A farmer works in a plantation near the Jerash stream, which flows into the King Talal Dam, near Jerash, Jordan. (Reuters)
LONDON – The Middle East region is struggling to ensure adequate water, energy and food security as resources deplete and demand increases due to population growth and climate change.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), access to water, energy and food security (WEF) are linked throughout the world and play an important role in sustainable development, poverty reduction and human well-being. Achieving a balance between the sectors is important to maintaining stability in the wake of demand increase and resource decline that is linked to climate change, land use and human demographics.
With a finite amount of water meeting the needs of a growing world population, ensuring a reliable supply through proper resource management is critical to human survival. The most commonly used energy production methods are fossil fuel, biofuel production and fracking, the process of shale gas extraction. All of these are highly water intensive and unsustainable in the long term. As a result, there is a growing need for the development of wind and hydropower, renewable sources of energy that require far less water. Geothermal power is another alternative that does not consume water, produces little to no greenhouse gas as a byproduct and can serve as a climate-independent, long-term resource.
Agriculture, however, is the source of even more water usage, accounting for 69% of annual water withdrawal. Households account for 12%, while the industrial sector accounts for 19%, according to the FAO’s AQUASTAT.
As the world’s population grows, demand for food expands with it. The UN has also theorised that more global wealth has caused diets to shift from largely starch-based products to more water-intensive dairy and meat products. To save water, the organisation suggested more energy-efficient measures such as precision irrigation that tracks water providers’ data.
Nowhere are these changes more needed than in the MENA region, where many nations are suffering from limited energy resources and forced to import basic food as production drops. These insecurities are triggering knock on effects in all parts of life, sometimes leading to social and political instability in vulnerable countries.
In Yemen, for instance, years of civil war that have rattled the country’s industry and economy have left it with no option but to import basic food products.
In Syria, as well, drought and displacement have damaged the water-energy-food nexus that is critical to human flourishing.
Water resources are critically low throughout much of the MENA region, with major aquifers being overutilised and left nearly empty.
The only available water supply to most rural communities, springs, have also been rapidly depleting over the last 20 years as a result of agricultural irrigation in Oman, Jordan and, to a greater extent, Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces.
The latter was the world’s sixth largest wheat exporter until the turn of the century, but it was forced to abandon these groundwater resource-dependent plans after it exhausted its aquifers. Similarly, Oman had no option but to shift from foodstuffs to Khat and to high usage irrigation methods from their long tradition of terraced agriculture.
Triggering a positive feedback loop, MENA’s water insecurity drove migration to urban areas, stressing already unstable public infrastructure.
While it is difficult for MENA nations to divert themselves from water-intense practices, renewable options are the only sustainable path forward for the region.
What are the alternatives?
Going forward, MENA countries should look to reduce demand and dependence on water-intensive sectors. Rising global temperatures will make the task more difficult, but also more important.
Restructuring energy systems is one way to proceed. However, investing in new technologies, such as wind and solar photovoltaic, will come at a high cost for already financially strained countries – an estimated $1 trillion by 2050, according to a 2019 World Bank Group study. But there are economic benefits too that would come from lower dependence on water. The use of water recycling and desalination, for instance, provide a high degree of value. And the MENA region currently accounts for half of the world’s desalination capacity and is set to increase, according to a 2017 World Bank study.
The World Bank estimated that the MENA region would need to increase its supplies by 68 million cubic meters of water, or 60%, by 2050, while implementing moderate improvements in agricultural productivity and land use.
But to achieve water security and meet the region’s ever increasing water demands, the water supply portfolio must also have water recycling integration. Approximately 80% of the wastewater in MENA is simply discharged and not reused, although countries like Tunisia and Jordan have made positive steps towards recycling wastewater for irrigation use. If wastewater is able to be treated to high standards, recycling should be viewed as an important section of the management strategy.
If allowed to continue, insecurity in the water-food-energy nexus will lead to political unrest, displacement and instability. Researchers have theorised that these developments have already been set into motion as the region largely resists adopting new agricultural practices or investment in new technologies.
An article by Engidashet Bunare & Shiferaw Lulu dated May 19, 2020, carrying a title such as The Crocodile Tear of Egypt and The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) should be taken seriously for it is a point of view of an adjoining neighbour to one of the most prominent countries south of the MENA region. We all know that Egypt’s options were not that clear at the Nile talks some time ago. The first three sections are republished here for their obvious content.
The media and Egyptian professionals are trying to influence with one sided view and deceive the international community. The purpose of the propaganda and lies that are taking place internationally by the Egyptian politicians and professionals is to mislead the international community and countries about the GERD for getting biased support and to pressurize Ethiopia to sign an agreement that only satisfies Egypt’s interest at the expense of over 100 million people of Ethiopia. In addition Egypt is trying to use the GERD issue to shadow and divert political and diplomatic efforts from the CFA (Cooperative Framework Agreement) that requests reasonable and equitable share of the Nile water among the basin states.
In addition to its hoodwink, Egypt has been and is supporting political opponents, religious radicals and ethnic radicals to destabilize upstream countries in order not to have peace in their countries to develop their nation, which inevitably consider using of their water.
It has to be clear that the population of the basin countries is increasing and the demand for water supply, irrigation and power generation will definitely amplify. Whatever lies and deceptions are implemented, no one can stop the people and the countries that originate the Nile water from using the water from their backyard. It has to be clear that these countries will not continue under poverty and see their people starve while Egypt is enjoying prosperity.
We Ethiopians need to bring the facts to the light and try to stop Egyptian professionals, scientists, journalists and politicians from deceiving the international community.
II. The Nile Water and the GERD
It has to be clear to all the international community and the Ethiopians at large that there is no any significant contribution to the Nile water either from Egypt or the Sudan. However, these two countries have shared 100% of the water among themselves. Ethiopia is contributing 84.1% of the Nile water and has zero shares and the rest of the countries contribute 15.9% and have zero shares from the Nile water.
Egypt wants to keep this unreasonable share of water and keep the upstream countries to support Egypt’s prosperity, while living in poverty. Egypt has been using the World Bank and the other developed nations not to provide loans or grants towards development of the water from the Nile basin. As a result of this, the upstream countries obliged to live under poverty and famine.
Ethiopia contributes 84.1 % percent of the waters for the Nile river system (94.5 Bm3). The Blue Nile 57.1 % percent (54 Bm3), Baro-Akobo (Sobat) 14.3 % percent (13.5 Bm3), Tekezze (Atbara) 12.7 % percent (12 Bm3) – while the contribution from the Equatorial Lakes region is only 15.9 % percent (15 Bm3), but contribution from Ethiopia other than Blue Nile is a total of 27 % percent from Baro-Akobo (Sobat) 14.3 % and Tekezze (Atbara) 12.7 % respectively which is almost double of the contribution from White Nile or the Equatorial Lakes region.
The main water resources problem in Ethiopia is that the major rivers of the country have trans-boundary nature. 70% of Ethiopia’s water resources that are contributing to the 84.1% of the Nile River flow are found in the three sub-basins of the Ethiopian side of the Nile Basin namely; Abay (Blue Nile), Tekeze- Mereb and Baro-Akobo and whereas the population is no more than 40 percent of the country. On the other hand, the water resource available in the east and central river basins is only 30 percent whereas the population in these basins is over 60 percent.
Out of the total 84.1% Nile water contribution of Ethiopia, the GERD is being constructed on Blue Nile (Abbay) river which is contributing 57.1% of the Nile River flow. This Abbay River Basin covers 44% of the surface water source and 26% of the population of Ethiopia.
According to the 1959 agreement between Sudan and Egypt, the Nile water is divided as follows: 55.5 billion cubic meters to Egypt, 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan, and 10 billion cubic meters to account for evaporation and seepage. The Al-Jazeera documentary (The GERD, under the title “How big is Ethiopia’s new dam”?) clearly showed that based on the Colonial treaties the Nile’s water shared by Egypt 66%, by Sudan 22%, by Ethiopia 0%, and 12% lost to evaporation. We would like to make clear that the volume of High Aswan Dam 162 billion m3 is more than double of the GERD volume of 75 billion m3. Toshka and El-Salam huge projects of Egypt that have significant effect on the water rights of the upstream countries have estimated investment of about 100 Billion USD in 2017 which is about 20 times the estimated construction cost of the GERD. It has to be noted that Egypt has not consulted any of the upstream countries while developing these projects. In addition to the Nile water, Egypt has groundwater resources in the Nile Valley and Delta, the western desert, and Sinai. The largest groundwater deposit is the giant Nubian sandstone aquifer underneath the eastern part of the African Sahara, which is shared between Egypt and four other countries. It contains over 200,000 billion m3 of non- renewable water in total that can serve for thousands of years. The aquifer underlying the Nile Valley and Delta has a total capacity of 500 billion m3 (200 and 300 billion m3 respectively). Egypt has to learn a lesson from “The Libyan Great Man-made River (GMMR) Project, eighth wonder of the world” embarked by Muammar Qadhafi in 1983” which supplies 6,500,000 m3 of freshwater per day to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte and others.
In addition, Egypt because of its unique location has sea outlet both on Mediterranean and the Red-Sea that makes desalinated water available both from the east and north of Egypt. Egypt is well aware of the recent technological advances that have significantly decreased the production costs of desalinated water.
The GERD is located in Ethiopia; on the Blue Nile River about 20 Km upstream from the Ethiopia-Sudan Border. The GERD is for hydropower which is non-consumptive use and does not stop the flow of the river. The Dam is currently under construction; where totally about 73 % of the project both civil and electro- mechanical work is completed. The GERD has two power plants with capacities of 3750 MW and 2250 MW or total installed capacity of 6000 MW that could generate average energy of 15,692 GWh per year.
GERD is an additional storage dam both for Egypt and Sudan, and also that save water that is lost by evaporation in the desert from Aswan High Dam and the reservoirs in Sudan. It also serves as a silt trap for the dams in Sudan and Egypt. The GERD specifically saves Sudan from the annual flooding of thousands of irrigable area and help to reclaim its irrigable lands that optimize irrigation in Sudan. The GERD also helps to increase the rainfall in the Ethiopian highland as a result of the evaporation from the reservoir that will contribute to the Nile flow. Based on these facts, to build a dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia is not a new issue at all. It was already considered as an option in the 19th century by the British, mainly because of the lower levels of evaporation, sediment control, and regulated flow.
It is clear that GERD has no significant effect as compared to its remarkable benefits both for Egypt and Sudan. It has to be clear that the GERD is being constructed under zero percent water share of Ethiopia. Now what Ethiopia should negotiate is not about the GERD, it has to raise the issue of sharing the Nile water equitably among all the basin states.
III. Cooperation Efforts of the Basin Countries on Equitable Use of Nile Water
Based on the initiative of Ethiopia, a series of the ‘Nile 2002 conferences’ that started in 1993 continued up to 2002. This cooperation effort paved the way for the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) established in 1999. A Shared Vision Programme (SVP) supported cooperation through promoting collaborative action, and trust intended to build a strong foundation for regional cooperation, of which the goal was the creation of an enabling environment for investments and action on the ground (NBI, 1999).
The NBI established a secretariat in Uganda and two subsidiary action programmes (SAPs) in the Eastern Nile (based in Addis Ababa) ENSAP (The Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program) currently includes Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan and the Nile Equatorial Lakes region (in Kigali). NELSAP (The Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program): The Nile Equatorial Lakes region includes the six countries in the southern portion of the Nile Basin: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as the downstream riparian states Egypt and Sudan.
The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) 1995-2011 resulted in the development of the Cooperative Framework (CFA) and the establishment of the UNDP D3 project which started the negotiations for a River Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement in 1997; The D3 project had main activities of which was major for the development of the Cooperative framework agreement (CFA). Accordingly, the Panel of Experts (POE) formulated cooperative framework and approved by Council of Ministers (COM). The CFA (2009) adopts the seven most relevant factors for determining equitable and reasonable utilization from Article 6(1) of the 1997 United Nations Watercourses Convention.
The Nile-COM with the exception of Egypt and Sudan absent, agreed and resolved that the CFA is a clean text ready for presentation to the riparian states for signature.
The CFA signing / “Entebbe Agreement”:- Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed the Entebbe Agreement on the day it was opened for signature on the May 14, 2010. Kenya signed on the May 19, 2010; Burundi signed on the February 28, 2011. After signing the Entebbe Agreement the four countries Ethiopia; Rwanda; Tanzania and Uganda have ratified the agreement.
Egypt has become stumbling block not to sign the CFA and yet without reached agreement on water allocation, it considers any reduction of the Nile water quantity level as a national security issue. Egypt did not want to sign the CFA which would have been a spring board for all basin states to reach to an agreement on how to share and manage the Nile water. It has to be clear that Egypt’s rigid position will let the Nile basin state countries to take their own unilateral action, which will ultimately be a nightmare for Egypt.
After four years Egypt’s position not to sign the CFA and the tensions between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the GERD project, the three Eastern Nile countries acceded to a Declaration of Principles on 6 March 2015 that lead them to agree on the guidelines of the filling and operation of the GERD. “Ethiopia as the owner of the GERD will commence first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization and the causing of no significant harm as provided on the Declaration of Principles (DoP).” In spite of the deception of Egypt, that is what Ethiopia is doing currently- “first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam”. Basically Egypt’s treachery is to use the DoP as scapegoat to gain time Ethiopia not to capitalize on the CFA and its diplomatic efforts to bring back Egypt and Sudan to the table of negotiation to sign the CFA.
High unemployment rates, oppressive regimes and a desire for better education are some of the reasons cited by Arabs who express a desire to leave their countries.
The Arab world has seen a lot of its youth move in search of better opportunities for employment, freedom of expression, in addition to escaping from social and cultural norms they find oppressive.
According to an August 2019 poll by the Arab Barometer company, titled “Youth in the Middle East and North Africa,” the daily living situation in the region is far from ideal.
Noting that youth between the ages of 15 to 29 comprise about 30 percent of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, the Arab Barometer finds a significant number of them dissatisfied with their economic prospects.
They are also not happy with the education system. Moreover, “less than half say the right to freedom of expression is guaranteed”. Then there’s the high unemployment rates and widespread corruption.
This is why, Arab Barometer suggests, youth in the MENA region are more likely to consider emigrating from their country than older residents. The preferred destinations are varied, including Europe, North America, or the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Another survey by Arab Barometer, titled “Migration in the Middle East and North Africa,” published in June 2019, notes that across the region, “roughly one-in-three citizens are considering emigrating from their homeland.”
The surveys were conducted with more than 27,000 respondents in the MENA region between September 2018 and May 2019 in face-to-face interviews.
According to the Arab Barometer’s findings, there had been a decrease in people considering emigrating from 2006 to 2016. Yet since 2016, the trend is no longer in decline but has shown an increase “across the region as a whole.”
The Arab Barometer finds that citizens are “more likely to want to leave” if they are young, well educated and male. The survey has found more than half of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 in five of the 11 countries surveyed want to leave.
While older potential migrants are more likely to cite economic factors as the primary decision, the survey suggests, younger ones “are more likely to name corruption, for example.”
As for the desired destination countries, they vary according to the homeland of potential migrants. Among those living in the Maghreb countries of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Europe is the favoured destination.
Whereas migrants from Egypt, Yemen and Sudan point towards Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The survey has also found that those from Jordan or Lebanon prefer North America, notably the US or Canada.
The survey also notes that while most would only depart if they had the proper paperwork, young males with lower levels of education who may not see a positive future in their homeland have said they would be willing to migrate illegally, “including roughly four-in-ten in six of the 11 countries surveyed.”
In a blog post for Unesco’s Youth Employment in the Mediterranean (YEM) published in January 2020, Sabrina Ferraz Guarino observes that “Migration is a coping mechanism based on the assumption that moving to another country is the best and most efficient investment for their own and one’s family future” and that improving people’s lives in their home countries will likely result in less desire to migrate.
Guarino says the unemployment rates in the Mediterranean region affect youth the most: “Unemployed youth are the highest in Palestine (45%), Libya (42%), Jordan (36.6%) and Tunisia (34.8%), while Morocco (21.9%) and Lebanon (17.6%) fare relatively better.”
She adds: “Viewing this together with the share of the youth that is not in education, employment or training (NEET), reveals how the challenges of youth employment remain self-compounding. The youth NEET rates tally around 14% in Lebanon and 21% for Algeria, but progressively increase across Tunisia (25%), Jordan (28%), Morocco (28%), and Palestine (33%).”
In its MENA report published in October 2019, the World Bank says growth rates across the region are rising but are still below “what is needed to create more jobs for the region’s fast-growing working-age population.”
The World Bank recommends reforms “to demonopolise domestic markets and open up regional trade to create more export-led growth.” Source: TRT World
Water scarcity is one of the most pressing issues facing the international community today and has gained widespread attention recently due to the rise in global temperatures and the increase in water consumption in a number of countries, especially those in the Middle East. Despite these concerns, many nations remain unprepared to confront water scarcity and continue to fail to make the issue a political priority.
The shortage of water in the Middle East has worsened in the modern era due to high population growth rates, urbanization and the expansion of cities, the low price of water, and inefficient water management. These factors have created an unstable—and extremely dangerous—situation, which will impact the availability of water and risk exacerbating tensions between countries in the region.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will be among the regions most impacted by global warming in the twenty-first century through a heightened risk of drought and flood, which will reduce agricultural productivity, impact food stocks, and harm the most disadvantaged of the population.
About 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the MENA region, which contains only 1 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. Water was available to citizens at an annual rate of 819.8 cubic meters per capita as recently as a few years ago, which is more than 25 percent less than the global average. Meanwhile, 60 percent of the region’s population lives in areas suffering from surface water shortages, while the global average stands at about 35 percent. Despite the region’s scarcity of water, MENA has the world’s lowest water tariffs and the highest percentage of GDP spent on water subsidies. This has led to irrational use of water resources and over-pumping of nonrenewable groundwater. These are striking examples of both poor water management and the region’s lack of appreciation of the urgency of this issue.
Groundwater, large transboundary rivers, and desalination represent the main sources of water in the region, according to a report from the World Bank. These sources are all either points of dispute between countries in the region, threatened by excessive use, or too costly to develop. As a result, the countries of the Middle East continue to suffer from an acute lack of water security, which is defined as “the availability of an acceptable quantity and quality of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems and production, coupled with an acceptable level of water-related risks to people, environments and economies.” In other words, achieving water security is not limited to maintaining high water reserves, but also involves taking into account productive and preventive initiatives to deal with water needs and related issues. Countries that underestimate the importance of water security are squandering opportunities for economic, political, and social prosperity for their citizens.
This is because water security is directly linked to food security, energy, and irrigation inefficiency. The lack of available water impacts agricultural land and leads to an excessive dependence on food imports to meet the demands of the population. The countries of the Arab World import between 30 and 35 percent of their food resources. Egypt and China are among the largest importers of wheat in the world, despite the fact that China’s population is ten times larger. The higher the national dependence on basic food imports, the greater the risk associated with turmoil in global markets. In this way, protecting national security and achieving stability becomes difficult if water and food security needs are not addressed.
This is not exaggeration or fear mongering, but rather a warning about one of the most severe threats facing the MENA region—I do not rule out the possibility of this becoming a cause or justification for conflict—and a call for leaders to change policies. Policymakers can reach a solution to this crisis if there is political will.
For example, irrigation efficiency in the MENA region hovers at 50 percent, but if efficiency was raised to 70 percent through changes to policies and practices, huge benefits could be achieved. These include providing fifty billion cubic meters of water to the Middle East annually, which would allow countries to significantly increase grain production and work to find more sustainable ways to conserve water and produce food.
Water scarcity is a possible precursor to regional and potentially international conflict, and preemptive action must be taken to prevent this. Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have been embroiled in a dispute related to water security and are striving to reach a consensual agreement in this regard that is both sustainable and implementable. The Nile River provides Egypt with 75 percent of its water needs, which are set to increase given population growth rates, and issues related to water security in the country are set to worsen. Ethiopia will soon begin the process of filling a lake connected to the Renaissance Dam, which is part of the largest hydroelectric power station in Africa. Egyptian anxiety and frustration at the slow pace of negotiations and the failure of talks thus far are made clear in Egypt’s public statements and talk about “red lines,” as well as in its seeking to call an international mediator to help resolve the dispute.
Another potential regional conflict lies in water disputes between Palestine and Israel, even if the political conflict is resolved, which remains unlikely. Israel controls the head of the Jordan River, which restricts access to water for Palestinians, and aquifers are also under the control of the Israeli government. This leaves Palestinians with a limited amount of water. United Nations Development Programme reports indicate that Palestinians have access to about three hundred million cubic meters of water annually, while Israelis enjoy about two thousand million cubic meters. Such a disproportionate and inequitable allocation of water resources sows the seeds of future conflict.
A sensitive and potentially dangerous issue like water insecurity in the MENA region requires sincere analysis and an honest warning about its possible impacts. If politicians, scientists, and economists work together to address water insecurity rather than ignoring the issue, we can prevent possible conflict over access to water in the region.
The probability that water scarcity will lead to conflict in the region is 8 percent, says study
Water scarcity is more likely to stoke internal unrest than trigger cross-border wars
DUBAI: In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, access to freshwater is a perennial quest.
Most countries have a limited supply of the precious resource, which is also under severe stress due to arid conditions, population growth, poor infrastructure and overexploitation.
Large expanses of MENA are hot and dry, with only two percent covered by wetlands, so water supply is poor to begin with. To compound the problem, countries are placing increased demands on their limited supplies.
Against this backdrop, a report conducted jointly by Good Judgement, a geopolitical and geo-economic forecasting entity, and the Dubai-based Arab Strategy Forum has tried to find out if water scarcity would heighten future security risks in the region.
The study, which looked at 11 global megatrends and forecasts for the next decade, presented findings by a group of “superforecasters” from around the world, who have proven to be “30 percent more accurate than 4,300 members of the US intelligence community.”
According to the research, the overall probability that water scarcity would act as a pivot point in one or more regional conflicts over the next 10 years was fairly small, at 8 percent.
Kerry Anderson, a political risk consultant, says water concerns in the MENA region are more likely to stoke internal civil unrest and “exacerbate” other issues than cause cross-border conflict.
Describing water scarcity as potentially a “contributing factor in the escalation of hostilities” regionally, the Good Judgement report put the likelihood of a conflict between Jordan and Israel at only 1 percent.
The chances of war between Turkey and Iraq or Egypt and Ethiopia were both put at 3 percent, although the latter was considered to be among the more probable ones.
“(While) Egypt against Ethiopia is the only case where a more powerful downstream country may lose water, the report never says that a conflict may emerge considering the significant drought and deteriorating economic situation in Egypt,” Anderson told Arab News.
With regard to the tensions between Turkey, Iraq and Syria, Anderson said water disputes were unlikely to be the cause of any future conflict involving the three countries.
“Iraq’s government and military are not currently capable of launching the type of war against Turkey that would be necessary to force Turkey to change its policies,” she added.
Anderson also points out that objections by Jordan and Iraq, to what they see as disproportionate extraction of water from shared resources respectively by Israel and Turkey, are unlikely to escalate into a conflict.
“The risk of a war over competing claims might be low, but the risk of water shortages and disputes contributing to political instability, protest movements and economic challenges is far greater.”
For instance, rural families could be forced to leave unproductive farms and migrate to cities, which would contribute to increased social pressures on communities. In combination with corruption, water scarcity could worsen “inequalities,” fueling unrest, Anderson said.
The risks for MENA countries due to water scarcity cannot be overstated. A report released last year by the World Resources Institute (WRI) said 12 of the 17 most water-stressed countries in the world were located in the MENA region.
In the WRI’s “Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas,” Qatar was ranked first, followed by Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.
The scale of the challenge facing MENA governments can be gauged from the fact that in 2017, 17 out of 22 Arab League nations had more than half their populations living in urban areas.
Regional experts say the growth of urban areas in MENA countries is inevitable given that rural living was nearly impossible on arid land with marginal environments that could barely support subsistence agriculture.
The combination of increasing populations, especially in the cities, new municipalities and industrial units, rising living standards, and maintenance or expansion of irrigation systems, was putting additional pressure every year on already water-stressed countries.
In the past, the increasing demand on a limited supply of water had sparked strife, but in the future the same phenomenon could be a trigger for more migration and social unrest, according to Middle East observers.
Protests linked to water have repeatedly broken out in Iraq and Iran, and some experts have linked the Arab Spring uprisings to instability caused by droughts and heatwaves.
“There is substantial evidence that extreme, prolonged drought contributed to the causes of the Syrian civil war, partly by prompting a migration from rural areas to cities,” Anderson said.
Waleed Zubari, coordinator of the water resources management program at the College of Graduate Studies in Manama, Bahrain, said close to 1 million people were affected by an extended drought in northeastern Syria between 2006 and 2009.
This mass displacement of people from their farms in search of refuge in cities contributed to the conditions that led to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Zubari added.
Competition for scarce water resources exist in Palestine as well, he said, noting that Israel had exercised full control over water resources in the West Bank since 1967, including supplies from the Jordan River and mountain aquifers.
Darfur in western Sudan was another example, according to Zubari, where climate variability, water scarcity and loss of fertile land aggravated the region’s political problems, caused by ethnic tensions, to spark protracted civil war.
“Water is increasingly becoming an additional source of tension in an already unstable region,” he said, pointing out that it was now a national security priority for many Arab countries.
Given that 60 percent of the Middle East’s surface water originates from outside the region and almost all water basins are shared, the lack of management and planning in the distribution of these resources was likely to remain a source of political tensions.
Even so, Zubari added, water scarcity was an unlikely determinant of conflict in the Arab region if the past was any guide. “History also shows that power asymmetry in favor of the upstream or occupying countries is a major factor in avoiding conflict over water instigated by downstream countries.”
Put simply, even if water stress does not cause wars, across the Arab region factors such as population increase, economic growth and climate change will place ever greater strain on limited water resources and confront policy makers with daunting challenges.
GivePower is launching containerized, solar-powered water desalination and purification plants in Mombasa, Kenya and La Gonave, Haiti this quarter. Like GivePower’s debut solar-powered microgrid desalination plant, which went live in Kiunga, Kenya in 2018, these new projects will operate with Tesla’s powerwall battery storage technology.
At launch, both of the nonprofit’s new solar water farm projects will produce a maximum of 75,000 liters of water a day by coupling a 50-kW solar system with 120 kW-hrs of Tesla batteries; together this solar plus battery system will power two low-wattage, reverse osmosis desalination pumps that run simultaneously to ensure continuous operation.
When developing solar-powered desalination projects, pinning down the point at which the technology and the operating model make economic sense is key because the one of the biggest challenges with solar desalination is the amount of energy that it takes to desalinate sea water. Often, this outsized energy need means that a plant requires a larger solar array, which increases the cost of the project.
“We need to see that [these philanthropic] projects are economically viable – that these projects can continue to operate without ongoing funding from donors to keep the systems operational,” said Kyle Stephan, GivePower’s vice president of operations. In addition to building solar water farms, GivePower trains local technicians to operate the plants.
GivePower’s solar water farm systems cost just over $500,000, and they have a 20-year expected lifespan.
Commercial applications for GivePower’s solar water farm technology are not in the pipeline currently, according to Hayes Barnard, CEO of GivePower.
When it comes to developing commercial off-grid, solar-powered desalination systems for water-stressed communities, industry officials see solar microgrid players as particularly well placed to offer solutions.
Drought, saltwater intrusion and climate change are intensifying the need for solutions that use renewable energy to address water scarcity. Simultaneously, falling PV prices and energy storage innovations are making solar-powered desalination solutions more appealing.
So far, all of GivePower’s solar water farms are coastal well-based desalination plants. This is because 98% of the world’s water is in the ocean, and 73% of the world’s population live in coastal areas, where well water is susceptible to becoming brackish, Barnard noted. Additionally, off-coast solar desalination plants’ intake processes are expensive, and coastal well-based solar water farms do not stress underground aquifers.
For its project on La Gonave, which is off the coast of Port-au-Prince, GivePower is applying international building code seismic requirements for its solar water farm’s concrete foundation, and it is building a solar canopy that is capable of withstanding a category-four hurricane.
Initially, the nonprofit focused on providing solar-powered lighting to schools without electricity in the hope that this would open up educational opportunities for girls in developing countries. But quickly it became clear that helping communities achieve water security was key to addressing this issue because often girls were often missing school because their days were spent fetching water, according to Barnard, a GivePower co-founder. GivePower became an independent organization in 2016.
Last week GivePower’s solar-powered desalination technology received the UAE’s Global Water Impact Award for innovative small projects.
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