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Desalination Is a Global Human Issue

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Desalination Is a Global Human Issue is looked at by nippon.com but with a particular emphasis on the Middle East.

Desalination Is a Global Human Issue

The above image is for illustration and is of Gulf News.

The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that more than 700 million people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, and 300,000 infants die annually due to contaminated water. Ensuring clean, stable water access is also the sixth of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. There are aspects to the water issue that go beyond health, as well. For example, a paper presented at an international conference on desalination showed that water access is also related to gender equality and equal opportunity in education, since many women and children are forced to spend their time doing the hard work of collecting water, and many children are unable to receive proper education because of their water-carrying duties. Only a few dozen countries worldwide offer reliable, direct access to potable tap water, but maintaining household water supply is also an urgent issue due to aging infrastructure and deteriorating water sources.

At the same time, the international community is focusing more on carbon neutrality. One related effort is the plan to increase vegetation and protect marine life in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, where sustainable desalination technology is essential at present and into the future. Desertification, driven by global warming as well as the rapid increase in water consumption caused by growth in populations and economies, is revealing ever more starkly the pressure on water sources. All of humanity shares the need to develop stable water resources through better seawater desalination technology.

A desalination plant on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. (Courtesy Saline Water Conversion Corporation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

Reducing Costs by Evolving Reverse Osmosis Membranes

Currently, the main desalination technology centers on the reverse osmosis membrane method. It leverages the basic principles of reverse osmosis using a membrane with countless microscopic pores that allow only water to pass through, removing salt and other substances from seawater to create fresh water. Currently, this method produces roughly 65 million tons of fresh water a day worldwide. This is equivalent to 14 times Tokyo’s metropolitan water supply, a city with a population of about 14 million. The main uses for this desalinated water are municipal water supplies, using about 60% of the output, and industrial use at 30%. Reverse osmosis technology clearly offers a significant contribution to humanity.


Tubular desalination modules installed in a desalination plant on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. They contain reverse osmosis membranes that remove the salt from seawater. (Courtesy Saline Water Conversion Corporation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia)

The reverse osmosis membranes widely used today are made of a polymer called cross-linked aromatic polyamide, a high molecular weight nylon with a thickness of several hundred nanometers. These represent many improvements in reverse osmosis membranes since they first appeared in the 1970s. Today, reverse osmosis offers a safe, stable source of freshwater from seawater and has contributed much to the world, but in an era when sustainable global environmental measures are increasingly urgent, this area demands further technical innovation on the base of the great technological accumulation so far.

The first area of improvement is cost. Currently, removing 99.8% of the salt from seawater to create fresh drinking water requires very high water pressure, along the order of five to seven megapascals. That creates an enormous demand for electric power, and the resulting cost of desalination is about $1 per ton. International associations working on desalination are trying to cut that cost in half with greening and other sustainable concepts.

We also need to further investigate how to avoid deteriorating ocean water quality. The desalination process results in 1.5 liters of highly concentrated brine for every 1 liter of fresh drinking water produced. This brine contains twice as much salt per unit as ocean water, and watchdog groups have pointed out that the impact of this effluent on marine ecosystems, particularly closed ones, is an issue needing attention. One promising solution to the issue is repurposing waste brine as a reusable mineral resource. Researchers are working on ways to reclaim mineral resources like salt, lithium, and magnesium from the brine.

Resiliency Key to Preserving Marine Environment

One key to further cost-cutting and environmental measures, though, is increasing membrane resiliency. Strengthening reverse osmosis membranes to fight deterioration first requires reducing the level of contaminants that adhere to the surface of the membranes. Seawater is filled with impurities like plankton, which can clog the membranes during filtration. Natural organic substances, like alginic acid from seaweed or humic acid from decaying plant matter, are particularly difficult to remove. These contaminants clog membrane diffusion pathways at the molecular level, which reduces their water permeability and desalination rates. When that happens, not even increasing water pressure will clear the pathways. The desalination plant has to be shut down and clean water pumped through the equipment to clear it, but that also incurs considerable costs.

Currently, plants chemically pretreat seawater intended for desalination to remove impurities in hopes of reducing clogging. Although the chemicals used are detoxified before being released into the ocean, they still need to be kept to a minimum to preserve marine environments. From this point of view, more resilient reverse osmosis membranes offer considerable hope because increased durability will reduce the need for treatment—allowing us to build on the hard work of those who went before us by making further significant improvements through this research.

Work on Innovative New Membranes

In 2013, Shinshū University established the Global Aqua Innovation Center, an industry-government-academia collaborative research organization to address those needs. One focus for research has been developing reverse osmosis membranes using a key part of modern nanotechnology, carbon nanotubes.

Carbon nanotubes are nanosized ultrafine, hollow fibers of carbon atoms in cylindrical form . They can be formed from hydrocarbons like methane at about 1,000℃ through metal-particle catalysis, using metals like iron. They are 1/50,000th the thickness of a human hair, lightweight, and many times stronger than steel. Since they are chemically stable and efficiently transfer heat and electricity, they are used as electrode additives for lithium-ion batteries, helping to strengthen battery performance. They are also widely used as additives for carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics, like in tennis rackets and golf club shafts. Since carbon nanotubes can be produced from biomethane, they are also environmentally friendly nanotech material whose main byproduct is hydrogen.

In 2018 Shinshū University succeeded in developing an innovative reverse osmosis membrane by mixing carbon nanotubes with conventional cross-linked aromatic polyamide. Mixing in the optimal amount of nanomaterials positively charged the membrane and reduced surface irregularities. The result was that the impurities, also called foulants, became less likely to adhere.

The frames above show a conventional reverse osmosis membrane. Below is the nanocomposite membrane developed at Shinshū University. Left is after 48 hours, right is after 52 hours. The green proteins adhere to the conventional membrane, but the small clumps of proteins adhering to the nanocomposite membrane peel off and are almost gone after 52 hours. (© Shinshū University).
Proteins adhere to the conventional membrane at left (the fibrous material in blue at bottom), while they only adhere weakly to the Shinshū University membrane on the right, and they can be easily removed by water flow. (© Shinshū University)

The practical application of clog-resistant nanocomposite membranes containing carbon nanotubes will enable environmentally friendly “green desalination” technology, saving energy and minimizing the use of chemicals, perfect for this environment-conscious age.

A seawater desalination module using nanocomposite membranes. Running seawater through this module removes the salt content. The black areas on the cross-section show the presence of carbon nanotubes. (© Shinshu University)

The carbon nanotube production line inside the International Center for Science and Innovation at Shinshū University (AICS). (© Shinshū University)

Since 2020, the university has been using nanocomposite membranes for actual seawater desalination at Water Plaza Kitakyūshū, and has verified performance of the membranes against pollutants. These proof-of-concept tests have shown that they can help reduce the need for chemical treatment and extend life compared to conventional membranes. As a result, nanocomposite membranes could allow for longer-term desalination operation, potentially reducing operating costs by 10%–15%. They could also simplify raw seawater pretreatment facilities, another source of high operating costs.

The pilot desalination plant installed at Water Plaza Kitakyūshū. The container has equipment for valuable daily experiments, carried out over several months, evaluating the durability of nanocomposite membranes using real seawater. (© Shinshū University).

The center is currently working with desalination-related companies and research institutes all over the world to implement nanocomposite membranes in desalination facilities. Shinshū University’s membranes can also be applied to sewage treatment and industrial wastewater reuse, something that has yet to be fully achieved and hold enormous promise for water recycling systems that can benefit both the environment and society. I believe that the nanocomposite membranes developed by Shinshū University, which is at the forefront of carbon nanotube technology, can offer a huge contribution to addressing the water problems the world faces this century.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: A diagram of a carbon nanotube. © Shinshū University).

Endō Morinobu

Distinguished professor at Shinshū University. Born 1946 in Suzaka, Nagano Prefecture. Received his engineering PhD from Nagoya University. Professor at Shinshū University since 1991. Received the ACS Medal, the highest honor of the American Carbon Society, in 2004. Works widely on issues with the fundamentals and applications of advanced carbon materials. A global authority on carbon material and carbon nanotubes. Shinshū University: Morinobu Endo: Pioneer of Carbon Nanotubes.

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Syria reservoir dries up for first time

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Water supply in the Levant like in the whole of the MENA region, is raryfying especially in Syria where a reservoir dries up for the first time.

The above image is that of a rowing boat that lies grounded on the exposed lake bed of Syria’s Duwaysat Dam reservoir after it dried up completely for the first time in its 27-year history Abdulaziz KETAZ AFP.

Duwaysāt (Syria) (AFP) – Low rainfall, structural damage and extraction by struggling farmers have emptied a key reservoir in northwestern Syria, leaving it completely dry for the first time, farmers and officials told AFP.

With man-made climate change increasing the frequency of drought and wildfires worldwide, Syria is experiencing one of its driest and hottest years on record after historically low rainfall last winter.

The reservoir formed by Al-Duwaysat Dam in Idlib province, a key irrigation source for thousands of farmers, has completely dried up for the first time in its 27-year history.

The exposed lakebed is parched to a crisp in many places, a sinister expanse littered with stranded rowing boats, animal skulls and dead trees.

A few shallow pools remain, around which small flocks of sheep graze on new shoots.

According to the World Bank, the reservoir has a capacity of a 3.6 million cubic metres (38.8 million square feet) and is mainly used for irrigation and water supply.

“Because of drought and low rainfall, we can now walk on the floor of the reservoir,” its managing engineer Maher al-Hussein said, recalling that it was full to capacity just two years ago.

Low rainfall last winter left the reservoir half-full and all the water was used for irrigation by farmers trying to save their crops, Hussein said.

Damage to the main pipeline that feeds water from the reservoir to irrigation networks has led to significant leakages, further reducing the volume that reaches the fields, he added.

A shepherd waters his flock from the small pools that are all that is left of the reservoir following successive years of low rainfall Abdulaziz KETAZ AFP

“It is the first time the reservoir has dried out since it was built in 1994,” Hussein said.

He said around 800 families depended on the reservoir to irrigate 150 hectares (370 acres) of farmland.

“For 10 years we have come to this reservoir,” said cattle farmer Abu Joumaa. “If God does not send us good rainfall that could fill the reservoir this year… people won’t be able to grow crops they rely on to make a living.”

© 2021 AFP

‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’

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‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’ story published on IPS is not an exceptional story. All republics of the MENA region have put up efforts at establishing a stable and representative rule that has proven universally unsuccessful.  Have they become therefore failed states living on borrowed time?

Let us find out in this remarkable article.

The image above is for illustration and is of the UNEP.

‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’

By Theodore van der Pluijm

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands, Nov 9 2021 (IPS) – Tensions and hostilities persisted until early 2019 when the regime of Omar al-Bashir – to a large extent symbolized by oppressing minority groups in the Darfurs, Blue Nile state and South Kordofan – finally ended. Meanwhile, many inhabitants of the Nuba Mountains and other parts of South Kordofan, had escaped to South Sudan, which had become independent in 2011. There, they found, however, a country with even more interethnic strains and assaults, resulting, in addition to the innumerable internally displaced persons, the flight of 2.3 million citizens to six countries in the region. An area characterized by perpetual political and ethnic tensions which often resulted in border crossings in opposite ways. The present case of refugees from Ethiopia to the Republic of Sudan is an example of this phenomenon in the IGAD-region. (The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is an eight-country trade bloc in Africa that includes governments from the Horn of Africa, the Nile Valley and the African Great Lakes. Its headquarters is in Djibouti City).

The author on the road between Dilling and Kadugli, the capital of South Kordofan in February 1999. Through the ‘Juba Peace Agreement’ of October 2020, internal reconciliation would finally be realized in The Sudan. By this, creating an environment in which sustained rural and agricultural development programs could be implemented without major ideological or inter-ethnic frictions, including in Darfur and in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan.

The Transitional Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok aimed at political and ethnic appeasement in order to foster development initiatives all over the country. However, the military coup led by general Al-Burhan arrested Hamdok and all other civilian members of this interim government. Once again, many people went into the streets to protest. Once more demonstrators were arrested or killed. In addition, during the past two weeks, the pressure from outside has gained momentum. The US and other countries, now even including Saudi Arabia and the UAE have urged Al-Burhan to release all persons and to return to civilian rule with Hamdok as Prime Minister.

The book ‘West of The Nile and Around The Sudd’ – published in May 2021 with 142 pp. containing a large number of pictures taken in the field – is about efforts by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a United Nations specialized agency and financing institution, aimed at designing of and monitoring the implementation of agricultural and rural development projects in the Republic of The Sudan. The country has ample natural resources for achieving food security and adequate income and living standards for the entire population, including the inhabitants of rural areas where there are no armed conflicts.

More specifically, the purpose of this book is to show how local data are collected as indispensable tools for the preparation of new development projects or for the supervision of on-going investment programs. Considering the latter, the book starts with the process of data-gathering during a supervision mission for the World Bank-led Southern Region Agricultural Project (SRAP) in October 1980, about two years after its start. This promising region-wide scheme, however, had to be terminated already in 1984, an effect of the conflict between the central government and forces of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

The way of assembling information during the formulation mission in early 1999 for the design of the South Kordofan Rural Development Project is reflected in parts Three, Four and Five of the book. During meetings in villages and hamlets, we were impressed both by the willingness of the local authorities to provide maximum information and the friendliness and openness of the inhabitants – families and individuals – in the way they received us and provided their opinions.

This project started its promising operations at the end of the year 2000. However, also in this case, during its implementation, time and time again, project activities have been affected by armed conflicts between government forces – frequently assisted by militias – and insurgents, historically located in the Nuba Mountains and other zones of South Kordofan. However, different from the SRAP, its implementation could continue. Nevertheless, as part Six in the book explains, time-wise and regionally, project activities had frequently to be halted in order to avoid clashes and combats. Moreover, in the final stages of 2012-2013, project activities had to be stopped, when, despite the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CAP), hostilities in South Kordofan expanded significantly.

(On 19 December 2018, a few weeks before starting this book, I visited the ambassador of the Republic of Sudan in The Netherlands. During an informative, frank and pleasant meeting, I stressed that the time had come for President Omar al-Bashir to change his policies radically. Evidently, I was completely unaware that on the very same day in the historic city of Atbara, massive protests took place. These eventually triggered demonstrations and protests all over the country in which women played a major role. Finally, on 11 April 2019 Al Bashir was arrested. A promising era could commence).

The author of the book is a former United Nations IFAD senior official who was Director of the Near East and North Africa Division., in addition to other responsibilities.

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Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events

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A greater number of Iraqi farmers feel the heat of extreme climate events. It is a story by Kareem Botane and Robert Edwards in Arab News and it does give us a down to earth picture of this region of the MENA as illustrated by the image above of AN Photos/Kareem Botane.

All along the banks of the once-mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years.

  • Once flourishing communities along Tigris River face existential crisis as high temperatures become the norm
  • Iraq’s President Barham Salih says climate change is by far the most serious long-term threat facing the country

MOSUL / BOGOTA: Caked in the fine yellow dust kicked up by his tractor-drawn planter, Farman Noori Latif jumps down to survey his work. He has spent the morning sowing wheat seed on his farm near the banks of the Tigris River, just south of Mosul in northern Iraq.

It is late in the season to be sowing wheat, but the 30-year-old has been holding out for a much-needed spell of autumn rain. The earth might still be parched under the baking sun but it is now or never if he wants his crops in the ground before winter sets in.

“Today is November 2 and the weather is hot. It shouldn’t be like this,” Latif told Arab News as he inspected the soil he and his family have farmed for four generations. “We are supposed to have this weather in September, not now.”

Latif is not alone in fighting a losing battle against the elements. The UN Environment Program’s sixth Global Environmental Outlook report, published in 2019, ranked Iraq fifth on the list of countries most vulnerable in terms of water and food availability and extreme temperatures.

All along the banks of the once-mighty Tigris River, farmers and fishermen have seen their livelihoods evaporate in recent years, forcing many among the rural population to abandon the land in search of work in the cities.

“We have lost everything due to the lack of rain and the hot weather,” Ameer Khthr Yousif, a 30-year-old farmer and fisherman selling his catch on a Qayyarah roadside, told Arab News.

“We farmers depend on the Tigris River for our agriculture. If the situation continues, everyone here will leave farming to find other sources of income.”

Average temperatures in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius over the past century, and extreme heat events are becoming more frequent. According to the World Bank, mean annual temperatures in Iraq are expected to rise by 2 C by 2050, and mean annual rainfall to decrease by 9 percent.

Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years, according to the UN, leaving the country’s aquifers unreplenished and raising the salinity of the remaining groundwater.

“The groundwater has dried out here,” Latif said. “I have a well that is 30 meters deep without any water in it. All the wells here have dried out. Even if there is water in any of these wells, it will be red in color or salty.”


Hazim Mahamad Ebrahim, 60, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Soil degradation is causing dust storms to increase in scale and frequency. Between 1951 and 1990, Iraq experienced an average of 24 days a year with dust storms. In 2013, there were 122, according to the UN.

In an op-ed for the Financial Times, published on Oct. 31 to coincide with the start of the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said the economic and environmental effects of climate change are “by far the most serious long-term threat” facing the country.

“Very high temperatures are becoming more common, drought more frequent and dust storms more intense,” Salih said. “Desertification affects 39 percent of Iraq’s territory and increased salinization threatens agriculture on 54 percent of our land.”

Neighboring countries are also experiencing more frequent droughts and rising temperatures, leading to regional water disputes. Iraq’s water ministry said this year that water flows from Iran and Turkey had fallen by 50 percent during the summer.

“Dams on the headwaters and tributaries of the historic Tigris and Euphrates Rivers — the lifeblood of our country — have reduced water flow, leading to shortages,” Salih said. “According to Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, our country could face a shortfall of as much as 10.8 billion cubic meters of water annually by 2035.”


Farman Noori Latif, 30, a farmer and contractor from the village of Muhssin, Qarach area, Makhmur, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Salih said he is all too aware of the threat climate change poses to a country utterly reliant on oil revenues, whose booming youth population is simmering with pent-up frustration.

“Iraq’s population is projected to double from 40 million people today to 80 million by 2050, just as our income, largely based on oil production, will be drastically reduced as a result of the world abandoning fossil fuels as it moves to sustainable, clean energy,” he said.

“The loss of income may very well result in migration to cities whose infrastructure is even now incapable of supporting the existing population. This migration may well result in extremism and insecurity as young people are unable to find jobs that give them a decent standard of living.”

FASTFACTS

* Average temps. in Iraq have risen by at least 0.7 degrees since 1921.

* Iraq’s 2020-2021 rainy season was the second-driest in 40 years.

* In 2013, Iraq experienced at least 122 days with dust storms.

Mohammed Abdullah Ibrahim, who has farmed his patch of land in Qayyarah for decades, said he has seen dramatic changes in the climate during his lifetime.

“I have been a farmer since the 1970s and I have never seen it this bad before,” the 64-year-old told Arab News.

Water shortages have forced local farmers to abandon many of the water-intensive fruit and vegetable crops once grown here. Among those that still grow, yields have halved, said Ibrahim.

“Before, it was sufficient,” he added. “You could grow enough and make a profit. In the past, we were employed only in farming; we did not need a job or salaries. But things have changed now. We have to find another job to make a living.

“If the situation continues like this, we will be entering a very dark future. The young generation will end up unemployed.”

Ibrahim’s neighbor, Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, has also observed a significant change in the local climate. “The heat wave we had last year, we have never had it like that before,” he told Arab News. “I am 56 years old; I have never experienced heat like that in my life.


Hilal Faraj Mohamoud, 56, a farmer from Hoot Al-Fouaqni, Qayyarah, Mosul. Credit: (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

“I know many farmers who have left their land and given up on farming. If the situation continues, I am afraid we will all move to the cities and leave farming behind, migrating from the villages because there will be nothing left for us to stay for.”

It is not only arable crop farmers who are struggling in the fierce heat. Sparse pasture, limited fodder and a shortage of fresh water have forced livestock farmers to sell or even cull their animals.

“Our animals have begun dying due to drought and the lack of rain,” Jamal Ali, a 49-year-old shepherd from Makhmur, told Arab News.

“Animals are very expensive these days. We have to buy fodder for our sheep and cows because our land cannot produce enough food for them due to the late rainy season and drought. We had to sell our sheep in order to compensate (for the loss). We have lost 50 percent of our income from animals and farming due to climate change.”

Dehydration has led to serious veterinary health problems among livestock, affecting their reproductive health.

“The changing climate has created many diseases among the animals,” said Ali. “The most common is birth defects. It is all due to the lack of rain and water.”


Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, 51, a farmer and mayor of Hoot Al-Foqani, Qayyarah, Mosul. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Rayid Khalaf Al-Wagaa, mayor of the Qayyarah village of Hoot Al-Foqani, said the federal government in Baghdad has done little to subsidize farming and help prevent climate-induced rural displacement.

“We have lost more than 100,000 hectares of land due to the lack of rain and water. We have fewer animals compared to before, especially sheep,” he said.

“About 50 or 60 farmers have left here so far. We need support from international organizations as we already know that the government has limited capabilities. We hope they can do something for us, otherwise, the number of animals and farmers will decline in the coming years.”

Although the Iraqi government has launched a UN-backed National Adaptation Plan to improve the country’s resilience to climate change, few of the benefits have trickled down to sun-scorched farming communities along the Tigris.

Kneeling in the powdery earth to uproot a spindly yellow plant, Latif said Iraq’s farmers urgently need outside help if their way of life is to survive the relentlessly changing weather patterns.

“We have lost our hope in the Iraqi government; we want foreign countries to help us,” he said. “We do not have any other means of making a living. Farming is our only hope and without it, I cannot imagine how it will be.”

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Regional Integration in the MENA region

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Opinions|World Bank

Some views expressed in this article are by David R Malpass, President of the World Bank Group and posted on Al Jazeera‘s blog tell us that the World Bank is concerned with the Regional Integration in the MENA region, hence a call for action.

MENA countries are on the cusp of important regional integration initiatives that will provide much needed efficiency gains, diversification, trust building and green growth.

Published On 28 Oct 2021

Countries of the MENA region today have a strong economic incentive to accelerate their efforts at regional integration, writes Malpass [Johannes P Christo/Reuters]

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is a region of abundant human and natural resources, shared culture and languages and a well-established heritage of skill in trade. With a total population close to that of the European Union, the MENA region is, however, the least economically integrated in the world. As they strive to create more jobs, attract more investment, boost growth and recover from the pandemic, countries of the MENA region today have a strong economic incentive to accelerate their efforts at regional integration.

The MENA region has been at the crossroads of regional trade throughout history. Countries have previously established a host of multilateral, regional, and bilateral trade agreements, with limited tangible outcomes. The benefits of regional integration include growth spillovers, larger markets, and production scale economies. These are well recognised by MENA economists, traders and farmers alike. What is lacking is not a rationale or capacity to integrate, but rather a sense of urgency to prioritise and move forward with integration.

Opportunities for regional integration include energy and water and certain geographic regions within MENA. These would benefit from advanced dialogue, foundational technical work, and the promise of strong and near-immediate positive economic impact.

With the exception of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, the energy sector in MENA is interconnected but not integrated. This means only two percent of the electricity produced in the MENA region is traded between countries each year. Recognising the benefits, the Arab Ministerial Councils for Electricity (AMCE), under the League of Arab States (LAS), has prioritised the establishment of a Pan-Arab Electricity Market (PAEM). The World Bank is engaged in this initiative and has been offering technical assistance and advice. Indeed, the PAEM has the ambitious objective to increase cross-border electricity trade from the current two percent to 40 percent by 2035. This will equip the MENA region with one of the largest multi-country integrated systems in the world – producing a total generation capacity of more than 600 gigawatts by 2035.

In North Africa, scaling up existing regional energy with Europe’s Mediterranean countries should also be expanded. At my recent meeting with Arab Governors during the World Bank Group Annual Meetings, I emphasised the need to sustain and accelerate these critical regional energy initiatives and to prioritise actions that will help alleviate demand and supply imbalances across many countries of the MENA region.

The fact that most of the MENA region’s water is shared also presents an opportunity to accelerate regional integration efforts. In the MENA region, all major river basins, tributaries, and groundwater aquifers are considered shared waters. As pressure increases due to climate change, population growth and development it will become increasingly important to develop adequate frameworks for advancing regional cooperation. There is a broad range of global examples that showcase the power of water as a catalyser for cooperation. As a result, strengthening transboundary water cooperation can be a powerful tool not only for improving water security in the countries in the region, but also for promoting economic prosperity and greater cooperation.

Finally, and as described in the recent update of the World Bank Group’s approach to Regional Integration in Africa, it is critical to strengthen and enable the strong historical and socioeconomic linkages that exist between countries of the Maghreb and those of sub-Saharan Africa. In anticipation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), now is the time to expand and deepen existing platforms for regional cooperation, including in agriculture and digital sectors where progress is most needed, and to explore additional opportunities for regional integration between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

While the challenges of establishing – and sustaining – regional trade, infrastructure and institutions are significant, MENA countries are on the cusp of important regional integration initiatives that will provide much-needed efficiency gains, diversification, trust-building and green growth – all of which will play a catalytic role in economic growth and poverty reduction in MENA. The World Bank Group is ready to play a part in furthering this forward-looking agenda.


David R Malpass, President of the World Bank GroupDavid R Malpass was named President of the World Bank Group in April 2019. Malpass previously served for eleven years in US government roles at the US Treasury, State Department, Senate Budget Committee, and Congress’s Joint Economic Committee. In between government service, he worked for twenty-four years on Wall Street as a top-ranked economist, a columnist with Forbes magazine, and a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal. Malpass earned a degree in physics at Colorado College as a Boettcher Scholar, an MBA from the University of Denver, and studied as a Mid-Career Fellow at Georgetown University.

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