There is a growing consensus on the imperative of transboundary cooperation among countries. The growing scarcity of water, implications for food security and human security explain why, increasingly, water protection and its optimal use are critically shaping the foreign policy of Middle Eastern countries and international affairs. In the future, the key geopolitical resource in the Middle East will be water due to increasing populations and the subsequent water and food demand.
In a region where water is rare, the water problem has been worsened by deteriorating water quality in recent years. The use of water for industrial, domestic and agricultural purposes leads to pollution. The region faces water problems at the local, national and international levels. Water resources affect relations between states, cities, tribes and ethnic groups, and the use of water resources is affected by these relations.
The main causes of the water-related problems in the Middle East are commonly thought to be the following: the semi-arid and arid climate, rapid population growth, low precipitation rates and decreasing precipitation in recent years: drought, high evaporation, unequal distribution of water resources regarding population density, mismanagement of water resources, insufficient water storage units and water networks, conventional irrigation methods and excessive water loss. Sudden changes in sociopolitical structures threaten food insecurity leading to potential poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
As irrigated agriculture represents the bulk of the demand for water in the region, it is also generally the first sector impacted by increased water scarcity, resulting in a reduced capacity to maintain per-capita food production while meeting water needs for domestic, industrial etc. In order to sustain their needs, these countries need to focus on the efficient use of all water sources (groundwater, surface water and rainfall) and water allocation strategies that maximize the economic and social returns to limited water resources, and at the same time enhance the water efficiency of all sectors.
The Middle East has become a hotspot of unsustainable water use, with more than half of current water withdrawals in some countries exceeding the amount naturally available. This could have serious long-term consequences for the region’s development and stability. Solutions for narrowing the gap between the supply of and demand for water are of urgent priority.
There are mainly two options to improving water use efficiency in agriculture: reduce water losses and increase water productivity. Technically, ‘water use efficiency’ is a non-dimensional ratio that can be calculated at any scale, from irrigation system to the point of consumption in the field. Increasing crop productivity involves producing more crop or value per volume of water applied. The working area can cover issues as changing cropping patterns, introducing more efficient irrigation techniques and recycling wastewater for agriculture in the countries.
Thus, any work on the issue of water use efficiency in the agricultural sector can be an area of cooperation that has regional and transboundary dimensions, and one that can produce huge benefits for all countries involved. Moreover, working on irrigation water use has direct implications for other important areas such as food security. Last but not least, sharing knowledge and best practices that lead to building trust among countries has the utmost importance under the umbrella of developing dialogue.