Water Scarcity: A Challenge to Sustainable Development in The Arab Region

High-Level Meeting within the 13th Session of The Arab Ministerial Water Council

17 November 2021

Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa


Secretary-General of the League of Arab States,

Chair of the Session of the Arab Ministerial Water Council,

FAO Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa,

Excellencies: Ambassadors and Heads of missions,

Excellencies: Senior Government officials,

Colleagues from international organisations, academic institutions, Civil Society Organizations, and the private sector,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It my great pleasure to open the High-Level Meeting Water Scarcity: A Challenge to Sustainable Development in the Arab Region. This event was made possible thanks to the valuable support of the League of Arab States.

Water is life: without it,  we cannot survive. Safe drinking water is essential for our health and survival. The WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation found that in 2020 more than 47 million people in the region lacked access to basic drinking water services.

The region is the most water-scarce region in the world having 10 of the world’s 17 extremely high water stressed countries.  Almost nine out of every 10 children in the region live in areas of high or extremely high-water stress.

Children’s rights are especially affected as no one suffers more from water scarcity than children. The lives and future of girls and boys are at risk of being severely disrupted, with children exposed to diarrhoeal diseases, child malnutrition, lower school attendance, and an increase in child marriage. It is our responsibility to protect children from worsening water crises across the region by building systems’ resilience. The time to act is now.

Declining water resources and climate change pose serious threats for countries in the region to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and uphold the basic human right of access to water. The water scarcity challenge in the region is now more pressing than ever.

As we know, a complex set of drivers influence water scarcity in the region including climate change, desertification, population growth, unsustainable water abstraction, inadequate governance frameworks, deteriorating infrastructure, and transboundary water challenges.

We need to collectively work together to address these drivers with key strategic actions such as:

  • The creation of a robust enabling environment with strong national policy and regulatory systems that directly address scarcity, including transboundary water governance.
  • Work with civil society, especially youth as agents of change, on the value of water and water conservation
  • Incorporate water scarcity as a priority component in climate related policy and financing.
  • The establishment of high-level multi-sectoral coordination groups between key ministries (e.g. water, agriculture, energy and finance) to support policy development and revision.
  • And support capacity building of key water sector actors, including regulatory bodies, private sector operators, and national water utilities to upgrade ageing infrastructure to reduce water wastage, develop climate-informed, sustainable operation and maintenance plans, and the establishment of sustainable, pro-poor tariff structures. 

UNICEF stands ready to support work on water scarcity   and the conclusions of this important event will help guide our work.   I wish you a fruitful day of discussions and deliberations and look forward to hearing of the outcomes and recommendations that will be brought to the Arab Ministerial Water Council tomorrow.


*Translated from Arabic*


Media contacts

Juliette Touma
Regional Chief of Advocacy and Communications
UNICEF Middle East and North Africa Regional Office
Tel: 00962798674628
Salim Oweis
Communication Officer
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