Bled dry

How war in the Middle East is bringing the region to the brink of a water catastrophe

The Middle East’s water supplies – and the people who depend on them – are at breaking point. On this page that provides highlights of the full report, we detail the inter-related network of problems behind this long overlooked crisis, and what can be done about them.

A network of problems

  • A drying climate

    Record-low rainfalls, disappearing rivers, shrinking reservoirs and lowered water tables have made clean water increasingly difficult to come by.

  • Broken systems

    Due to years of conflict, water and electrical systems in numerous countries are badly damaged or in poor repair. This reduces water quality and quantity while requiring more water to be pumped from ground sources, rivers and reservoirs.

  • Direct attack: A disturbing trend

    Warring parties sometimes intentionally target water and electrical systems, or interrupt service, as a military or political tactic. This not only violates the laws that govern armed conflict, it puts the health of thousands at risk.

  • Breeding grounds

    Waste-water and sewage-treatment plants and pipe networks have also been damaged by fighting, or have stopped functioning due to power outages, placing already vulnerable communities at great risk of infectious diseases.

  • Overwhelming demand

    Forced to flee their homes due to the Syrian conflict, more than 12 million are now living in camps and communities where water resources were already stretched to the limit.

What we can do about it

  • Meet immediate needs

    In order to avert greater humanitarian tragedy, the immediate needs of millions of people in desperate situations must be met. This will allow them to stay healthy, avoid contaminated water sources that lead to illness and allow them someday to live full productive lives.

  • Tap new sources

    Where possible, the ICRC and others must continue to work with local communities to find new sources of clean water that can be sustained by the local environment.

  • Stop the leaks

    A significant amount of water can be found simply by upgrading and repairing damaged and aging systems so that less water is wasted. In some cases, conflict has created situations in which half the water that is pumped is lost on the way to the tap.

  • Step up the pressure

    Exert more influence on armed actors to allow free access to neutral humanitarians working to restore vital services and to stop using water and electricity as weapons. They must respect international humanitarian law and the health of people who need these services to live.

  • Keeping it flowing

    Simply digging new wells or pumping more water is not a solution if water sources are not replenished at the same rate. We must work together therefore to come up with long-term solutions even as we work to meet the immediate needs of millions of suffering people.This is a complex problem that belongs to everyone in the region.

ICRC action across the Middle East

9.5 million
people benefited from emergency repairs / rehabilitation of supply systems
people got water delivered by trucks.
1.1 million
people benefited from improvement of water storage or distribution facilities.

in depth

More about country-specific problems
and what we’re doing about them

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Stop targeting water systems in Middle East conflicts - says ICRC

Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s head of operations for the Near and Middle East, explains how the Middle East is on the edge, with water resources and delivery systems near breaking point.

Bled dry

How war in the Middle East is bringing the region to the brink of a water catastrophe

Nowhere on earth is the intersection between conflict and water more evident than in the Middle East and Gulf states. Even before the conflicts of recent decades, water use in the region was already at unsustainable levels.

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