done little by way of environmental awareness. It obtains most of its surface water from rivers Euphrates and Tigris which rise from Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Owing to upstream activities in these countries, water levels in the two rivers have fallen below their normal level and so has the water supply in Iraq.


Lack of water management systems

There has previously been a little-to-no concentration on the creation of a stable water management system amidst the country’s social and political difficulties. Furthermore, Iraq has previously had a good supply of water from the Euphrates and Tigris rivers until the time when upstream activities began causing severe fluctuations in water levels downstream. This has reduced the government’s ability to provide clean drinking water to all households and improve sanitation.


The government should take responsibility by establishing a solid water management sector by investing time, resources and skills to the water situation before it develops into a hazardous challenge.

Limited environmental awareness

The drainage of the Iraqi Marshlands demonstrated a huge lack of environmental and ecosystem conservation. The Marshlands were further affected by upstream activities, reduced water flows, dam constructions, and pollution concentration. The diminishing of these marshlands which was crucial for the entire middle-eastern ecosystem has had great effects on the region’s water supply.


Iraq’s improving political and social scene is paving the way for urbanization and economic development in most parts of the country. This should be coupled with the creation of extreme environmental awareness to ensure that development does not overtake or overshadow sustainability and environmental preservation (Mays, 2006). Fortunately, local and international efforts are currently underway to advance the restoration of the Marshlands.


The Middle East is faced with the daunting task of ensuring sustainability in water usage and environmental practices despite the focus on economic and political challenges. However, the region is endowed with many other natural resources whose exploitation and a rush to achieve ambitious development goals could potentially cripple the basic survival of the region’s population in terms of food and water scarcity (Wolf & Amery, 2000). Experts warn of the impending threat of water wars in the region in the event that individual countries exhibit an inability to sustain their water consumption and management systems.


AlAwar, M. (2014). Management of Water Resources in the UAE. International Journal of Environment and Sustainability, 3(4), 15-39.

Bedawy, R. (2014). Water Resources Management: Alarming Crisis for Egypt. Journal of Management and Sustainability, 4(3), 108-124.

Kandel, R. (2003). Water from Heaven: The story of water from the big bang to the rise of civilization and beyond. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Mays, L. (2006). Water Resources Sustainability. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.

Wolf, H. & Amery, A. (2000). Water in the Middle East: A geopgrahy of Peace. St. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

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