Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves (Semide / Emwis)

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As water disappears from the Arab world, data is falling from the sky

A ground-breaking study released last month shows how the Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves. Prepared jointly by NASA and the University of California Irvine, and published by Water Resources Research, the report offers a range of alarming statistics on both the amount and rate of the region’s water loss.

Satellite missions from 2003 to 2009, supplemented by remote-sensing data and output from land surface models, show a decrease in volume of the region’s freshwater reserves of 143.6 cubic kilometers during the 7-years of the study. This rate of water loss is among the largest liquid freshwater losses on the planet during this period. The 143.662.8 km3 loss during the 7-year study period is nearly equivalent in volume to the entire Dead Sea, which has an average volume of 147 km3.

The analyses presented suggests that groundwater depletion is the largest single contributor to the this observed negative trend, accounting for approximately 60 percent of the total volume of water lost, the majority of which occurred after the onset of drought in 2007.

Why is this not surprising?  For one, a complex system of trans-boundary, groundwater aquifers underlies this region. Secondly, domestic and international monitoring, regulation, and data-sharing related to these groundwater aquifers are sorely lacking. While the region is subject to harsh environmental conditions, an absence of effective monitoring and management across borders leaves little basis for establishing strategies for conserving these precious, natural resources.



Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.