While the city of Aswan, in the south of Egypt is one of the sunniest and hottest cities in the world and less than a millimetre of rain falls there annually, if they are lucky, it is by no means the most water-stressed city. Aswan lies close to the Aswan High Dam and Lake Nasser, one of the largest manmade lakes in the world, which serves the irrigation needs of the whole of Egypt and neighbouring Sudan.
Lima, a city with a population of around 8.5 million on the Peruvian coast is one of the driest desert regions in the world. It receives a mere one centimetre of annual rainfall on average and around 20% of the population is cut off from the drinking-water network. Peruvians are innovative though, and the Peruvians Without Water movement has built immense nets to trap the thick sea fog and mist that surrounds the coastal city for more than 6 months of the year. There are currently in excess of 1, 000 nets around Lima harvesting 200 to 400 litres of water daily.
The whole of the Middle East is basically water-stressed, with the top five countries with the lowest renewable freshwater resources per person (Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar) all being situated in that region. Fortunately though, this region generates a lot of wealth from oil, so are invested in creating freshwater they need, which can be seen by the fact that a whopping 70% of the world’s water desalination plants are situated there.
Singapore also has limited access to freshwater relative to its population, but it too has found a way to create water security. With only 178 days of rain annually, it has to rely on various means to ensure that its dense population has sufficient water, and does this by utilising rainwater, recycling wastewater, imported water from Malaysia, and desalinating sea water.
So, while Amman, Kuwait City, Abu Dhabi, and Doha; Singapore, Gaza City, and the Iranian city of Ahvaz are all hot, arid climates, Sana’a, the capital of Yemen seems to win the dubious title of the most water-stressed city.
Sana’a was already water-stressed before the beginning of the conflict in the region, and an increasing population and poor water management (approximately 60% of water is lost through leaks) has just exacerbated the problem. Only 48% of the 2.2 million inhabitants have access to piped water; the balance gets their water from tankers at between 5 and 10 times the cost.
The cultivation of the mild narcotic, khat, accounts for 40% of the water drawn from the Sana’a Basin, and Sana’a water is itself drawn from the world’s most over-stressed aquifer, the Arabian Aquifer System, which has to service 60 million people in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.