Israel likely to be water-stressed in 2040, study finds

Developing new sources critical to quenching region’s thirst, says Water Authority.

A woman plays in a water fountain in Jerusalem (photo credit: ILLUSTRATIVE: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A woman plays in a water fountain in Jerusalem
Of the 33 countries and regions likely to be most waterstressed by the year 2040, 14 of them – including Israel – are located in the Middle East, according to a new index published by the World Resources Institute.
Israel claimed the eighth spot on the Washington, DC-based research organization’s list.
Attributing the increased stress to rapidly growing populations and emerging middle classes, the index describes how “the world’s demand for water is likely to surge in the next few decades.”
Topping the charts with equal rankings of first place were five Middle Eastern entities – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority – as well as San Marino and Singapore.
Israel received as high a water stress score as the top seven, but placed eighth, with Saudia Arabia, Oman, Lebanon, Kyrgyzstan, Iran and Jordan closely following.
To arrive at the water-stress rankings, which measure both competition and surface-water depletion, World Resources Institute researchers created projections for 167 countries in 2020, 2030 and 2040. The data come from the organization’s June 2015 Aqueduct Water Stress Projections.
In the Middle East in particular, which the authors describe as “already arguably the least water-secure [region] in the world,” the report foresees increased challenges in the coming decades. Acknowledging that water may seem like a tangential issue in comparison to regional violence and turmoil, the authors write that water shortages likely contributed to unrest in Syria – as dwindling water supplies forced farmers to move to urban areas and general destabilized the region.
“The problem extends to other countries,” the authors write. “Water is a significant dimension of the decades-old conflict between Palestine and Israel.”
More than 50 percent of Israel’s water comes from man-made resources, such as desalination and sewage recycling.
This has enabled the Water Authority to significantly reduce its pumping of natural fresh water resources, such as those in Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), according to the authority.
Desalination is expected to account for about 600 million cubic meters of the country’s annual 2.1-billion cubic meter water supply once an additional facility in Ashdod opens later this year. Treated wastewater accounts for a similar amount of the water supply. By far leading the world in reclaiming wastewater, Israel treats more than 85 percent of its sewage – most of which is then reused for watering agricultural fields.
In response to the World Resources Institute index, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor explained that the study is based on the same types of global climate models that the Israeli Water Authority also uses.
“The Water Authority recognizes the predictions that our region is encountering a trend of decreasing water resources, primarily because of climate change,” Schor said. “The Israeli Water Authority also published such forecasts, in collaboration with various research centers around the world.”
As a result of the trend, the region must optimize its water use, as well as adopt a variety of technological solutions, he added.
“Recognizing this, the Israel Water Authority has started to prepare for the occurrence of a depletion of its natural water resources, developing additional water resources by recycling treated wastewater for agriculture, constructing seawater and brackish water desalination facilities, and at all times optimizing the use of water in all sectors,” Schor said.
Regarding the water relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel is required by the Oslo Accords to provide the PA with 31
of water annually. As of the end of 2013, Israel was in reality supplying the PA with 52
– an amount that the Water Authority said increases annually.
In addition to the amount directly provided by Israel, the PA harvests about 196 from the region’s aquifers.
Gaza, which receives a separate supply from Israel and has its own independent – albeit highly polluted – aquifer, now gets 10 from Israel, which was doubled from 5 in March.
Responding to the World Resources Institute statement about Israel and the PA’s water tensions, Schor expressed optimism.
“In the past, the water shortage has been a pretext for war,” he said. “Today, in our region, like throughout the world, the subject of developing new water sources can serve as a bridge for peace.”