||The agricultural virtual water trade is estimated to contribute 248 billion cubic metres to the water security of the MENA region every year, and this thesis examines the theory of the virtual water trade to find out how exactly the region has integrated into that trade. Despite sizeable and growing virtual water dependence in the region, and a state of abstract water scarcity, 85 percent of MENA water withdrawals are still committed to agriculture. For the region to commit its scarce water resources to low-value productivity such as agriculture carries a very high opportunity cost.
This paper will ask the following questions: How has the MENA region integrated into the virtual water trade, what is the opportunity cost of its agricultural policies, and how does it perpetuate its agricultural policies? This paper makes two principal arguments. Firstly, this paper acknowledges the important role played by imported foodstuffs in meeting the food and water security needs of the region. Generally, the region imports low-value water-intensive crops such as wheat, and exports higher-value crops such as tomatoes and citrus fruits, though until recently wheat production has also been prominent and widespread in the region. This paper argues that because the MENA region relies on water from rivers and aquifers (blue water) to irrigate, whereas other parts of the world can make use more of soil moisture (green water), the opportunity costs for the water use in the MENA region are far greater than those in other parts of the world. This paper will make an attempt to calculate those costs, showing that the MENA region exports virtual water for a far higher opportunity cost than is borne by those countries that export virtual water to the MENA region. Secondly, this paper argues that the region’s reliance on imported virtual water backgrounds and conceals policies of water mismanagement and misallocation – policies which are then perpetuated by nationally and internationally funded major water engineering projects that prolong unsustainable practices.