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West Asia

'The region's population is growing much more rapidly than the pace of development of water resources. Consequently, per capita availability is decreasing. Of the 11 countries in the region, 8 already have a per capita water use of less than 1 000 m3 a year, and four use less than half of that.'

GEO-2000, page 167

 Some statistics...

*  Most land is either desertified or vulnerable to desertification. Large areas have been affected by salinization, alkalinization and nutrient deposition.

*  Groundwater resources are in a critical condition because the volumes withdrawn far exceed natural recharge rates.

*  Some 1.2 million barrels of oil are spilled into the Persian Gulf annually. The level of petroleum hydrocarbons in the area exceeds that in the North Sea by almost three times and is twice that of the Caribbean Sea.

*  Air pollution has risen to alarming levels, especially in cities of more than one million inhabitants.

*  The oil-producing countries generate from 2-8 times more hazardous waste per capita than does the United States.


The region is facing a number of major environmental issues, of which degradation of water and land resources are the most pressing. Groundwater resources are in a critical condition and major environmental problems are likely to occur in the future unless improved water management plans are put in place.

Land degradation is a serious problem, and the region's rangelands are deteriorating, mainly as a result of overstocking what are essentially fragile ecosystems. Drought, mismanagement of land resources, intensification of agriculture, poor irrigation practices and uncontrolled urbanization have also contributed. Marine and coastal environments have been degraded by overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction. Industrial pollution and management of hazardous wastes also threaten socio-economic development. Over the next decade, urbanization, industrialization, population growth, abuse of agrochemicals, and uncontrolled fishing and hunting are expected to increase pressures on the region's fragile ecosystems and their endemic species.

 Renewable water resources, 1995 (m3 per capita)

Click image to enlarge

Renewable water supplies in the Arabian Peninsula are well below the critical 1 000 m3/capita value used to indicate chronic water shortage

The command and control approach, through legislation, is still the main environmental management tool in almost all states. However, several new initiatives are being taken to protect environmental resources and control pollution. In addition, many enterprises such as refineries, petrochemical complexes and metal smelters have begun procedures for obtaining certification under the ISO 14 000 series. Another important approach to resource conservation has been a growing interest in recycling scarce resources, particularly water. In many states on the Arabian Peninsula, municipal wastewater is subjected at least to secondary treatment, and is widely used to irrigate trees planted to green the landscape.

Success in implementing global and regional MEAs in the region is mixed and commitment to such policy tools quite weak. At a national level there has, however, been a significant increase in commitment to sustainable development, and environmental institutions have been given a higher priority and status.

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