Middle East is getting thirsty

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NASA find fresh water losses in Middle East
Variations in total water storage from normal, in millimeters, in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, as measured by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, from January 2003 through December 2009. Reds represent drier conditions, while blues represent wetter conditions. The majority of the water lost was due to reductions in groundwater caused by human activities. By periodically measuring gravity regionally, GRACE tells scientists how much water storage changes over time. Image credit: NASA/UC Irvine/NCAR

A new study, conducted over a seven-year period, has revealed that the Middle East’s freshwater reserves are drying up.

The study was carried out in collaboration with scientists at the University of California, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, and the National Centre of Atmospheric Research. It found out that parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins lost 117m acre feet (144 cubic kilometers) of their total stored freshwater. This amount of water is equivalent to the total water in the Dead Sea.

According to the findings, pumping of groundwater from underground reservoirs are responsible for about 60 percent of the loss. The study used two gravity-measuring NASA satellites to obtain ground data of the region. The report is one of the first comprehensive hydrological assessments of the entire Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region. Findings of the study will be published on 15 February in the journal Water Resources Research.

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The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites have pointed out that there has been an “alarming rate of decrease in total water storage” in the river basins. They “currently have the second fastest rate of groundwater storage loss on Earth, after India. The rate was especially striking after the 2007 drought. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise and the region does not coordinate its water management because of different interpretations of international laws.”

The research has highlighted that around one fifth of the recorded water losses were a result of soil drying up and snowpack shrinking. Loss of surface water from lakes and reservoirs, and reduction in groundwater, were other major reasons for the water loss. In response to the 2007 drought, the surface water depleted heavily and water wells were drilled, especially in Iraq, to alleviate the problem.

A Global Water Security report, written produced by US intelligence agencies in 2012, has also rated the Middle East as naturally the driest region in the world. Besides the Middle East, North Africa is also highly vulnerable to water shortages.

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