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Overview of challenges and strategies of water resources management in Islamic countries
Keynote presentation for the International Conference on "Water Resources Management in the Islamic Countries", 19-20 February, 2007, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Murad Bino, email@example.com
Fresh water per capita availability is decreasing and quality is deteriorating in most Middle Eastern countries. Water scarcity problems have always remained an issue of concern to the governments in Islamic countries. Some argue that water shortages in the Middle East are due to structural causes (due to nature and population growth) and the non-structural causes (due to unwise and inefficient use, pollution, and over exploitation) brought about by the way water is managed. But there are multiple water resource management strategies that may be implemented to help meet the challenges of the future water demands with diverse types of actions. These possible actions depend on the local hydrology, geography, economics and politics, including conjunctive use, groundwater replenishment, additional surface storage, urban water use efficiency, agriculture water use efficiency, water recycling, desalination, and precipitation enhancement. By making the right choices, diversifying the water options, and making the right investment, a region may be able to meet its future water challenges and demands.
Water demand management (WDM) is an important water resources management tool that can help many Muslim countries over come water shortages. Many countries in the region are now aware of the potential of WDM and started to implement strategies and policies that lead to reducing demand on water.
In the Middle East water is rapidly becoming the key development issue. The region is one of the highest average population growth rates in the world (ca 2.8 per cent in the region and 2.3 in Jordan[i]), and scares natural water supplies. According to UN World Development Report of 2003, many countries in the region already fall well below availability of 500 m3/p/y. The poorest in terms of water availability is Kuwait (where 10 m³ is available per person each year) followed by Gaza Strip (52 m³), United Arab Emirates (58 m³), Qatar (94 m³), Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (113 m³), and Saudi Arabia (118 m³)[ii]. For example, in the early 1990's, the annual renewable freshwater available in m3 per person in Jordan, Tunisia and Yemen was 327, 540, 445[iii]. Almost all the states of the Arabian peninsula, in addition to Jordan and Libya, already consume much more water than their annual renewable supplies. Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, and Tunisia are fast approaching the same critical threshold. Furthermore, the available water is of lower quality because of increasing pollution and over pumping of many groundwater aquifers. A benchmark level of 1,000 m3/p/y is often used as indicator of water scarcity: below this, a country is likely to experience chronic water scarcity on a scale sufficient to impede development and harm human health[iv]- 500 m3/p/y indicates severe water stress. Competing water demands are exacerbated by increasing high population growth rates and rapid urbanization. The collective urban growth rate in the Middle East is 3.2 per cent and by 2025 the proportion of total population living in urban areas will be 66 per cent, compared with 49 per cent for less developed countries. Against this backdrop, national governments, non-governmental organization and international organizations are working to meet the challenges of providing all of the people in the Middle East with an adequate supply of freshwater to meet their needs.
The water problems have always remained an issue of concern to the governments in Islamic countries. However, such factors as population growth, an increasing demand for water, climatic factors, along with its correlation with other critical factors like poverty, food and nutrition, health and its impact on improving the socio-economic conditions, have called for drawing the attention of the highest authorities to take these issues more seriously[v]. Some argue that water shortages in the Middle East are due to structural causes (due to nature and population growth) and the non-structural causes (due to unwise and inefficient use, pollution, and over exploitation) brought about by the way water is managed. The natural causes for water scarcity are difficult to control except in some cases such as construction of dams to catch flood water and land management to exploit green water[vi] to the maximum practical limit possible.
2. Meeting the challenges
High population growth rate in Islamic countries is considered a root cause for lack of steady and stable economic progress, lack of proper infra structure and suitable medical and education services and leads to water insecurity. Some countries like Jordan and Tunisia for example have managed over the past ten years to bring down national population growth rates from above 3% down to 2.8%. This helps improve critical factors like poverty, food and nutrition, health and its impact on improving the socio-economic conditions[vii].
As a result of the mismatch of demand and sustainable water supply of suitable quality in many areas of the Middle East and the world, groundwater is being extracted at a rate much faster than it is being replenished. In other words the groundwater is being overexploited or "mind". In some areas such as the Disi aquifer in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, fossil water that is thousands of years old is being removed very rapidly (over a few decades) and is not replenished by the natural hydrologic system, causing a number of unacceptable consequences. These consequences include depletion of the groundwater supply, increased costs of extraction of the water, well deeping or replacement costs, water quality degradation, land subsidence, and in some cases environmental damage.
There are multiple water resource management strategies that may be implemented to help meet the challenges of the future water demands with diverse types of actions. These possible actions depend on the local hydrology, geography, economics and politics, including conjunctive use, groundwater replenishment, additional surface storage, urban water use efficiency, agriculture water use efficiency, water recycling, desalination, and precipitation enhancement. By making the right choices, diversifying the water options, and making the right investment, a region may be able to meet its future water challenges and demands. The process of identifying and facing the challenges and finding solutions is complex and involves not only assessing water demand patterns and water supply availability, but also water policies, management, institutions, and require broad stakeholder involvement and buy-in to be successful at the end of the day[viii].
Natural and man-made causes of water shortages must be addressed in order to enhance and safeguard the water supplies for sustainable development. Firstly, water management practices must be improved and then water supplies have to be augmented to overcome the natural shortages. Before embarking on development of costly additional water sources, the demands on water must be challenged and manipulated in a serious attempt to match them with existing resources. The demand management approach addresses the non-structural causes of water shortages and places the following three groups of functions at the heart of integrated water management policies and establishes them as main stream operational strategies:
Efficient allocation of water in quality and quantity amongst and within the competing groups of users to ensure that water supplies are used wisely and optimally in the public interest.
Increasing the efficiency of water use to eliminate wasteful consumption and reduce consumptive use of water while maintaining its social benefits.
Reintegrate wastewater into the water cycle as a component of the water budget of households, communities, industries, and agriculture.
2.1 Efficient allocation of water
Developing country economies are mainly agriculture based and with low productivity. Contribution of agriculture in national gross domestic product is low (5-10 % on the average), while agriculture consumes on the average more than 75% of all fresh water. Many countries borrowed from the World Bank or other lending sources to build dams and irrigation systems. The process was necessary at the beginning to maintain food production and employment of labor force, but long term consequences are that these economies are not able to pay back the loans and interests accumulate and results in economic difficulties. There was no account for recovering cost of irrigation services and water is provided free of charge.
Recent trends in water resources management indicate that water is increasingly recognized as: a valuable resource for the health and well-being of the society and its sustainable development; a finite resource which must be used efficiently and wisely; a renewable resource which must be kept clean and its quality protected; and a shared resource which must meet the needs of competing current users (humans and non-humans) and future generations. Many countries have tapped all their accessible and known resources beyond their virtual capacity. Desalinating sea water for additional water supplies is achievable, but remains costly and within the near future, it will not be affordable to most Middle Eastern countries unless significant cost reductions are achieved. Before embarking on development of costly additional water sources, a new approach to water resources management in the region is needed. Each nation’s water resources must be protected, conserved, developed, managed, used, and controlled in ways which ensure efficient, sustainable and beneficial use of water in the public interest. Water must be used efficiently to reduce the consumptive use of water and wastewater flows.
The demand management approach stipulates that new water sources and additional supply facilities will not be developed until after exhausting all available opportunities for reducing the demand on water to match the existing supplies. The Demand management approach addresses the non-structural causes of water shortages and places the following three groups of functions at the heart of integrated water management policies and establishes them as main stream operational strategies.
The demand management approach, successfully tried in may countries worldwide and in Middle Eastern such as in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Bahrain focuses on manipulating the demands on water in a serious attempt to match them with the available water resources. Many Middle Eastern countries started now to implement water demand management approaches and to regulate water consumption by imposing cost recovery on water services. Unless water is used efficiently, recycled and reused, small savings will be eroded by increasing population growth and demand for new water uses such as tourism and natural environment.
In Jordan irrigation water supplied from irrigation schemes is priced to recover some of the operational costs, while farmers who pump groundwater bear the full cost. The Jordan national water strategy is adopted since 1998 and states that water for domestic purposes must get priority over or uses. This has resulted in gradual transfer of irrigation water to domestic and industrial uses. Farmers are forced to use more efficient irrigation methods to cope with dwindling water supplies. In dry years the government paid fixed quota for farmers to barrens their lands so as to free more water for domestic uses. This experience in Jordan on how to transfer water from irrigation to domestic and industrial uses is successful and could be useful case for other countries to learn from.
2.2 Increasing the efficiency of water use
Irrigation usually consumes the largest share of fresh water resources all over the world. There are important differences between developed and developing countries as to the share of irrigation to other uses such as domestic and industrial. A recent study conducted by the German Technical Development Agency[ix] (GTZ) showed that agriculture is the largest consumer of water, consuming an average of 75% in the nine Middle Eastern countries. Municipal water uses consume on average 22%, the rest is shared by industrial and tourism uses. The total water consumption in Egypt per year is 69400 MCM/year and irrigation consumes about 85% of this total. If irrigation can be improved by use of better irrigation means, reduce loses in conveyance canals or other means, then significant amounts of water could be saved and used to crop more land or can be diverted to other uses. An assumption can be made that if irrigation efficiency in Egypt results in saving only 10% of water consumed, then the quantity of water saved would be equal to about 5900 MCM/year. This saving is more that total water consumed by either municipal or industrial uses. This signifies that there is a large room for saving water wasted (in one way or another) by inefficient irrigation practices and other losses. Many countries in the region are now aware of the fact that significant quantities of fresh water could be saves by improved on farm water management and by selection of better crop varieties that require less water than traditional crops, and by importing virtual water in the form of grains and meat. Increasing water use efficiency applies to all water uses including domestic and industrial uses.
One of the reasons why farmers use water inefficiently is due to irrigation system constraints, use of traditional irrigation systems, lack of funds for maintenance, and unaccountability for amounts of water being used in irrigation. If cost recovery of operation and maintenance services are properly implemented, increased awareness is realized, and low water-consumption irrigation systems are used, water use efficiency will, undoubtedly, increase.
Water scarcity in our region is reason to think of better ways to manage what we have more efficiently and equitably. Dr. Munther Haddadin, a Jordanian expert on water resources and cabinet minister of water says in his recent book[x] that we can better manage green water to increase agriculture production from rain fed agriculture. He suggests that significant amount of rain could be recovered as green water when farmers are helped to plant their fields at the right time in winter.
2.3 Reintegrate wastewater into the water cycle
In the water stressed countries of Middle East, every drop of water including wastewater, must count. The water resources and wastewater management policies must come together in addressing the water cycle in a holistic manner within the umbrella of integrated water resources management processes. Wastewater flows must be managed effectively to safeguard public health, and protect the freshwaters from pollution. They must be reintegrated safely in the water cycle and accounted for in the water budget of the household, community, industry, and agriculture.
Wastewater (treated or partially treated) is an important and reliable water source in many regions of the world, and that the nutrients present in wastewater may replace fertilizers saving money to farmers. Big cities in the region are now provided with sewerage services and collected wastewater is treated and reused to some extent. Because cities keep expanding all the time, it means that collected wastewater from urban centers is a secure and reliable water source. There is, however, a lack of investing capacity worldwide for the construction and operation of adequate treatment facilities which threatens the quality of surface waters, soils and groundwater to which wastewater is discharged. At the same time, the water demand increases rapidly in urban and peri-urban areas, for the production of food as well as to provide income to a large group of city-dwellers and small farmers. These two trends cause an increasing use of partially treated and untreated wastewater in irrigated agriculture in and downstream of urban centers. In most Middle Eastern countries, the rates of wastewater reuse are still very low compared to generation, even in pioneer countries like Jordan and Tunisia.
A coherent national policy for wastewater use in agriculture is essential. This must define the division of responsibilities among involved ministries and authorities and non-government organization and/or individual users. Realistic standards for treated wastewater must be adopted to safe-guard public health and protect against adverse environmental impacts. Provision should be made to adequately staff and provide financial resources to organization charged with the responsibility for assessing, implementing, operating and monitoring effluent use schemes and enforcing compliance with reg
[i] Jordan Department of Statistics, 2005 Statistical Yearbook, Issue No 56
[iv] Falkenmark, M., and Lindh, G. (1974), "How Can We Cope with Water resources Situation by 2050?" Ambro 3 (3-4), pp 114-22.
[v] Islamic Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization report for Global Environment Outlook 2000.
[vi] Green water is the rainfall that does not make it into rivers or aquifers, but is stored directly in the soil as "soil moister"
[vii] Bakir, H, A. "Water Demand Management for Enhancing Water Supply Security: Concept, Applications and Innovations". International Water Demand Management Conference, May 30- June 3, 2004, Dead Sea, Jordan.
[viii] Basil Rashid, and Nouman Rashid, Shlumberger Water Services, "Integrated solutions combing technology with expertise", Arab Water World, Vol. XXX, December 2006
[ix] Magiera, P., "Water Demand Management in the Middle East and North Africa", German Technical Cooperation, c/o GTZ office Amman, International Water Demand Management Conference, May 30- June 3, 2004, Dead Sea, Jordan.
[x] Haddadin, Munther, "Water Resource in Jordan: Evolving Policies for Development, the Environment and Conflict Resolution", RFF Press, 2006.