The Middle East region covers 5 percent (6.52 million km2) of the world’s surface area. The region is home to six percent of world's population, yet has just one percent of the world's freshwater resources. The main water resources in this region, which has 25 rivers, are from precipitation, rivers and groundwater. Two-thirds of the current renewable water resources in the Middle East are transboundary waters. With a prevailing arid climate, 80 percent of the region is desert. Semi-arid zones are found in small areas of the region. The mean precipitation rate in this area is 238 mm. Precipitation rate is less than 5 mm annually in the arid regions in the central parts of Middle East. The annual average evapotranspiration rate is 2,000 mm.
Global water resources are not, in reality, equally distributed, and in regions where semi-arid climatic zones prevail, water is scarce. The average annual water supply per capita in the Middle East varies from absolute water scarcity (<500 m3/per capita/ year) to water stress (500-1,000 m3/per capita/ year) according to Falkenmark Index (1989). More than 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%.
Agriculture accounts for more than 70 percent of the world’s total water use. Its share drops to about 40 percent in countries as the European Union member states that import food and have a developed and diverse economy, but rises to over 95 percent in many of the countries where agriculture is the primary economic activity.
Water use in the Middle East has a direct impact on the economy. The agriculture sector is the predominant consumer of water. 60-to-90 percent of the region’s water is used for agriculture, 1-to-10 percent for industry, 3-to-10 percent for human consumption, and 3-20 percent for hygiene.