The most water-scarce region in the world is the
Middle East and North Africa (MENA) where more than 60% of the population has
little or no access to drinkable water and over 70% of the region’s GDP is
exposed to high or very high water stress.
scarcity in MENA involves multiple factors such as climate change leading to
droughts and floods, low water quality, and poor water management in the
context of fragility, conflict, and violence. This is one of the reasons why at
the World Economic Forum 2015, experts on the MENA region stated that the water
crisis is “the greatest threat to the region—greater even than political
instability or unemployment”.
water quality in the region is caused by unsustainable water consumption,
pollution and untreated wastewater. The cost of these in the region represents
0.5-2.5% of the GDP annually. This causes multiple problems, ranging from
waterborne diseases to the pollution of fresh water necessary for ecosystem
services such as fisheries. For this reason, according to the International
Union for Conservation of Nature, 17% of freshwater species in the region are
on the brink of extinction.
Meanwhile, life carrying
on, here is a story that happen to be part of everyday life in a country that had
only a few weeks ago, very unusual heavy precipitations followed by heavy floods.
Safaa is one of Jordan’s few female plumbers. She runs her own company in Irbid, and together with her team of around 20 female plumbers, Safaa tries to raise awareness among her customers on the importance of preserving water in a water-scarce country like Jordan
Jordan only has a small number of female plumbers, Safaa says demand for women
in this profession is growing. “Having female plumbers has solved a big
problem,” she said. “Women can now have repairs done in their homes at any
also conducts her own training sessions for women in her field of profession.
She recently jointed an International Labour Organization (ILO) Training of
Trainers (ToT) programme to help her build better skills in coaching. The ToT
programme provides participants with adequate learning methods,
techniques and approaches that are needed to enable them to better
transfer knowledge to other learners and apprentices.
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
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
‘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.
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.”
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
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
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.
China, already a big investor in the country, became a major player in
the GERD, with a $1bn loan for power transmission lines.
A 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.
“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
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.
The Guardian articleby 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.
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.
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
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.
Jordan, a country that is almost land locked but for an narrow opening onto the Red Sea at Akaba, has a semi desert geography. Water in the Jordan Valley does provide some but because of this need of water, for populations of either side of the valley, frictions are exacerbated between the neighbouring countries.
Historically, Jordan as we know it today, is the other part of the original 2 states solution resulting from the partitioning under British Protectorate of historical Palestine. It was meant to gather all Arab and other populations of the region into one state under one central government. These populations sedentary or nomads, from Mediterranean shores or from the interior steppes and desert regions were gathered together into the present day Kingdom of Jordan.
The following article of the World Bank recently published, illustrate this happening quite impartially. It is reproduced here for purposes of clarity that could eventually lead towards mature understanding between the 2 states. A related document is also published separately as a PDF.
Over the last 6 years, Jordan has seen a decline of its agricultural sector productivity as a result of prolonged cycles of negative growth and a decrease of productivity per worker. Regional conflict has also curtailed Jordan’s export opportunities substantially.
The Cost of Irrigation Water in the Jordan Valley, a Water Partnership Program funded report, looks at innovative ways to better manage water in agriculture in one of the world’s most water-stressed countries. The study looks at ways to improve irrigation services delivered by the Jordan Valley Authority, and efficiency of water use across different cropping patterns.
It also reviews mechanisms to improve financial cost recovery, through reducing costs and increasing revenues, to manage farmers’ demand for water. Findings reveal that significant cost savings can be made through a larger focus on energy efficiency programs and better asset management.
Toward improving revenues in a resilient way, the report combines tariff scenario analyses with cropping patterns to show how both farmers and the environment could benefit from shifts in the types of crops produced in some areas.
Growing less water-intensive crops would improve farm resilience to water scarcity in the long-run while providing an opportunity for more sustainable service delivery through higher tariffs – which would affect farmers who grow vegetables much less than those who grow the other major crops (citrus and banana).
An analysis of the distributional impacts of irrigation tariffs demonstrate they are relatively modest, while the number of farmers in the Jordan Valley is small, and the number of poor farmers even smaller, making it relatively easy for the government to provide support or subsidies to poor farmers in the Valley if tariffs were to increase.
EcoMENA, Echoing Sustainability, published on 18 February 2016, an article dedicated to the water aquifers issues as currently witnessed in the MENA.
The article highlights possibilities of extinction of the vast aquifers lying underground in notably the North African vast desert.
Here it is faithfully reproduced for everyone awareness of these imminently threatening issues.
We would take opportunity here to invite EcoMENA and Miss Gazliya to ponder on the other problem pertaining to the Sahara desert and that is that of the ever increasing desertification.
Vanishing Aquifers in MENA
By Gazliya Nazimudheen | | Africa, Middle East, Sustainable Development, Water
Aquifers are of tremendous importance for the MENA as world’s most water-stressed countries are located in the region, including Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, Lebanon and Yemen. However, aquifers in MENA are coming under increasing strain and are in real danger of extinction. Eight aquifers systems, including those in MENA, are categorized as ‘over stressed’ aquifers with hardly any natural recharge to offset the water consumed.
Aquifers stretched beneath Saudi Arabia and Yemen ranks first among ‘overstressed’ aquifers followed by Indus Basin of north western India-Pakistan and then by Murzuk-Djado Basin in North Africa. The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer in the Eastern end of Sahara deserts (parts of Sudan, Chad, Libya and most of Egypt) is the world’s largest known ‘fossil’ aquifer system and Bas Sahara basin (most of Algeria-Tunisian Sahara, Morocco and Libya) encloses whole of the Grand Erg Oriental. The non-renewable aquifers in the Middle East are the Arabian Aquifer and The Mountain Aquifer between Israel and Palestine. Some parts in MENA like Egypt and Iraq rely on major rivers (Nile, Tigris and Euphrates) but these surface water flows does not reach the ocean now. Needless to say, water demand in arid and dry MENA countries is met primarily by aquifers and seawater desalination.
Aquifer Murzuq Djado
MENA region is the most water-scarce region of the world. The region is home to 6.3 percent of world’s population but has access to measly 1.4 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. The average water availability per person in other geographical regions is about 7,000 m3/year, whereas water availability is merely 1,200 m3/person/year in the MENA region. The region has the highest per capita rates of freshwater extraction in the world (804 m3/year) and currently exploits over 75 percent of its renewable water resources.
Primarily global exploitation of groundwater is for agricultural irrigation. In Saudi Arabia, during 1970’s, landowners were given free subsidies to pump the aquifers for improvisation of agricultural sectors. Soon the country turned out to be world’s premium wheat exporters. But as years passed, water consumption was high in such a rate that the aquifers approached total depletion. Government announced peoples demand to be met by desalination, which is an expensive approach to meet agricultural sector requirement. By end of 1990’s agricultural land declined to less than half of the country’s farm land. Saudi Arabia is no more a wheat exporter rather relies almost entirely on imported crop from other countries. Unfortunately, country has exploited nonrenewable and ancient ‘fossil’ aquifers which could not be recharged by any form of precipitation.
Stress on a country’s agricultural and water resources majorly cause problems in human health as well as instability and conflicts over shared resources. Climate change has also exacerbated water availability in the Middle East. Infact, water stresses has triggered brutal civil war in Syria and worsened the Palestine-Israel conflicts over sharing aquifers. The key issues, according to World Bank, in water utilization in MENA are as follows:
Unsustainable and inefficient use: Middle East countries have the highest per capita consumption of domestic water in the world with 40-50% leakage in the urban systems. And 50% water withdrawn for agriculture does not reach as intended.
Ineffective policies: the countries diverts 85% of water to grow crops which would be better importing.
Deteriorating water quality: contaminated water systems due to insufficient sanitation infrastructure has caused negative impacts on environment and health issues. Like, in Iran where issues associated with inadequate waste water collection and treatment cost estimated 2.2% of GDP.
Excessive reliance on the public investment on water accounts for 1-5 percent of GDP.
In MENA an unexpected climate change is likely to bring 20% rainfall reduction and high rate of evaporation which intensifies water stress. And proportionate climate initiated human behavior, more it gets dry, less water in the river, more tendencies to substitute by groundwater. Also depletion of water below the ground will rise to other disasters like sea water intrusion, land subsidence, especially in Arabian Peninsula, in turn destroys the constructions, infrastructures and developments of the country made-up till date.
For further reading and advice, please see at http://www.ecomena.org//?s=aquifer