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Research Report

FROM THE GULF TO THE NILE: Water Security in an Arid Region

Peter Engelke
Howard Passell
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2017
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 28
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-2)

    Fresh water is fundamental to human health, social development, peace, and economic growth everywhere in the world. Yet in a great many places, and for a great many people, clean freshwater is scarce. Current trends on both the supply and demand sides strongly suggest that clean freshwater availability will become more challenging in more places in the future. As a result, water will become even more important than it currently is in contributing to the degradation of social, political, and economic systems in troubled countries around the world.¹ Nowhere are these dynamics more evident or more important than in the...

  2. (pp. 3-4)

    Aridity is the defining environmental characteristic of the Gulf-to-Nile region, although there are some important exceptions. Table 1 illustrates the aridity’s extent. Of seventeen countries listed in the table, only four have enough freshwater on a per capita basis to exceed a “water stress” standard of 1,000 cubic meters per person per year (this standard, commonly accepted in the literature, attempts to define a threshold below which societies are considered at risk from water scarcity).⁵ Not coincidentally, the countries with the most freshwater (the first column in table 1) are riparian states with major rivers running through them—Egypt, Turkey,...

  3. (pp. 5-10)

    This section briefly reviews some of the water hotspots within the Gulf-to-Nile region.

    The six Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) are part of the Arabian Peninsula, one of the driest places on Earth. Extremely low rainfall—less than 100 mm (3.9 inches) annually—plus high heat and evaporation rates mean that GCC countries have almost no surface sources of freshwater.

    Historically, these states depended on shallow groundwater aquifers that were sufficiently large (and at accessible depths) to meet basic needs, albeit for societies that were at much smaller levels of...

  4. (pp. 11-14)

    The Nile Basin is one of the world’s most important transboundary river basins. For thousands of years, Nile waters have brought life and prosperity to peoples living along its edges. Egyptian civilization has been the most closely bound to the Nile (in 440 BCE, the Greek historian Herodotus famously quipped that Egypt was “the gift of the river”).38 Until very recently, there has been little competition for the lower Nile’s water. In 1929, the Nile Waters Agreement, brokered with Britain, allocated 4 billion cubic meters of water (BCM) per year of the Nile’s flow to Sudan, 48 BCM per year...

  5. (pp. 15-17)

    A recent and widely cited World Bank report asserts that there are three broad technical responses that can mitigate water shocks under a changing climate.40 All three can play crucial roles in relieving water stress and preserving prosperity and peace anywhere, including within the Gulf-to-Nile region. They are (1) increasing the supply of water, (2) improving water efficiency, and (3) enhancing resilience.

    Numerous technologies exist for increasing water supply in the Gulf-to-Nile region.41 Desalination in Israel and in the GCC is already playing an important role in meeting fresh water demand. But desalination is not the only option. Wastewater recycling...

  6. (pp. 17-17)

    Much of the Gulf-to-Nile region is already water insecure. Unfortunately, in the decades to come many if not most countries in the region will face even greater challenges with respect to their water supplies. On the supply side, climate change will introduce greater turbulence into the region’s hydrological cycles, with uncertain and possibly grave consequences. On the demand side, growth—economic and demographic—will continue to pressure already stressed water supplies. High population growth is a core driver of increasing demand around the world and across the Gulf-to-Nile region. Suggestions to slow population growth over time are contentious for many...