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Water crisis looms for Egypt

Water crisis looms for Egypt

Water crisis looms for Egypt as Ethiopia’s Nile mega-dam nears completion

#Environment

Ethiopia’s GERD dam is set to reshape the complex water politics of the Nile Basin – and ‘water stressed’ Egyptians will be the biggest losers

A street vendor sells cotton candy on a bridge across the river Nile in Cairo March 23, 2014. Ethiopia – plagued by frequent blackouts – plans to boost generating capacity from 2,000 MW to 10,000 MW within the next three to five years, much of it coming from the 6,000 MW Grand Renaissance Dam under construction on the Nile. Egypt fears the $4.7 billion dam, which Ethiopia wants to construct near its border with Sudan, will reduce water flows vital for its 84 million people and its agriculture. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh (EGYPT – Tags: ENVIRONMENT POLITICS)

Kieran Cooke

Thursday 27 December 2018

Editor’s note: Two of the biggest dam projects in the world – one in Turkey, the other in Ethiopia – are nearing completion. Both are likely to profoundly affect the lives of millions in the Middle East and bring further tensions to already severely water-stressed regions.

In his second report, environment journalist Kieran Cooke reports on the progress of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and its likely consequences for Egypt.

There have been hold ups and reports of large cost overruns but building work on the lavishly titled Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam or GERD, under construction on the Blue Nile in the north of the country since 2011, is nearing completion.

In Cairo, almost 2,500 kilometres to the north, every step in the GERD process – the 6,500 MW hydroelectric dam is one of the world’s largest and the biggest in Africa – is being anxiously watched.

Egypt is facing a water crisis. A rapid increase in demand due to population growth, severe mismanagement of resources and a lack of investment in water infrastructure have led to Egypt being one of the most ‘water stressed’ countries in the world.

At the present rate of consumption, says the UN, the country could run out of water by 2025. The GERD will exacerbate these severe water shortages.

The Blue Nile, which rises in Ethiopia, joins the White Nile in Sudan and then flows into Egypt. The river is Egypt’s lifeline with more than 90 percent of its 100 million people dependent on it for drinking water and for irrigating crops.

‘It is a matter of life and death… this is our country and water must be secured for our citizens, from Aswan to Alexandria’

– Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

For years Egypt has viewed the Nile as its own; at one stage its politicians talked of bombing the GERD in order to preserve what they viewed as their historical right to the river’s waters.

“No one can touch Egypt’s share of Nile water,” said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in November last year.

“It is a matter of life and death… this is our country and water must be secured for our citizens, from Aswan to Alexandria.”

Yet for all the strong words, Cairo knows the GERD will, at some point in the near future, become a reality. The project, say close observers of the project, marks a profound shift of power in the Nile Basin.

When completed the GERD will be the biggest hydroelectric dam in Africa DCIM\100MEDIA\DJI_0644.JPG

The GERD, for Ethiopia, is central to the country’s development and a symbol of national renewal. The aim is not only to provide much needed power within Ethiopia but also to raise vital export revenues by selling electricity to neighbouring countries.

“Traditionally Egypt – as the power in the region – refused to countenance any upstream dams on the Nile,” said Tobias Von Lossow, a specialist on dams at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, who has spent years studying the GERD and the complex water politics of the region.

“Then along came Ethiopia and, against all the odds and the doubts of many outsiders, including the Egyptians, the GERD has been built.

“Sudan, the other downstream nation, sees benefits from the GERD and is backing Ethiopia. Egypt has been forced to recognise a new reality – it has to negotiate with Addis Ababa as an equal.”

Electricity shortages

The most immediate concern for Cairo is when the giant reservoir at the GERD site will start being filled, and for how long that process will last.

If the reservoir is filled over a relatively short period – in under five years – it’s calculated that water flows on the Nile through Egypt could drop by as much as 20 percent.

Reduced flows on the Nile would also lead to electricity shortages, with a sharp drop in power generated at the Aswan hydroelectric dam.

Cairo wants a very gradual filling process which will cause less disruption to water flows, taking place over a period of between 10 and 20 years.

Ethiopia on the other hand wants to capitalise on its massive investment and fill the reservoir at the GERD over a much shorter period, enabling it to start generating electricity and begin selling it to other countries.

“The big question is what if the climate changes and there’s a drought during the filling process at the GERD, with water levels in the Nile suddenly dropping substantially,” said Von Lossow. “That could lead to conflict.

“The other issue is that though the GERD is solely for generating electricity, it will regulate water flows on the Blue Nile, enabling more opportunities for the development of agriculture and irrigation across the border in Sudan. That would mean less water flowing into Egypt.”   

For the moment, delays and finance problems at the GERD have given Egypt some much needed time to tackle its chronic water woes.

Under the original construction timetable, power was due to be generated from the GERD scheme last year, but various factors have been causing delays.

Unwilling to have restrictions placed on it by international lending institutions and banks, Ethiopia has largely self-financed the GERD, estimated to be costing $5bn.

Lottery funding

In a nationwide campaign, people were urged to support the project through a national lottery.

Controversially, civil servants were persuaded to use part of their salaries to buy bonds in the scheme. The church also joined in the fundraising.

Then came a sharp downturn in Ethiopia’s economy, with the boom of several years turning to bust. Friendly foreign governments were asked for bail out funds.

The United Arab Emirates supplied $3bn in aid and investments and Saudi Arabia was asked for a year’s supply of fuel, with payment delayed.

China, already a big investor in the country, became a major player in the GERD, with a $1bn loan for power transmission lines.

new government, headed by prime minister Abiy Ahmed, came to power in April this year.

Abiy, seen as less nationalistic and more pragmatic than his predecessor, has gone out of his way to address Egypt’s fears about the GERD, meeting Sisi in June this year.

In the course of the Cairo meeting, Egypt’s president asked Abiy to swear to God “before the Egyptian people” that he would not hurt Egypt’s share of the Nile. Abiy did so.

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on June 10, 2018 shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) shaking hands with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during his official two-day visit in the capital Cairo. (Photo by Handout / various sources / AFP)

“So much depends on the personal chemistry between leaders,” said Barnaby Dye, a specialist on dams at the University of Manchester in the UK.

“The use of the Nile waters is loosely governed by various historical treaties and agreements though these are often disputed. In the final analysis what often matters is how those in power get on.”

Abiy has launched an investigation into large-scale cost overruns at the GERD. A company run by the Ethiopian military responsible for supplying turbines and other electrical equipment has been replaced, accused of wasting millions of dollars.

Salini Impregilo, the Italian company and main contractor at the site, is said to be owed considerable amounts of money for its work though it has said little about rumours of long project delays.

Another setback for the project was the death in July of Simegnew Bekele, the project’s chief engineer and a figure much revered in Ethiopia.

Bekele was found dead from a bullet wound in his car. Police subsequently said he had shot himself.

Egypt has begun to take some action aimed at heading off a full-blown water emergency.

Under a 20-year water management scheme, plans are for more than $50bn to be spent on desalination plants, including what will be the world’s biggest such facility.

New, less wasteful, irrigation schemes are also being put in place. With an estimated 40 percent of water resources lost due to leakages, more money is being invested in upgrading old piping and in new pumping stations.

Critics say all this is too late, with officials still reluctant to recognize the scale of the country’s water crisis. They say Sisi’s government is obsessed with expensive and questionable prestige projects, such as the construction of a second Suez Canal.

Time, like the water, is running out.

READ MORE ►

Nile 2050: A billion people at risk from floods and droughts

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Researcher have discovered a way to produce Water in the Desert from thin air

Researcher have discovered a way to produce Water in the Desert from thin air

The Guardian article by Chukwuma Muanya, Assistant Editor published on 30 March 2018 started thus. Researcher have discovered a way to produce water in the desert from thin air. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed technology that could save lives in harsh desert climates. The technology allows users to transform moisture in the air into water.

Most of the MENA that is normally threatened by water scarcity as well as all those world’s arid regions, notably the Sahel would be interested in such discovery. And would be awaiting its practical exploitation with impatience. The impact of the eventual utilisation of such technological advance after its generalisation on the micro and macro environment of the immediate as well as on the whole earth have yet to be assessed.

In the meantime, HWW quoted “The Sahel is a priority for the Secretary-General and the entire United Nations system,” Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told a conference being held in Nouakchott, Mauritania, to discuss strategies to tackle the Sahel crisis, which leaves 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance this year.

The MIT-developed system that could provide drinking water even in extremely arid locations was covered by David L. Chandler | MIT News Office on March 22, 2018.

 

In field tests, device harvests water from desert air

It seems like getting something for nothing, but you really can get drinkable water right out of the driest of desert air.

Even in the most arid places on Earth, there is some moisture in the air, and a practical way to extract that moisture could be a key to survival in such bone-dry locations. Now, researchers at MIT have proved that such an extraction system can work.

The new device, based on a concept the team first proposed last year, has now been field-tested in the very dry air of Tempe, Arizona, confirming the potential of the new method, though much work remains to scale up the process, the researchers say.

The new work is reported today in the journal Nature Communications and includes some significant improvements over the initial concept that was described last year in a paper in Science, says Evelyn Wang, the Gail E. Kendall Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who was the senior author of both papers. MIT postdoc Sameer Rao and former graduate student Hyunho Kim SM ’14, PhD ’18 were the lead authors of the latest paper, along with four others at MIT and the University of California at Berkeley.

Last year’s paper drew a great deal of attention, Wang says. “It got a lot of hype, and some criticism,” she says. Now, “all of the questions that were raised from last time were explicitly demonstrated in this paper. We’ve validated those points.”

The system, based on relatively new high-surface-area materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), can extract potable water from even the driest of desert air, the researchers say, with relative humidities as low as 10 percent. Current methods for extracting water from air require much higher levels – 100 percent humidity for fog-harvesting methods, and above 50 percent for dew-harvesting refrigeration-based systems, which also require large amounts of energy for cooling. So the new system could potentially fill an unmet need for water even in the world’s driest regions.

By running a test device on a rooftop at Arizona State University in Tempe, Wang says, the team “was field-testing in a place that’s representative of these arid areas, and showed that we can actually harvest the water, even in subzero dewpoints.”

The test device was powered solely by sunlight, and although it was a small proof-of-concept device, if scaled up its output would be equivalent to more than a quarter-liter of water per day per kilogram of MOF, the researchers say. With an optimal material choice, output can be as high as three times that of the current version, says Kim. Unlike any of the existing methods for extracting water from air at very low humidities, “with this approach, you actually can do it, even under these extreme conditions,” Wang says.

Not only does this system work at lower humidities than dew harvesting does, says Rao, but those systems require pumps and compressors that can wear out, whereas “this has no moving parts. It can be operated in a completely passive manner, in places with low humidity but large amounts of sunlight.”

Whereas the team had previously described the possibility of running the system passively, Rao says, “now we have demonstrated that this is indeed possible.” The current version can only operate over a single night-and-day cycle with sunlight, Kim says, but “continous operation is also possible by utilizing abundant low-grade heat sources such as biomass and waste heat.”

The next step, Wang says, is to work on scaling up the system and boosting its efficiency. “We hope to have a system that’s able to produce liters of water.” These small, initial test systems were only designed to produce a few milliliters, to prove the concept worked in real-world conditions, but she says “we want to see water pouring out!” The idea would be to produce units sufficient to supply water for individual households.

The team tested the water produced by the system and found no traces of impurities. Mass-spectrometer testing showed “there’s nothing from the MOF that leaches into the water,” Wang says. “It shows the material is indeed very stable, and we can get high-quality water.”

“This technology is fantastic, because of the practical demonstration of an air-cooled water harvesting system based on MOFs operating in a real desert climate,” says Yang Yang, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles, who was not involved in this work.

“This provides a new approach to solving the problem of water scarcity in arid climates,” Yang says. “This technology, if one can further increase its production capacity, can have a real impact in areas where water is scarce, such as southern California.”

The team also included graduate student Eugene Kapustin at the University of California at Berkeley; graduate student Lin Zhao and postdoc Sungwoo Yang at MIT; and professor of chemistry Omar Yaghi at Berkeley and at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, in Saudi Arabia.

 

 

 

Globally, nowadays, water is in a crisis

Globally, nowadays, water is in a crisis

Somebody the other day in an Investment Website introduced his counselling thus :  You’ve got rather used to turning on the tap, and having water come out. You probably think that our water supply is fairly reliable.  But you’d be wrong.  More specifically in the MENA region, the issue has always been throughout the centuries there. Globally, nowadays, water is in a crisis – and it could affect you far sooner than you think.  Let’s get this problem into perspective. Start by listing all the things you use water for. You’ll probably quickly add showering, washing clothes, and drinking. But if you think that’s captured your main use of water, I’m afraid you’re entirely wrong.  The vast majority of the water you use isn’t in the home at all – it’s “embedded” in the products you buy. For example, it takes nearly two-and-a-half tonnes of water to make one hamburger. This isn’t all drinking water – but it’s still needed for the farming and manufacturing processes.  Surprised?

Seriously, the problem is real and who best to explain to us all those related issues than the following.

The UNDP produced this article in 2006 on Water Scarcity Challenges in the Middle East and North Africa by Stockholm International Water Institute.

Water is scarce in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. As Allan (2002) noted, the region basically “ran out of water in the 70s” and today depends as much on water from outside the region — in the form of its food imports, for example — as on its own renewable water resources.

We also know that using desalination, Saudi Arabia, the largest producer of desalinated water in the world had in 2011 the volume of water supplied by its 27 desalination plants at 17 locations, 3.3 million m3/day (1.2 billion m3/year). 6 plants are located on the East Coast and 21 plants on the Red Sea Coast.

The following article written in June 15th, 2016 by Pilar Buzzetti contributed to this worrisome and omnipresent problem of water supply issue in the MENA region.

Water in the MENA, a source for conflict or a source for peace?

pilar-buzzetti

The scarcity of water is not something new for an arid region like the MENA. Despite MENA countries represent 7 percent of the world population, they count on less than 1.5 percent of the world’s freshwater resources. Furthermore, in the light of the population growth in recent years, the shortage of water has become a serious challenge.

The complexities of managing and sharing common water resources are well known to the region. Continued and constant water scarcity is likely to affect the region’s social and economic potential, increasing land vulnerability to desertification and raising the risk for political conflict around the limited available water. Conflicts over water in both intranational and international settings evolve in complex political and hydrological environments. The potential for conflict is increasing in the region because of the highest demographic concentrations found in the region, such as in the Gaza strip.

Water dependency is clearly rather high for many countries in the area. Transboundary water issues are leading to water conflicts. Countries like Syria, Jordan and Palestine rely on water resources that lie beyond their borders; for example, Palestine is almost entirely dependent on water essentially controlled by Israel. The transboundary nature of the water resources in the Middle East makes cooperative management of these resources critical as they have the potential to induce economic and social development and reduce the risks of conflict. Despite significant investment in the water sector, water management still remains a serious economic and environmental problem in MENA countries, affecting public health and agricultural productivity. The environment as well is suffering due to the over-pumping of the aquifers and the deterioration of water quality.

The region is already struggling with other key political challenges, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran’s foreign and regional politics and the results of the social awakenings. Surely, the region is tinkering on the verge of a socio-economic repression due to a mixture of climatic change effects, economic challenges and post-Arab spring political instability. It is clear how potable water shortages together with lack of proper sanitization, represent key daunting challenges. Even more, the region’s consumption of natural resources is more than double of what regional ecosystems can support, putting the region on a brink of “ecosystem bankruptcy.” The issue of water shortage is strictly linked to national security affairs, since water plays a pivotal role across the various sectors and it is obstinately regarded as a determining factor to the region’s economic development and socio-political stability. . . .

Read more on the original document of Mediterranean Affairs .

Tunisia’s ‘thirst uprising’ warning ?

Tunisia’s ‘thirst uprising’ warning ?

Is Tunisia heading toward a ‘thirst uprising’? Asked Perrine Massy in her article posted on Al Monitor of September 16th, 2016.  The question seems to date not to get any answer soon in view of the plethora of recent articles on the subject.  We reproduce here an interesting one of Today with the AFP whom perhaps on a rebound on events of 2011, does appear to cover every sign of however insignificance of contestation from the Tunisian people.  In any case, would Tunisia’s ‘thirst uprising’ warning take any water now that the rainy season is in sight? 

Tunis skyline by Reuters Posted on The Peninsula of Qatar

Tunis skyline by Reuters
Posted on The Peninsula of Qatar

Tunisia water shortages spark ‘thirst uprising’ warning

In AFRICA September 19th, 2016 with Agence France-Presse

Activists are warning of a potential “thirst uprising” in Tunisia following protests over severe water shortages after one of the North African nation’s driest summers on record.

Residents in the interior are suffering long water supply cuts, reservoirs are running dry and farmers are seeing significant losses, adding to social tensions in a country still struggling with instability since its 2011 revolution.

The Tunisian citizens’ water observatory, known as Watchwater, warned last month the country could face a “thirst uprising” reminiscent of the protest movement that spread across Tunisia nearly six years ago.

“The failure to find urgent and serious solutions will increase protests across the country,” it said.

Water scarcity has long been a problem for Tunisia, but in recent years the challenge has been exacerbated by growing urbanisation and increasing demand from agriculture and industry.

This year has seen the country particularly hard-hit, with rainfall — Tunisia’s main water source — down by some 30 percent, the state secretary for water resources and fishing, Abdallah Rabhi, told AFP.

In August, the agriculture ministry warned Tunisia would be facing a “catastrophic” situation if it did not rain by the end of the summer. The few rainstorms since have not been enough to replenish groundwater reserves or reservoirs.

Agricultural losses for this year have already reached nearly two billion dinars ($900 million/800 million euros), according to the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The ministry of religious affairs has even called on the people to “pray for rain”.

Since mid-May, the authorities have announced more than 700 water supply cuts. Officially they last from several hours to three days, but Alaa Marzouki of Watchwater said that in some regions the cuts have lasted nearly a month.

Protests have erupted in several affected areas, with the water shortages adding to the frustrations of many residents who feel their concerns are being ignored by authorities in Tunis.

At one demonstration in the northwestern town of Fernana earlier this month, protesters gathered at a local pumping station and threatened to disrupt supplies to the capital, according to local media reports.

“Economic protests resembling those that sparked the 2010 Jasmine Revolution are spreading throughout Tunisia and may grow into nationwide civil unrest,” the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute warned in a report this month.

In the southwestern Gafsa region, local farmer Mabrouk said frustration was growing.

“We are suffering,” said Mabrouk, who declined to give his last name.

“We had to buy a water tank for 30 dinars for what we use and what our animals use. We’ve sent requests to the government but they remain unanswered. All we can do is wait for rain, God willing.”

Tunisia has some 30 dams and reservoirs that provide irrigation of agricultural land and drinking water, but by the end of August their reserves were less than 40 percent of what they were at the same time last year, Rabhi said.

– ‘Very dangerous situation’ –

Some, like the Nabhana reservoir in central Tunisia, are completely dry.

At the Sidi Salem dam near Beja in northern Tunisia, reserves are about half what they were last year.

“You have to go back to 1993-1994 to find such a level,” said the dam’s manager, Cherif Gasmi.

“If rain does not come by the end of September… we will have to tap the dam’s strategic reserves and that’s a very dangerous situation,” he said.

Groundwater levels in areas without dams have also fallen, in some cases by 25 percent, said Mohamed Dahech, the CEO of SONEDE, the national water supply authority.

With consumption increasing by an average of four percent a year, SONEDE has urged Tunisians to use less water.

But Marzouki of Watchwater said more needed to be done.

“The state has not put in place the necessary strategies,” he said, pointing in particular to decrepit water pipelines that leak 10 to 30 percent of supplies.

SONEDE’s Dahech said a major issue is unpaid bills, which have reached the equivalent of some 60 million euros so far this year.

The government has promised a raft of measures, including unblocking several dam projects and the construction of three desalination plants in the south.

Water Security in the MENA region

Water Security in the MENA region

Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa 

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), the MENA region is one of the most water insecure regions of the planet and that “roughly two thirds of the Arab World’s surface water supplies originate outside the region” and as put by Amit Pandya, Stimson Centre Fellow and Cipher Brief expert, would require extensive cooperation between regional countries to manage. Water Security in the MENA region should consequently be at the top of the elites’ agendas and second to none. 

Water resources, as aggravated by global climate change, local populations’ explosion, and non-ending regional conflicts, not only continue to outstrip supply but also make it difficult to store and rationally distribute the little of that is available. 

Amit Pandya in a write up of August 19th, 2016 that is reproduced below, observed, that perhaps the most important first step will be to “avoid wringing our hands at the impossibility of reversing large scale natural processes and understand water as a resource that is, has been, and should be managed.”  

The Centre of Security Discourse and Planning

In 2016, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has experienced record-setting high temperatures. This is seen by meteorologists as part of a steady trend that will not abate and has led experts to predict that stress on water endowments and supplies in the region could in turn spur conflict and population displacement in the world’s most water-scarce region. As populations grow, per capita water demand rises and global climate change intensifies.  Per capita water availability in the MENA region is projected to halve by mid-century.

Water is, of course, essential to human life. In a region that is the locus of some of the world’s most intense and complex conflicts, water should therefore be placed at the center of security discourse and planning. There has certainly been some attention to the security implications of water and related economic and governance issues. However, immediate political and ideological developments have understandably dominated the mainstream security discourse, particularly among policy makers, and have obscured equally important issues such as water, environmental change, and economic and demographic trends. These have largely remained specialist interests. This must change if adequate and responsive policies are to be developed by the international community and by those powers, such as the United States, with a stake in the region.

Managing water has been fundamental to the development of human societies in the Middle East and North Africa. The role of the Nile in Egyptian civilization, from antiquity to the present, is axiomatic, and the role of water management in the rise of civilization itself is reflected in the legal codes of ancient Mesopotamia, where the Codes of Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi, dating back four millennia, set rules for the proper use and maintenance of common water works.

This suggests that we should avoid wringing our hands at the impossibility of reversing large scale natural processes and understand water as a resource that is, has been, and should be managed. Accordingly, we need to emphasize the importance of water policy, both within and from outside the region.

Meeting the challenge will require enhanced innovation and reform within the water policy communities and economies of the MENA countries, as well as increased cooperation, data sharing, knowledge, and capacity building between them, and a recognition by the international community of its responsibility to support these efforts.

Annual renewable water supplies in MENA are approximately 620 billion cubic meters (BCM), compared to Africa’s almost 4000 BCM, Asia’s 12,000 BCM, and a world total of approximately 43,000 BCM. MENA’s per capita annual water availability is estimated by water experts to be only around two thirds of the amount that is needed to prevent a significant constraint on socio-economic development, making the region the most water stressed in the world. Indeed, many MENA countries suffer from levels as low as 10 percent of the MENA regional figure. The region has approximately seven percent of the world’s population and less than 1.5 percent of the world’s renewable freshwater supply. At the same time, richer states, like members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have some of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world.

This scarcity is compounded by population growth, migration, industrialization, urbanization, pollution, and climate and other environmental change, along with the proliferation of energy-intensive lifestyles. Growing water demand, decreasing water availability, and deteriorating water quality are the result.

Issues of water scarcity and choices about water policies affect farming (crop choice, growing seasons, and pests), fisheries, forestry, livestock, hydropower, and industry, all of which have an impact on agricultural production, food security, and rural and urban livelihoods. Competition among uses, such as irrigation, municipal uses, and energy production, can damage public health and social welfare, thus creating political instability and posing significant internal security risks.

Some MENA countries have low levels of renewable water resources, such as flowing rivers, and must rely on groundwater and desalination for most of their supply.   Others get much of their water from river systems they share with other countries. The former group includes Bahrain, the Gaza Strip, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen. The latter Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, Sudan, and Syria.

Much of the MENA region relies upon transboundary water resources. International competition and conflict are inevitable and have, in many cases, already occurred. However, these shared resources can also be occasions for unprecedented cooperation, given the urgent need for water.

Two-thirds of the Arab world’s surface water supplies originate outside the region. Roughly 90 percent of the Euphrates’s annual flow, for instance, and half of the Tigris’s water supply rises in Turkey. More than half of Iraq’s renewable water originates outside the country. Sudan and Syria receive some three quarters of their water from beyond their borders; and Bahrain, Egypt, and Kuwait depend on external sources for more than 95 percent of their renewable freshwater.

In addition, underground water resources, including fossil water, are little noticed or discussed by non-specialists. Significant transboundary aquifers in the region include the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer beneath Egypt, Libya, Chad, and Sudan; the Northwestern Sahara Aquifer System underlying Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia; and the Basalt Aquifer shared by Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Several MENA countries derive one-third or more of their water supplies from underground reservoirs. But many states are depleting their groundwater at an unsustainable rate. Annual withdrawals exceed 108 percent of renewable resources in Iran, 350 percent in Egypt, 800 percent in Libya, and 954 percent in Saudi Arabia. When these water sources cross political boundaries, it is easy to see sources of conflict at such ruinous rates of withdrawal.

As with river systems, countries and other entities will need to better map and assess groundwater resources, and negotiate policies for its extraction, its sustainable management, and its equitable allocation.

Some water strategies that have been adopted in MENA — such as desalinization in the Gulf and dam construction on the major river systems — have side-effects that pose additional environmental, economic, and social stresses. Other strategies, such as Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), are models of skillful and successful management, in Oman for example.

A modest but substantive approach by the international community to address these issues might consist of technical assistance and financing for water quality monitoring and improvement, climate change adaptation, community and stakeholder participation, and knowledge sharing.

The last should be focused around cooperation and exchange between institutions within MENA, such as the Arab Integrated Water Resources Management Network (AWARENET), and national and regional scientific institutions, such as the Islamic World Academy of Sciences and the Sahara and Sahel Observatory. However, institutions and governments from outside the region also have much to contribute in this respect.

Amit A. Pandya is a non-resident Fellow at the Stimson Center.  He is an international lawyer whose research interests include social, environmental and economic trends in the Arab world and South Asia.  He has served as Counsel to Subcommittees on National Security and International Operations in the U.S. House of Representatives, Director of the Humanitarian Assistance Office in the U.S. Department of Defense, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East at the U.S. Agency for International Development, a member of the Department of State’s Policy Planning Staff and Chief of Staff to the International Labor Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Deep groundwater in the Sahara

Deep groundwater in the Sahara

Northern aquifer system is charging?

An article of  Liberte-Algerie   by Rabah Said dated April 28, 2016 elaborated on the Sahara underground water lakes.  Until recently, these Deep groundwater in the Sahara were considered strictly fossil, meaning non renewable. Yet, according to a study by the ‘Institut de Recherche pour le Développement’ (IRD-France)   published in Geophysical Research letters, the groundwater of the Northern Sahara aquifer system are renewed.

Rainfall being rare and evapo-transpiration too much to significantly fill deep groundwater.  The IRD-France researchers assert that “in reality, the tablecloths of the aquifer system of the Northern Sahara, their exact name, are still supplied.  Their fill charging exists and could be quantified: rain precipitation and water runoffs bring in to the system an average of 1.4 km³ per year, or about 2 mm per year on the surface to recharge.  “Over the period from 2003 to 2010, the annual recharge even reached 4.4 km³ in some years, equivalent to 6.5 mm per year”.

The scientists analysed the data provided by the satellite mission GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) of NASA and the German Aerospace Center.  These data have allowed researchers to estimate the evolution of the volume of stored water and to deduce the aquifer recharge, once withdrawals in groundwater are taken into account.  The average recharge of 1.4 km³ per year is 40%, 2.75 km³ in total collected each year, according to data from the Observatory of Sahara and Sahel (OSS).  In fact 60% of annual withdrawals are not offset. Therefore there is over-exploitation, but it can be managed with fewer constraints.

This article originally in French titled The blue gold of the desert .  It is a vivid description of the water hidden in the desert…

Aquifers in Northern Sahara

Aquifers in Northern Sahara

A scientific magazine reading and ‘voila!’ that I came across a fascinating map, there is of water buried in the desert, a true inland sea… A treasure which is buried and which sleep under our feet since millions of years…

The richness of a civilization will soon be measured in litres.  We hear that the lack of water will be the cause of wars in the not very distant future and that the possession of this resource will be a priceless trophy for some time…

It should be remembered that, on the 1.4 billion cubic kilometers * water found on the planet, only 2.5% is fresh water, and that the rest can be made potable at the cost of operations of desalination extremely costly and complex that very few Governments can afford. The amount of water in the world doubles every 20 years but there are many factors that lead us to ask ourselves whether it will be enough to quench the thirst of all humans: population growth, unthinking use of the resource in agriculture, uncontrolled exploitation of water courses, etc. According to the statistics that 85% of the water consumed are used by 12% of the population. (*: Knowing that one cubic kilometer equals one billion litres of water)