It warned that people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are facing unprecedented water shortages. World Bank, which has released a new report that proposes a range of institutional and resource management reforms to alleviate water stress in the region. The report, titled “Economics of Water Scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa: Institutional Solutions,” notes that by the end of this decade, the amount of available water will be set below the absolute scarcity threshold of 500 cubic meters per person. per year.
Furthermore, the document anticipates that by 2050, an additional 25 billion cubic meters of water will be needed each year to meet the region’s needs, which would require the construction of 65 desalination plants the size of the one in Ras al-Khair. Saudi Arabia is currently the largest in the world. Institutions managing water allocations between competing uses today (especially in agriculture and cities) are often highly centralized and technical, limiting their ability to use water at the local level.
Within the framework of a national water strategy, the report argues that giving local representatives more power over water allocation could legitimize difficult decisions, as opposed to directives imposed by ministries distant from the sector. “Water scarcity is a serious threat to human lives and livelihoods as farmers and cities compete for this precious natural resource and overwhelm power systems,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the MENA region, who participated in Rabat. Presentation of new report.
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In the past, MENA countries have invested heavily in new infrastructure such as dams. They have tapped significant groundwater resources and increased their ‘virtual’ water imports by buying grain and other water-augmenting commodities from outside, the report said. The strategy has improved agricultural production and access to water and sanitation services in cities, but the expansion approach is now reaching its limits and countries are being forced to make tough choices, the report found.
Opportunities to increase water storage capacity are no longer immeasurable, groundwater is being overexploited – with negative consequences for water quality – and virtual water imports are shocking the world’s nations. Compared to past investments in dams and groundwater exploitation, investment costs in non-conventional sources such as seawater desalination and wastewater reuse are high, putting additional pressure on countries’ finances. To increase opportunities for climate finance and access to global financial markets, MENA governments need to put in place institutions that trust these markets, the report says.
“Giving water utilities more autonomy to get closer to their customers and inform them of price changes will lead to greater acceptance and compliance with tariff structures, and limit the risk of water-related disputes and public unrest,” said Roberta Gatti, Global President. The Bank’s Chief Economist for the MENA Region. “These types of reforms could help governments renew the social contract with the MENA region’s population and build trust in the state to manage water scarcity,” Gatti says.
For institutional reforms to succeed, the report recommends clear communication on water scarcity and national strategies to explain to local people the motivations behind certain decisions. This approach has paid off in countries such as Brazil and South Africa, where strategic communication measures have been accompanied by reforms aimed at reducing water use during periods of severe scarcity.
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