New Report, Status of Land and Water Resources

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New Report, Status of Land and Water Resources
30 July 2022

FAO launches a new report informing on the status of land and water resources in the Near East and North Africa region.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published today the “State of Land and Water Resources (SOLAW)” report for the Near East and North Africa region informing on the status of land and water resources, highlighting the risks, and informing on related opportunities and challenges, also underlining the essential contribution of appropriate policies, institutions and investments.

The report comes at a time when human pressures on the systems of land, soils and fresh water are intensifying and the impacts of climate change are worsening.

The SOLAW in the NENA region takes into consideration major drivers of regional change, including demands driven by demographics, land degradation, water-use challenges, urbanization and accompanying changing consumption patterns, climate change impacts and declining public and private investments in agriculture.

The report stresses that moving towards sustainable agriculture bears great promise to alleviate land and water pressures and provide multiple opportunities to contribute to achieving the sustainable development goals in the region. Sustainable agricultural practices lead to water saving, soil conservation, sustainable land management, conservation of biodiveristy, the restoration of the region’s ecosystem and climate change benefits.

Accomplishing this requires accurate information and a major change in how we manage these resources. It also requires complementing efforts from outside the natural resources management domain to maximize synergies and manage trade-offs.

SOLAW aims to provide solutions away from the business-as-usual approach, inject urgency into the transformation of the global food systems – water, land and soils – and inspire uptake by decision-makers at the regional and national levels.

It also calls for a stronger focus on the urban-rural interface, using both modern technologies and nature-based solutions. Numerous examples of actions already under way in different NENA countries are illustrated for potential replication. Examples include wastewater reuse, bioeconomy and circular economy approaches, climate-smart agricultural approaches, digital monitoring of land and water resources, territorial but also decentralized planning approaches, and knowledge sharing at different levels. Since many issues are transboundary, the need for territorial planning and negotiating mechanisms is significant for NENA countries.

Key Messages:

  • The NENA region is dominated by deserts and a harsh environment. The main characteristics are a high level of aridity and water stress, poor soils and limited arable land. Climate change projections predict higher temperatures and rainfall decrease, with more drought and extreme events. People living in coastal areas must prepare themselves for more difficult futures, as a result of sea level rise. .
  • Water is the number one limiting factor for agriculture in the NENA region. Understanding the sources of water withdrawals is key to understanding water stress in the region. Desalination is particularly important, given that about 50 percent of the world’s desalination capacity is in the NENA region.
  • Freshwater availability per capita declined in NENA by 78 percent between 1962 and 2018. This is much higher than the global figure of 59 percent. Nine NENA countries had reductions in freshwater availability per capita of over 80 percent, including all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
  • Water stress levels are high in all NENA countries (except Mauritania). Water stress ranges in NENA vary from 47 percent in Iraq to 3 850 percent in Kuwait. Values above 100 percent indicate overuse of water and/or a reliance on desalinated water. The world average of water stress is just over 18 percent (2018).
  • Water-use efficiency is variable in the region. Almost half of NENA countries had levels of water-use efficiency greater than the world value in 2018. Good performance in water-use efficiency is generally found in the Mashreq and Gulf regions rather than the Maghreb.
  • The NENA region has the highest percentage of cropland under irrigation in comparison with the global average, indicating a high dependency on water for agricultural production.
  • Land degradation is a significant feature of the region. Soil salinity, water erosion and pollution are major challenges.
  • Arable land is scarce in NENA. Under 5 percent of NENA’s total land is arable, less than half of the global average. Twelve out of 19 NENA countries have less than 5 percent arable land. Arable land’s share of total land in the region ranges from 0.25 percent to 25 percent. Arable land per capita is variable, with the lowest found in GCC countries (except Saudi Arabia).
  • Forestland cover is limited in the region. Forests covered 2.47 percent of the total land area in the region in 2020 and OWL accounts for 2.36 percent. The NENA region experienced a loss of 12.5 percent in its forest cover and 16.9 of OWL between 1990 and 2020.
  • Aquaculture has emerged as an important sector in NENA. Aquaculture doubled its production in ten years to reach 1.7 million tonnes and USD 2.3 billion worth in 2018. Aquaculture development has occurred.

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