Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Forget Oil Glut and War. Water is Real Threat for Mideast

Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates rank high in water-stress index

Thirst.

It's not talked about nearly as much as oil or Islamic State, yet lack of water is driving conflict and strife in the Middle East and North Africa.

The World Resources Institute released this week a water-stress index measuring competition and depletion of surface water. It shows which countries are most vulnerable to scarcity in 2040. Nearly half of the 33 countries that fall in the extremely high risk category are in the Middle East. 

Leading the pack are heavily oil-producing Gulf countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. These nations face "exceptional water-related challenges" because they don't have lakes or rivers and already rely heavily upon groundwater and desalinated seawater, the findings show.

Lack of water means farmers can't grow the crops needed to feel exploding populations. Governments may stockpile grains out of fear of depletion, creating shockwaves to global commodities markets. Failure to address water shortages creates social unrest and escalates political risk. It was one of the catalysts for the uprising in Syria, now a full-blown regional proxy war.

For more, read this QuickTake: Drought

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