The Middle East and North Africa's battle against water scarcity

Published 10:10 PM ET, Wed July 11, 2018
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Earth's surface is 71 percent water, but the Middle East and North Africa have access to barely any of it. The region is the most water-scarce in the world, home to just one percent of the world's freshwater resources. UIG via Getty Images
Countries in the region are withdrawing water from underground reservoirs faster than it can be replenished. This is mainly to irrigate farmland: agriculture accounts for nearly 80% of water usage in MENA, according to a report from the World Bank.

Pictured here: Crop circles in Saudi Arabia draw on groundwater for irrigation.
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Libya relies on its subterranean aquifers. Since 1991, the Great Man-Made River -- a network of underground pipes -- has carried groundwater from southern Libya to places like the Ajdabiya reservoir, pictured here, on the northern coast. Alamy/Alamy Stock Photo
To overcome water scarcity and meet increasing demand, MENA countries have long been producing their own water. A popular method is to separate salt from seawater in a process called desalination. Approximately 75% of worldwide desalinated water is produced in MENA, at plants like this one in Tel Aviv, Israel. Pallava Bagla/Corbis News/Corbis/Getty Images
MENA accounts for nearly half of the world's desalination capacity, according to World Bank calculations, making it the largest desalination market in the world. Desalination is widely practiced in the oil-rich nations of the Gulf, at plants like this one in Qatar. Alamy/Alamy Stock Photo
According to the International Desalination Association, more than 300 million people around the world rely on desalinated water for their everyday needs. Alamy/Alamy Stock Photo
But desalination in the Middle East has a significant environmental cost because it relies on energy-intensive thermal desalination plants. Waste left over from the process is often discharged into the sea and can damage marine ecosystems. Here, discharge from a plant in Kuwait flows into the Persian Gulf.
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Another nonconventional water resource is treated wastewater. Wastewater is typically recycled at treatment plants, like this one in Jordan, for use in irrigation. AHMAD ABDO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Physical, chemical and biological processes are used to remove contaminants from wastewater. AHMAD ABDO/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
However, according to a World Bank report, 57 percent of the wastewater collected in MENA is returned to the environment untreated. AFP/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The United Arab Emirates has invested in another solution to tackle the water problem -- rainfall-enhancing technology called cloud seeding. During cloud seeding missions, aircraft eject salt crystals from flares mounted on their wings to stimulate condensation and the growth of water droplets. MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The UAE conducted 242 cloud seeding missions in 2017, the National Center of Meteorology and Seismology told CNN. Jumana Jolie/Getty Images.
"Rain enhancement has the potential to offer a more cost effective, sustainable and much less environmentally damaging option than other solutions, such as desalination," Alya Al Mazroui, Director of the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science told CNN. The salts used for seeding are "no more toxic than table salts," she added. MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Rainwater harvesting is another low-cost solution in the region whereby rainwater runoff is collected, filtered and stored for use. Such measures have been used for millennia in the region, according to the World Bank. Tanks and cisterns -- such as this one in Yemen -- provide important supply sources for many rural and urban communities.
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