Freshwater supplies from the Tigris-Euphrates support 60m people. © Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Freshwater supplies from the Tigris-Euphrates support 60m people. © Matt Cardy/Getty Images

'Transboundary action' needed on freshwater supply

Increased “transboundary action” is needed to avert a growing international water crisis, according to a report. 

The Blue Peace Index report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said that by 2050 “more than 50% of the world’s population will live in water-scarce regions”. 

There is a growing need for better water management of transboundary river basins, which span different countries, as these provide 60% of global freshwater resources and are home to 40% of world's population, according to the report.

The EIU recommended governments prioritise the management of water, implement water policies and share data, as well as build stronger institutions to support bilateral cooperation.   

The five main river basins that provide water to 24 countries across five continents are the Amazon in Latin America, the Mekong in Asia, the Sava in Europe, the Senegal in Africa, and the Tigris-Euphrates in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. 

The Tigris-Euphrates is highlighted as falling short on all areas assessed by the index, including policy and legal frameworks, institutions and participation, water management, infrastructure and financing, and cooperation. The river system flows through Turkey, Iraq and Syria, and borders Iran and Jordan, supporting around 60m people. 

It is the most water-stressed basin due to significant political, security and economic issues, which aren’t helped by its “limited bilateral and almost non-existent regional cooperation”. The region can learn from other basins, where conflict has occurred, to develop institutions to boost cooperation, said the EIU.

Approximately 40m people across Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey are short on water. As many of the countries share international borders the EIU highlighted “the importance of greater collaboration to avert the coming crisis”.

Pollution from industrial and agricultural waste and damming projects have also worsened the quality of the river basin.

The water flow is forecasted to be hit by climate change due to rising temperatures, with water conditions predicted to be eight times more stressed in 2025 than in 2010. 

The increase of global water demand has put a strain on resources with a range of sectors relying on supply, including agriculture, trade, and energy. 

“Water-intensive agriculture, along with an expansion of water-intensive industry and inefficient irrigation practices, has been among the dominant drivers of water demand,” said the EIU.

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