MENA Blog 3

After putting in my data, I found that I use about 1,002 gallons of water per day, which works out to 7,014 a week and 336,672 gallons a year (the second calculator marked my water use at 161,726 gallons a year, but I think the first one is more accurate). This is less than the average American uses (1,802 gallons a day), but I am also a student living on a college campus, which I think is more difficult to account for. For example, I don’t cook as much here as I do at home, but I also have no control over how the food in the dining hall is sourced and disposed off.

As climate change changes weather patterns and water scarcity increases worldwide, it’s important to appreciate the myriad roles water plays in daily life and society. There’s the obvious, visible uses (taking a shower, drinking water, eating food cooked with water) but water touches so much more than that. Some of your electricity might come directly from hydropower, or indirectly rely on water being used in the many stages of oil production (source). Like taking pictures? Water is used to cool massive data centers (source). Where does your food come from? Water is crucial for agriculture and transportation.

The US is relatively free from water stress at the moment. First, the US is the 4th largest country in the world by total area (source), and much of that land regularly or semi-regularly experiences rain or snowfall. The relatively rich supply of water means when you break down individual water usage in the US, 80% comes from internal water sources and 20% comes from external. Snowmelt and rain into reservoirs and pumping from underground aquifers which naturally refill over time are two major ways the US supplies itself with water. Although these resources are already being impacted by climate change (less and inconsistent snowfall and rain, increased demand and persistent drought draining aquifers faster than they refill) (source), for the most part Americans can still live their lives as normal without worrying about water supply. This is not the case in other parts of the world.

In North Africa, water stress is a constant worry. The region is among the most water stressed in the word, with an average of 264,172 gallons per person per year (~724 gallons per day) available (source). However, actual use regularly exceeds this: In Egypt, an individual uses on average 977 gallons a day (71% internal, 29% external). The other four countries in the region all exceed this, and lack the Nile river as a major source of domestic water. Libya averages 1,480 gallons a day (35% internal, 65% external), Algeria averages 1,162 gallons a day (49% internal, 51% external), Morocco averages 1,242 gallons a day (71% internal, 29% external), and Tunisia averages 1611.45 gallons a day (68% internal, 32% external) (source). All four of these countries share a similar climate: temperate along the Mediterranean coast and arid or semi-arid inland. Water is scarce: Morrocco, Algeria, and Tunisia benefit from rain and snowfall in the Atlas Mountains, and all four pull from large underground aquifers (unlike in the US, many of these aquifers are “fossil water” and do not refill). However, the changing climate is already creating challenges: as rainfall decreases, droughts increase in duration and intensity, and extremely high temperatures become more frequent (source, source), combined with a growing population and demand for water (source), countries in North Africa will have a harder and harder time ensuring their populations receive adequate water.

The implications of this are immense. Aside from simply meeting daily needs for drinking and sanitation, water is critical to the economic, social, and political fabric of the region. For example, in Tunisia, 77.4% of total water withdrawals are used by agriculture (source), in Algeria, 59% (source), Morocco 85% (source), and Egypt 85% (source). Increased water scarcity will make it harder to keep up agricultural yields, affecting exports and domestic food security. According to the Pew Research center, in 2010 more than 93% of the population in North Africa was Muslim, and that figure was expected to grow (source). Water plays many roles in Islam, including the Wudu, a “spiritual cleaning process” that involves washing with clean water and is a “fundamental ritual” for Muslims (source). Although there is an alternative to washing with clean water (Tayammum is “dry ablution,” involves washing with soil, earth, or sand, and can be done when water is unavailable (source)), water is preferred. Water stress might force people to ration water for their basic necessities, negatively impacting their practice of religion.

Domestically, the legitimacy of many governments also depends on their ability to provide for their people: fear over access to water or anger at government mismanagement of state resources and wealth could destabilize existing governments and contribute to regional instability. There is historical context in the region: a common cause of the Arab Spring protests was a desire for government accountability (source). Internationally, many countries in MENA share water resources, and as water scarcity increases, so does the chance of inter-state conflict. For example: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia are in dispute over Ethiopia’s “Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” (source), while Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya all share access to a massive fossil aquifer (the North Western Sahara Aquifer) (source), where overuse has led to “loss of artesian pressure, lowering of the piezometric level, and water degradation due to salinization” (source).

Although North Africa and the Middle East are not at the top of the list for carbon emissions (overall and per capita) (source) (especially if historical emissions are factored in (source)), they are already disproportionately impacted by climate change. Climate change is a global problem and will require global solutions. However, Western states in particular must recognize their disproportionate per-capita contribution to the crisis, and work to ensure solutions involve and aid the entire global community.






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