Drought, desertification – Mideast worsening in satellite images

Population rising, water provision down in the area


NAPLES – The Middle East is one of the most vulnerable regions when it comes to climate change, newspaper ‘The National’ reports. The daily showed US military satellite images from 1960 to 1970 with a huge territory that changed significantly over a decade. A study by the World Resources Institute in 2019 revealed that 12 out of the 17 most “water stressed” countries are in the region, showing according to the parameters used by the research institute a risen in “pressures upon the state deriving from the population itself or the environment around it”.

Some of the countries in the area – including Yemen, Syria and Iraq – are experiencing water scarcity, climate change, conflict and mismanagement, which combined create a multi-sided crisis, worsening the impact of drought and desertification. The problem is reported in addition to strong population growth of the area in countries not involved in a war like Jordan and Saudi Arabia that are dealing with new challenges to maintain certainty on water. Images refer to 1970 when the Middle East had a population of some 120 million citizens, while 2020 estimates provided by the World Bank refer to over 420 million and could reach 700 million by 2050 if the current demographic trends continue.

The images provide examples of how the territory has changed, like a picture from 1969 of Buraydah, in Saudi Arabia which has hosted since 1964 the Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz International Airport that brought over the years to the construction of new towns, universities and distinctive circular fields of center-pivot irrigation, the newspaper reported. It went on to explain that images of such a development emerging in dry environments point to the coming challenges to national water strategies, showing what is at stake for communities dealing with reduced water supply in the future. Over the years, strategies to deal with reduced water provision have emerged, like in Jordan and Iraq where irrigation has new and more efficient rules and water tariffs have risen to halt excessive consumption.



Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

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