According to World Bank projections, “by 2030, annual water availability in the MENA region and the absolute deficit threshold of 500 cubic meters per capita per year will fall”.
Long regarded as abundant, water scarcity is increasing globally and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. According to the latest World Bank (WB) report published on April 27, 2023, the MENA region is the most affected by the lack of this vital resource for life.
“The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces acute water scarcity to sustain lives and livelihoods. Despite significant investments in infrastructure over the past decades, countries in the region face unprecedented and increasingly acute water scarcity due to population growth, climate change and socio-economic development. .”Economics of Water Scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa: Institutional Solutions”.
Strongly demanded by farmers and cities, the Bretton Woods Institute warns that existing water systems are “on the brink of collapse.” As the climate situation worsens, this is only the beginning of a more difficult era.
The report highlights the accentuation of water stress in this part of the world and its unfortunate effects on the population. “The water resources that entire communities of farmers have relied on for their livelihoods for generations are rapidly depleting or disappearing,” the report added.
According to World Bank projections, “by 2030, annual water availability in the MENA region and the absolute deficit threshold of 500 cubic meters per capita per year will fall”. This shortage will exacerbate the shortage, especially due to the increasing demand for water, especially due to the fluctuating population experienced by most countries in the region.
The report warns that this water scarcity will become “higher” year on year, reflecting the rate of population growth. “The region’s population has grown from over 100 million in 1960 to over 450 million in 2018.
“This should exceed 720 million by 2050,” notes the WB, which anticipates a water deficit of 25 billion cubic meters per year. “Based on current water management strategies, a conservative estimate of water demand in 2050 indicates that an additional 25 billion cubic meters will be required annually,” the report said. To fill this gap, 65 desalination plants the size of Ras Al Khair in Saudi Arabia.
In this context, the report points to the need to undertake reforms in existing water resources management that are capable of improving governance.
“If nothing is done, water scarcity will have negative consequences for livelihoods and agricultural production and cause tension among users,” warns the international agency, for which the approach followed by the countries of the MENA region is not ideal.
“The World Bank has criticized the region as relying mainly on the development of water supply capacity and mechanisms, particularly through dam construction, desalination and groundwater exploitation, without adequately addressing critical issues of capacity and governance.”.
“This situation is neither financially nor environmentally viable,” says the WB, citing the problem of water leakage that must be significantly reduced to save the increasingly rare and highly sought after.
“Half of the water utilities indicate that customers are not billed for more than 30% of the water they produce due to leaking pipes, inefficient water meters and illegal connections,” the report notes.
The World Bank warns of the environmental consequences of over-absorption of groundwater and increased discharge of brine from desalination plants. Also, the report points out, reliance on virtual water imports exposes countries to supply problems, such as those caused by the recent war in Ukraine.
Increase decision-making autonomy
Therefore, the Bretton Woods Institute recommends reforms to MENA countries to “increase autonomy and decentralize decisions regarding water management and service provision”. The report identifies a series of institutional reforms aimed at national water agencies and utilities and delegating decision-making on water allocation to representative administrations at the local level, which will help the region face and overcome water problems.
“Instead of setting water prices and regulating the use of this resource through ‘vertical’ guidelines, technical water management systems, giving more powers to utilities and local communities, can strengthen the state’s legitimacy and confidence in its ability to manage. Water scarcity” suggests the World Bank.
“Institutional reforms in the key water sector can not only change the way the state develops and implements water policies, but also, in general, by changing the social contract in the MENA region,” said Ferid Belhaj. Middle East and North Africa.
The report says “better communication about water scarcity and national water strategies” is needed for recommended institutional reforms to succeed. The report’s authors cite Brazil and South Africa as examples, which have combined intensive communication campaigns about the scarcity of this resource with reforms aimed at reducing water consumption.
The report discusses the potential for raising funds in international markets for water resource development projects in the region. Algeria, which is part of this MENA region, suffers from severe rainfall deficit. According to data made public in January 2023 by Professor Ahmed Getab, an international water management consultant, rainfall in Algeria has decreased by 30% over the past 20 years.
In other words, Algeria today is in a drought situation. To deal with that and make up for the lack of rainfall, Algeria has spent more than $20 billion over the past two decades building dams, desalination plants, and sea and groundwater exploitation networks in the south. New investments are underway in this key sector.
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