Page 1





Mosaics in the ancient city of Sabratha, Libya, 2010. Source: Franzfoto.


The Mediterranean is defined by the diversity of the peoples and lands that surround this splendid sea. This report reflects this diversity by providing insights into different regions in movement around these turquoise waters. To paraphrase the French historian Ferdinand Braudel: The Mediterranean is a sea made of many seas. This report shows the continuity and fluidity of these waters that symbolically link the adjacent territories of Europe and the Middle East that have mutually influenced the long history of the so-called Middle Sea. The Romans called it Mare Nostrum, the Ancient Egyptians knew it as the Green Sea, in Arabic it is the Middle White Sea, and others call it Middle Earth, but my favorite reference is that of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who wrote: “haadal bahru li� (this sea is mine). The Mediterranean is a veritable shared space, a crossroads of civilizations, etching the ebb and flow of centuries on the rocks that are indifferent to the passing of time. Particularly now, when confronted with the horrors of wanton terror and countless tragic and avoidable deaths as thousands attempt to cross the sea in search of a safer life. We are a fragmented people with disparate dialects from Morocco to the Gulf; we are a fragmented people with a wealth spectrum ranging from rich to power. We must find new ways of using and sharing water and energy. We must counter complacence and invest in innovative initiatives to exploit the great human potential and intellectual

HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

capacity of our peoples. We must exploit as efficiently as possible the great natural resources that have been bequeathed to us by Mother Earth. The region has large amounts of solar energy that we can absorb and convert into electricity to connect our rural areas and to power our growing cities. We have the sun, the wind, the earth and the seas, but we need to connect faster. We have to move towards creating a water and energy community based on the sharing of natural resources. Let us use what God and Nature have given us to accelerate transboundary cooperation. Let us use water technologies to create the parameters for peace. Let us measure, protect and invest in our water reserves. Let us confront and combat those who

attempt to hijack our dams and rivers. This is a time for action and results that will bear fruit for the next generation. We will make mistakes, but let us begin to be more accountable and to take responsibility rather than blaming others. The 2016 Revolve Water Around the Mediterranean report contributes to informing us about the challenges of water scarcity that affect the Mediterranean and Middle East. Shining a spotlight on different regions, the respective authors describe the realities on the ground and explore solutions for a brighter future. This is important. We must continue this work and create a community together based on a long-term vision of protecting the environment to have cleaner and more affluent societies.




The Sicilian city of Catania with Mount Etna in the background, Italy, 2012. Source: Dror Feitelson.

Addressing the Mediterranean Water Crisis Writer: Francesca de Châtel

Water scarcity and resource mismanagement threaten economic and environmental security in the Middle EastNorth Africa and Mediterranean regions.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the Mediterranean region are the two most water-scarce regions in the world. Water availability per person per year has declined sharply over the last 50 years and is today a tenth of the average global water availability. In Jordan, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, many domestic users receive less than eight hours of water per week and water availability has declined from 3,600 cubic meters per person per year in 1946 to 123 cubic meters in 2014. However, paradoxically, even though rivers and springs are running dry, trees are dying and deserts are spreading, many people in the region remain unaware of the water crisis – of its causes, its long-term impacts and why certain viable solutions are not being implemented. Water has remained low on the political agenda because instability, violent conflict and economic and political insecurity in the region constantly overshadow the reality of steadily worsening scarcity. And yet it is an urgent issue: according to the UN, by 2025 the water supply in the MENA region will be only 15% of what it was in 1960. Already today, 60% of the world’s water poor population (disposing of less than 1,000

cubic meters of water per person per year) lives in the Mediterranean region. Revolve Water’s 2016 Water Around the Mediterranean report explores different aspects of the growing water crisis in the MENA and Mediterranean regions. From the problems of severe water pollution in Egypt’s second-largest city Alexandria to debates about high agricultural water use in Spain or efforts to change wasteful water use behavior in Saudi Arabia, this bilingual English-Arabic report highlights the challenges of sustainably managing the region’s water resources. The report is divided into eight sections, covering six countries from Morocco and Spain in the west to Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the east, with two additional sections addressing regional issues including the state of the Mediterranean Sea and transboundary water sharing. Each article is accompanied by maps, graphs and fact boxes that help contextualize the issues at stake. With contributions by young journalists and water experts from Albania, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain and Saudi Arabia among others, the report gives a local perspective on regional problems and offers new insights into one of the most pressing and underreported environmental crises of the early 21st century.




CHAP. 1 - THE MEDITERRANEAN 10 | Mare Nostrum - Peter Easton

CHAP. 2 - MOROCCO 18 | Searching for Balance: Water Use in Morocco - Sedeer el-Showk 24 | A Strategy for Sustainable Agriculture - Marcello Cappellazzi

CHAP. 3 - EGYPT 26 | The Death of a Canal: Urban Water Supply in Egypt – Mohammed Yahia 32 | Alexandria’s Water Supply Through History – Francesca de Châtel


CHAP. 4 - JORDAN 36 | Tackling Water Scarcity in Jordan – Francesca de Châtel 38 | Q&A: Alex Russin, Millennium Challenge Corporation 43 | Building Climate Change Resilience – Lara Nassar

CHAP. 5 - SAUDI ARABIA 46 | Saudi Arabia’s Great Thirst - Ahmed Almansouri & Francesca de Châtel 52 | Q&A: Jauad El Kharraz, Middle East Desalination Research Center

CHAP. 6 - ALBANIA 54 | Damming the Wild Rivers of Albania – Fatjona Mejdini



61 | The Price of Watering Europe’s Southern Plains – Nadia Muhanna

CHAP. 8 - SHARED WATERS 70 | Governance of Europe’s Waters – Peter Easton 77 | Sharing the Contested Waters of the Middle East – Mike Safadi



EDITOR Francesca de Châtel EDITORIAL ADVISORS Peter Easton Stuart Reigeluth

GRAPHIC DESIGN Ghalia Lababidi TRANSLATION Muhammad Atef Fares Nadia Muhanna COVER DESIGN: Ghalia Lababidi

46 All content can be reused for non-commercial purposes with permission from Revolve Water with the disclaimer that: This content was previously published in the 2016 Revolve Water Around the Mediterranean Report:



This report is the result of many months of research and interviews. Revolve Water is grateful to all those who have responded to our questions and participated in one form or another in developing and producing the 2016 edition of this annual report. In particular, Revolve Water would like to thank Noha Hefny, corporate affairs director for the MENA region at PepsiCo, for supporting our work to engage young professionals in communicating the value of water. We also give a special thanks to Alex Russin, Jordan resident country director at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, for facilitating content about and the field visit to the As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant during the first edition of the AMWAJ forum in Amman, Jordan, on 28-29 November 2016. A special thanks also to Tamara El Khoury for proofreading the Arabic version of the text. DISCLAIMER Articles in this report do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Revolve Water and only represent the views of the contributors.

For any comments or to order additional copies of this report, please contact



Ahmed Almansouri is a freelance journalist based in Saudi Arabia. He holds a BA in journalism, marketing and advertising from Suffolk University, Boston, and an MA from Boston University, USA.

Fatjona Mejdini is a journalist at Balkan Insight. She is based in Tirana, Albania, and has more than a decade’s experience in local and regional media.

Sedeer el-Showk is a Finnish/Lebanese freelance science writer and editor living in Morocco. You can find him on Twitter as @inspiringsci or visit his website at

Marcello Cappellazzi is a researcher at Revolve Media. He has contributed to Revolve Magazine with articles about agricultural policy and sustainable development in India, Tunisia and Israel/ Palestine.

Nadia Muhanna is a Palestinian-Hungarian journalist. She grew up in Syria and currently works in Spain. A journalist since 2006, she has covered a great variety of issues with a focus on the Middle East.  

Mike Safadi is a junior water expert based in Beirut, Lebanon.

Peter Easton is a senior consultant in water stewardship, and a founding member of Revolve Water.

Lara Nassar is a senior research fellow at the WANA Institute in Amman, Jordan. As an environmental scientist, she previously worked at the International Union for Conservation of Nature – Regional Office for West Asia, UNDP and GEF.

Mohammed Yahia is the executive editor of Nature Research in the Middle East, and was the launch editor of Nature Middle East. He is also currently the vice president of the World Federation of Science Journalists. He is based in Cairo, Egypt.


Chap. 1

The Mediterranean The population of the region has nearly doubled from

276 million 500 million

in 1970 to in 2015


Mare Nostrum The history and culture of the Mediterranean region are intimately linked to water. To ensure a sustainable future and provide for its growing population, the region must prioritize its water and energy management.

Writer: Peter Easton

While the story of the Mediterranean as a cradle of civilization has been told many times, its water history has remained largely unexplored despite its importance. The history and culture of the region are closely linked to water, and the health of the sea is strongly dependent on the health of the rivers flowing into it. In addition, the interlinkages with energy are today becoming increasingly important. Water defines the Mediterranean region in many ways. The Mediterranean Sea


has been important for travel and trade for centuries, particularly for connecting otherwise distant cultures, north to south, east to west, and between the three continents which surround it: Europe, Asia and Africa. The sea is an important source of food. Inhabited islands, some of them nations in their own right, are defined by their physical isolation and historical dependence on seaborne trade. Local climate, which varies significantly across the region, is strongly influenced by how much water falls from the sky and how quickly it evaporates.

In many areas, the availability of water is a constant and growing concern due to the demands of growing populations and wealth. In the driest areas, traditional technology has made a critical contribution to water supply for centuries. An example is the qanat system of underground water channels. Originating in ancient Persia, qanats (known elsewhere as falaj, khettara and foggara) were introduced to the Mediterranean region, first by the westward extension of the Persian empire and later through Arabic

The Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea, with Africa to the right and Europe to the left, Gibraltar, 2005. Source: Andreas Meck.

and Moorish influence across North Africa and southern Spain, from where the concept was transported to South America. They also appeared in Sicily and Cyprus. Qanats were important for both drinking water and agriculture. New technologies such as desalination are now becoming essential in some areas, but with the disadvantage of a high energy demand and a by-product of brine (see p. 50). Traditional technologies can, however, still play an essential role in sustainable water use, and should not be entirely abandoned.

The Mediterranean Sea has been important for travel and trade for centuries, connecting otherwise distant cultures in Europe, Asia and Africa.


The region’s rivers The Mediterranean Sea covers an area of 2.6 million km2. The 23 countries and three continents that border it (including island states) form a total coastline of around 46,000 km. Because the sea has only narrow connections to other seas and oceans, the inflowing rivers make a significant contribution to its condition, bringing fresh water, nutrients and pollution. Over many centuries, the sediment carried by these rivers has shaped the sea, forming great deltas at the mouths of the larger rivers, such as the Nile and the Rhône. The Mediterranean Sea has an average depth of 1,500 m, with the deepest point at 5,267 m in the Ionian Sea south of Greece. The total drainage basin of all rivers is twice as large as the Mediterranean Sea itself, at around 5 million km2. The largest individual river basin is that of the

Nile (representing more than half of the total basin at 3.2 million km2), stretching 6,650 km southwards to Lake Victoria on the Equator. Despite the size of its basin, the Nile is not the biggest supplier of fresh water, with most of its flow used by populations along its route or lost to evaporation, more so since the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt. The Nile now supplies only 3% (15 km3/yr) of freshwater flows into the Mediterranean. Most fresh water flowing into the sea comes from the more water-abundant climate of Europe, with the largest single flow from the Rhône of France, providing 12% of the total (54 km3/yr).

Facts & Figures: The Mediterranean Surface area: 2.6 million km2 Total coastline: 46,000 km Average depth: 1,500 m Deepest point: 5,267 m (Ionian Sea, south of Greece) Total drainage area of the Mediterranean Basin: 5 million km2 Ten largest rivers contributing to the Mediterranean Sea: Rhône, Po, Drin-Bojana, Nile, Neretva, Ebro, Tiber, Adige, Seyhan and Ceyhan. 23 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Gibraltar, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestine, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Total population (1970): 276 million Total population (2015): 500 million Urban population: 65% Source: UNEP/MAP, WWF.


A fragile balance The total flow of water into the Mediterranean Sea, from all rivers and the Black Sea, is insufficient to maintain its water level. The evaporation rate is higher than the total of river inflows and direct rainfall combined. Without any other inflow, the water level would fall at a rate of nearly 1 m/yr. What stops this is a net inflow from the Atlantic Ocean through the Straits of Gibraltar.

The approximate water balance of the Mediterranean Sea is shown in Map 1. With no outflow, there is no ‘flushing through’ of the water. Instead, the water is slowly replaced through the process of evaporation and inflow, taking about 100 years to be completely replaced. With evaporation as the main outflow, pollutants accumulate, and the sea is slowly becoming more saline. It is currently about 6% more salty than the Atlantic.

In fact, the Mediterranean Sea did dry out about 6 million years ago when geological movements closed the Atlantic opening, with the sea slowly shrinking over thousands of years. This resulted in great salt deposits more than 1 km thick, a modern legacy of which includes the salt mines of Sicily. About 5.5 million years ago, the gap started to open again, with some studies claiming a rapid refilling that created a waterfall 1,000 times larger than Niagara Falls.

The natural rate of water replacement is already slow, but it could be slowing further due to human and climatic impacts. For example, it is estimated that freshwater flows into the sea decreased by about 20% between 1960 and 2000. This is partly ascribed to a drop in rainfall, but also to the construction of dams and the increased use of water from the inflowing rivers. For example, the outflow of Spain’s Ebro River has dropped by 50% since the 1950s as a result of increased human use.

The natural rate of water replacement in the Mediterranean is already slow, but it could be slowing further due to human and climatic impacts.

The Mediterranean is one of the busiest regions in the world for marine transport and shipping activities. Port of Marseille, France, 2007. Source: Vincent.


Human impacts Humans have a significant impact on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The total population of Mediterranean countries increased from 276 million in 1970 to nearly 500 million today. For most countries in the region, populations are concentrated along the coast. There are many human pressures, including the expanding urban populations, the growing impact of agriculture, industry, shipping and tourism, waste and wastewater disposal, fishing and water use. The Mediterranean Basin is the largest tourist destination in the world, attracting around a third of all global tourists (310 million out of 1 billion). Of course, this is

good for the economy, especially of lessdeveloped regions, but it also applies significant pressures on the natural environment and demand for resources, including water and energy, and an increase in wastewater and general waste. To add to the pressure, tourism is mostly concentrated during the summer months when rainfall and river flows are lowest. The Mediterranean is one of the busiest regions in the world for marine transport and shipping activities, which place considerable pressure on the marine and coastal environment. More than 75% of global maritime traffic transits through the sea, with the transport of oil and gas

from the Black Sea ports and the Arabian Gulf playing a key role. The environmental impacts from shipping include accidental spillages, paint biocides, accidental transport of invasive species, physical striking of sea animals and underwater noise. In fact, the impact on wildlife of human-generated marine noise from many sources is a growing environmental concern. Despite a ban on sea-dumping, illegal waste disposal continues. There are also impacts from ports and their associated infrastructure on land.

The health of the Mediterranean Sea is strongly dependent on the health of the rivers flowing into it. The pressure on fish stocks is high, with more than 65% of commercial stocks considered to be overfished. Sa Riera, Spain, 2004. Source: Paddy Briggs.

Fish stocks Fishery is also an important industry and a key component of the region’s cultural identity. The pressure on fish stocks is high, with more than 65% of commercial stocks considered to be overfished. Some species, like the Atlantic blue-fin tuna, are endangered. Despite these major concerns, there is a view that stocks are more resilient than might be expected, helped by a high diversity of refuge and spawning zones, and the high proportion of small-scale commercial operators, representing 85% of the fishing fleet. Many boats are not even motorized, as in Tunisia where 70% of the 14,000 fishing boats are non-motorized. The pressures are also offset by a ban on trawling at more than 1,000 m depth, and the fact that two thirds of demand for fish is sourced from outside the region. However, the state of fish stocks and threatened species remains a major concern, requiring monitoring, management and political cooperation.


Map 1. Mediterranean Sea water balance Source: Revolve Water based on State of the Mediterranean Marine and Coastal Environment (UNEP, 2012).


120 Adige RhĂ´ne




Neredva Tiber






NorthWestern SouthWestern





Evros/ Maritsa





Aegean North Levantine





South Levantine


Average freshwater fluxes Cubic kilometer per year

Annual climatological river discharge Cubic meter per second




1000 1500 1800


The Egyptian city of Alexandria is one of the largest on the Mediterranean coast, 2008. Source: Filip Maljkovic.

Energy Energy resources are clearly important to support the growing population and wealth of the region, also providing direct economic benefits. But energy resources are also a source of environmental damage and pollution. The oil and gas industry is significant in the region, dominantly in Libya, Algeria and Egypt. Smaller-scale producers are Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan and Turkey. Exploration of new resources is active both onshore and offshore, with recent large discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean, such as the Leviathan gas field off the coasts of Israel, Palestine (Gaza) and Lebanon. There is also the potential for shale gas development in North Africa, principally in Algeria and Libya. The region has significant potential for renewable energy. Hydropower is already important on many of the region’s rivers. For example, on the Nile in Egypt with the Aswan Dam, the Rhône, with 19 hydropower stations, the Ebro in Spain and the River Po in Italy. The potential of solar and wind power remains highly underused, but there are some positive developments. Spain is one of the most successful countries for wind power, being fifth in the world for wind-power capacity, and the largest around the Mediterranean – although its growth rate has slowed. The prospect of providing a large part of Europe’s energy from solar power plants in


the North African deserts remains a dream, an example being the now much-restricted DESERTEC project. One of its successes is the recent installation of the world’s largest solar power plant near the Moroccan town of Ouarzazate, with a potential to supply 1.1 million people. For now, this will, however, be used for domestic supply. As the Mediterranean is an enclosed nontidal sea, tidal and wave power have limited potential. However, large flows of water through the Straits of Gibraltar, in both directions as the Atlantic tide rises and falls, are being researched as a potential energy source. There are various interdependencies between water and energy in the region, both positive and negative. The majority of energy supply to the region remains fossil fuels, both imported and sourced from within the region. While fossil fuels have a growing negative image (principally due to the climate change association), they will remain an important contribution to affordable energy for some time, especially in developing economies to the east and south of the region. A negative link comes from the potential for pollution, from oil tankers, and associated industrial activities. A positive link is that fossil fuels, so far, remain the most viable energy source for desalination to provide essential drinking

water in water-scarce areas, such as Malta. Energy is also essential for the pumping and treatment of more conventional water supplies, for drinking water and for irrigation. A paradox is that the same natural energy resource which creates conditions of water scarcity, the sun, also creates the main opportunities for renewable energy, from solar power, and wind (itself driven by temperature differences across the region). As the Mediterranean populations and economies expand, there is a growing demand for water and energy, and their use and development are closely interlinked. A sustainable and successful future for the region is dependent on careful and sensitive management of the two most precious natural resources and achieving the optimum balance between supporting the needs of the population and economy, while improving, protecting and investing in the environment. This article draws on data published in the 2012 UNEP/MAP report 'State of the Mediterranean Marine and Coastal Environment' and on different WWF reports among others. For further references visit

Chap. 2

Morocco 65% Decline in annual water availability per person

since 1962


Searching for Balance: Water Use in Morocco Growing water scarcity and more frequent drought in Morocco are driving innovative local projects such as fog harvesting in the coastal mountains.

Writer: Sedeer el-Showk

I was raised between the desert and the sea. To the south and east, mountains draw moisture out of the air coming in over the Atlantic and send it tumbling back down to the coast. I grew up on my parents’ farm in Morocco’s green coastal strip, in a country where many people have yet to come to terms with the reality of water scarcity.

and feeding a range of support industries, from suppliers to merchants. Agriculture also has effects which are not captured by official figures, such as providing work for day laborers or keeping children on small family farms rather than in school. Underpinning this entire structure, and fueling it, is water.

People here talk about rain. In years with too little rain or snowfall, farmers do poorly, and the strain often ripples through to the rest of the economy, especially during a string of dry years. Given its prominence in our awareness, I was surprised to discover that agriculture makes up only 15-20% of Morocco’s GDP. Nevertheless, agriculture is a major driver of the Moroccan economy, accounting for four out of every ten jobs

Despite this, people do not really save water. Morocco’s population has more than tripled since 1950, and though there is only a third as much water available per person as there was 50 years ago, water availability ranks low in the concerns of most people, who are not yet suffering an acute water shortage. More than 85% of Morocco’s water supply is used in agriculture, where inefficient and outdated supply systems and irrigation


methods lead to widespread wastage. The same is true in domestic contexts, where saving water is virtually unheard of in most households. “I come from a country with thousands of lakes, but we’re taught to conserve water more than people here are,” my Finnish partner Hannele observed. Growing up, I was never bothered by the lavish use of water I saw, from washing cars and watering lawns to letting the water run while doing the dishes, but now these habits seem strikingly out of place in this arid country. A close friend used to joke about the way shopkeepers “water the sidewalk” to keep the dust down, an image that is difficult to reconcile with Morocco’s ever-encroaching desert.

High Atlas, Boumalne du Dades, Morocco, 2008. Source: Jerzy Strzelecki.

As severe droughts reduced the water level over the last few decades, my parents focused the farm more heavily on our tissue culture lab (where plants are multiplied aseptically on a nutrient gel) and the nursery, rather than crop production. The shift has led to fewer laborers working on the farm, echoing the changes I see on a broader scale around us. When we moved here, the landscape around the farm was unambiguously rural, despite our proximity to Morocco’s capital city, Rabat. Since then, the nearby village has grown into a small town, and low-income housing projects have cropped up around us to accommodate people who have moved closer to Rabat looking for work. Morocco’s water problems have been intensified by climate change, with particularly severe droughts afflicting

Population growth in Morocco (1955-2015) Source: Water Governance in the Arab Region (UNDP, 2013); FAO Aquastat (2015).



10.1 million inhabitants

34.3 million inhabitants


"In some sense, dams and fog collectors serve as bookends around the question of sustainable water use in Morocco, and perhaps even the region as a whole."

After they are set up, the fog collectors require regular maintenance and repair, Morocco, 2013. Source: Dar Si Hmad.

Holding back the tide

irregular rainfall and drought, but this stability comes at a cost. Blocking a river’s flow creates a barrier to migrating animals and affects important processes such as sediment deposition, impacting ecosystems above and below the dam. Dams offer a mixed blessing, with the costs largely borne by communities along the river. Building a dam often involves displacing people living upstream in order to create the reservoir, while agricultural villages downstream can no longer depend on seasonal floods to provide water.

Morocco has around 140 dams, most of which were built during the reign of the late King Hassan II. The dams have ensured a steady water supply during periods of

Two years ago, my partner and I took her father on a trip to Erg Chegaga, a pocket of the Sahara in the southeast of Morocco, near

the country in the late 20th century. According to a 2014 UN report, Morocco’s agricultural sector has had to weather more than 20 droughts over the last 40 years, including some years with 60% less rainfall than usual, a challenge it has coped with by relying on the country’s extensive network of dams.


the Algerian border. I looked forward to the liberating silence and crystal-blue skies we would find among the pristine dunes and to the return leg of our journey, when we would visit Lake Iriqui at the desert’s edge. I had been to the desert before, but a desert lake would be a new experience – a unique ecosystem, a border between worlds at the intersection of sun, sand and water. I wondered how salty the water would be. It took me a moment to reconcile my expectations with what we found. The lake was gone. The dry lakebed stretched onwards, the cracked texture of its surface filling the place with a sense of absence. Our guide explained that Iriqui had dried out in the 1970s after the damming of the Draa River, which used to feed the lake. He added that

Water use by sector Source: FAO Aquastat (2010).







Harvesting water Despite their strengths, dams alone will not be enough to cope with Morocco’s growing water shortage; innovative approaches are needed to prepare the country for increasing bouts of drought and flooding. A pilot project launched last year in the Sidi Ifni province, a mountainous coastal area facing the Canary Islands, embodies the persistence and creativity called for in the face of the planet’s changing climate. To help rural communities in one of Morocco’s most water-poor regions, NGO Dar Si Hmad has adopted a modern take on an ancient technology to catch water droplets from the air.

several villages were uprooted to build the Mansour Eddahbi Dam, which was completed in 1972, and the river’s reduced flow also affected villages further downstream. In exchange for these losses, the dam’s 500 million-cubic-meter reservoir supplies irrigation water to Morocco’s ‘date basket’ in the Draa Valley and generates electricity for the valley. Morocco’s dams have a total capacity of 17.6 billion cubic meters and are used to supply drinking and irrigation water, to provide flood control, and to generate hydroelectric power; the construction of new dams is projected to add nearly 2 billion cubic meters of storage capacity by 2030.

Residents of the mountain villages have traditionally relied on hand-dug wells and cisterns built to capture rain run-off for themselves and their livestock since they are not connected to the national water distribution network. The task of hauling the water generally falls on the shoulders of girls and women, consuming three to four hours of their day and making it difficult or impossible for the girls to attend school.

Irrigation methods Source: FAO Aquastat (2011).

Flood irrigation


Sprinkler irrigation


Drip irrigation


Around 17% of Morocco's arable land is equipped for irrigation. 21

Cycles of drought make the water supply unreliable, and contamination of the open wells creates a constant health risk. For the last ten years, the team at Dar Si Hmad has been working to establish a cleaner, more reliable alternative. “There’s a lot of fog in the region, and that’s a resource that can be used to counter the lack of traditional water sources,” explained Jamila Bargach, the project director at Dar Si Hmad. The idea started when the president of Dar Si Hmad learned about fog harvesting technology through the Canadian NGO FogQuest while living in Canada. Aware of the thick fog that blankets the area for half the year, he saw an opportunity to alleviate some of the suffering caused by water scarcity. With technical help from FogQuest, Dar Si Hmad brought the technology to Morocco and adapted it to the region. “There

were a lot of experimental aspects to the work. We measured the water yield every day for about five years to make sure the project was viable. We had to adjust the nets and their orientation according to what we found in the field,” said Bargach. The nets are a mesh which traps microscopic water droplets floating in fog,

forming larger droplets that run down to a trough and feed into the network of pipes and reservoirs built by Dar Si Hmad. The fog collectors need regular maintenance to keep them clean and to replace nets torn by the wind. “It’s a Sisyphean job,” said Bargach, but it also offers a chance to involve the community and allay some of their fears about fog water. “The people

"People used to think of fog as a nuisance, a horrible in-between thing, neither wet nor dry.” Jamila Bargach, project director, Dar Si Hmad

The coastal mountains of Sidi Ifni are blanketed in heavy fog for half of the year making this an ideal region for fog harvesting, Morocco, 2010. Source: Dar Si Hmad.


grew up thinking of fog as a nuisance, a horrible in-between thing, neither wet nor dry,” she said, explaining that they became more comfortable with the idea of using fog water by actively taking part in the work, checking on the reservoirs, helping with construction, and tending the nets since the project’s official launch in 2015. “We had a major inauguration with state officials and our funders, and all the villagers came. It was a huge ceremony of 400 or 500 people. We distributed the water in bottles, and now it is flowing and reaching people every day in their homes,” said Bargach. Before the project, each villager had access to an average of 8 liters of water per day, roughly one-tenth of the average per person consumption in Morocco. In combination with new supplies of groundwater, the collected fog

has dramatically increased the amount of water available for each person, and the installation of plumbing has brought the fog water running to their homes, enabling them to build modern showers and kitchens, according to Bargach. The technology has also freed girls and women from gathering water, and Dar Si Hmad has established a school to help them make the most of the time they have gained. In some sense, dams and fog collectors serve as bookends around the question of sustainable water use in Morocco, and perhaps even the region as a whole. Massive undertakings like dams often have an impact beyond their size, yielding gains and causing damage throughout the country’s fabric, its economy, landscape and people. In the long run, they can only serve to bridge the gap to more

sustainable alternatives. On the other end of the scale, the fog collection project has realized significant local gains using nets nearly as ephemeral as what they harvest, but its reach is limited to providing water for household use in areas with heavy fog. The government’s Plan Maroc Vert explores the liminal space defined by these two approaches, including efforts to promote more efficient irrigation, reduce losses in the water supply network, recycle wastewater and create incentives for people to save water. As the country moves forward, we will have to shed the sense of security the dams have created and each shoulder the burden of awareness of water—where it comes from, what we do with it and how we care for it.

Decline in annual water availability per person in Morocco (1962-2014) Source: Water Governance in the Arab Region (UNDP, 2013); FAO Aquastat (2014).

3,277 m3 2,363 m3

844 m3 1,000 m3

123 m3

Water scarcity threshold









A Strategy for Sustainable Agriculture Grain fields in the oasis of M’hamid Ghizlane, Draa River Valley, Morocco, 2009.

Writer: Marcello Cappellazzi

Source: Herc83.

Launched in 2008, Plan Maroc Vert (PMV, Green Morocco Plan) is the Moroccan government’s strategy to reform the country’s agricultural sector and boost its competitiveness in international markets, while at the same time helping small farmers to improve crop productivity and safeguard natural resources.

The strategy promotes agricultural intensification which is often not compatible with environmental preservation and resilience to climate shocks, and as a result, international donors have implemented land and biodiversity conservation measures as well as institutional adjustments to support irrigation reforms.

PMV has received support from international donors such as the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Union and the Global Environment Facility. With over 1,500 projects planned, it requires an investment of nearly €1.4 billion by 2020.

Since its launch in 2008, PMV has recorded an annual growth rate of 7.6% for the period 2008 to 2013, against an average of 4.4% for the rest of the national economy.

The strategy is composed of two strands, the first focusing on encouraging private investment to develop a highly productive modern agricultural sector in the country’s fertile coastal plain. The second is geared towards strengthening sustainable agricultural practices in marginalized areas such as the mountain and oasis regions, while preserving those areas’ natural resources.

To date, 822 public-private partnership projects have been launched, while foreign direct investment has tripled since 2008, according to figures from the Moroccan government. As a result, agricultural productivity has increased by 30% and agri-food exports have increased by 34%. Morocco is a leading exporter of a variety of agricultural products including capers, string beans, canned olives and tomatoes. Source: Centre d’Investissement Régional Rabat – Salé – Kenitra.

PMV aims to boost the agricultural economy by improving farmers’ working conditions and by providing subsidies for irrigation modernization, intensification of livestock operations and the establishment of storage and marketing units.


Chap. 3

Egypt 50% of the

7.6 billion

cubic meters of sewage produced in Egypt in 2014 was released untreated into the environment


The Death of a Canal: Urban Water Supply in Egypt Toxic waste, sewage and salinity are endangering the main drinking water supply in Egypt’s second city.


Water hyancinth clogs large stretches of the Mahmoudiyah Canal, Alexandria, Egypt, 2016. Source: Mohammed Yahia.

Writer: Mohammed Yahia

Built in 1817 upon the order of the Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha, the 77-kilometer Mahmoudiyah Canal was conceived to convey fresh water from the Nile to Alexandria and to transport goods to the coastal port city. Ever since, the canal has been the city’s main source of drinking water. However, today heavy pollution from agricultural wastewater and raw sewage combined with general neglect of the canal are endangering Alexandria’s water supply. Located on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, Alexandria is the country’s second-largest city and its most important seaport. It is home to over 4.5 million people, and the population rises sharply in summer when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians flock there to enjoy the sandy beaches. Driving along the Mahmoudiyah Canal today, it is barely recognizable as a waterway, with garbage bags and solid waste rising up along its banks as far as the eye can see. The government has launched repeated campaigns to clean up the canal by removing thousands of tons of waste, but it only takes a few months for the garbage to pile up again. In the parts that are relatively clean, water hyacinth – an aggressive invasive species from South America – covers the canal completely, consuming large amounts of water, clogging the waterway and decreasing water flow. “The canal has been neglected for several years and now it has literally become a garbage dump,” says Hisham Farid, a 36-year-old civil engineer who has lived in Alexandria all his life. “It’s not just people throwing trash in; garbage trucks also use it as a dump.”


The Al-Rahawy Drain, the largest and most polluting of the drains, pumps over 200,000 cubic meters of sewage daily into the Rosetta Branch without even primary treatment. “At the end of the Al-Rahawy Drain where it meets the Rosetta Branch, the ammonia concentration reaches 50 mg/L, about 100 times the widely accepted international limit of 0.5 mg/L,” says Ali Abdullah, a researcher at the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater.

Raw sewage In fact, the canal’s troubles began long before people started throwing in garbage. As the Nile River nears the end of its 6,853-kilometer course, it splits into two branches, the Rosetta Branch and the Damietta Branch, to form a delta that flows into the Mediterranean Sea. This is Egypt’s breadbasket – one of the country’s most fertile areas – where over half of the agricultural crops are produced.

Additionally, a large number of illegal fish farms along the waterway increase pollution and reduce the amount of water reaching the Mahmoudiyah Canal. “The law bans fish farms in fresh water and we keep removing them, but a few months later they spring up again,” says Mostafa. He says laws are often not enforced and claims that the lucrative return on these fish farms means owners can usually pay their way out of trouble.

The water in the Mahmoudiyah Canal comes from the Rosetta Branch. Three large drains – channels that carry wastewater from agricultural lands and urban centers – feed into that branch, releasing all kinds of pollutants into its waters. “This pollution is mainly from agricultural waste, both treated and untreated, but it also includes large amounts of raw sewage released directly from slum areas that do not have proper sewage networks,” explains Sayed Mostafa, the head of the freshwater pollution unit at the Ministry of Environment.

The intensification of agriculture along the canal has also decreased the total amount of water that reaches Alexandria. Farmers tend to use poor and wasteful irrigation

Source: Revolve Water based on Nile Basin Initiative.

Mediterranean Sea

ut ryo

dku eE k a L

RIA ND A EX AL oudiya

h Can



Damietta Branch

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Egypt has made significant progress in providing its population with access to drinking water and basic sanitation services. According to UNICEF, 91% of the population had access to piped water and 55% was connected to a sewage system in 2014.

Of the 7.6 billion cubic meters of wastewater produced annually in Egypt, only around half is treated. This clearly poses a serious threat to water quality, as large amounts of untreated sewage are released into the country’s waterways each year, along with industrial waste and agricultural drainage waters that often have heavy concentrations of pesticides.

se Ro


Cleaning up Egypt’s waters

However, considerable challenges remain, with large discrepancies between urban and rural areas. Less than 15% of the population in rural areas is connected to a sewage system, as opposed to 77% of the urban population. This means that nearly 90% of the villages across the country – which are home to around 40 million people – do not have access to safe sanitation.

The Nile Delta

a eM Lak

techniques, such as flood irrigation, which can waste up to 90% of the water. As a result of the intensive fish farms, the reduced inflow of water into the canal and garbage obstructing the waterway, water flow has slowed considerably.

Source: UNICEF (2015), Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (2014).

Water cuts

Failing system

When pollution levels are high, the city’s water distribution stations – from where the water of the canal is transferred into the network – shut down to prevent damage to the station and stop polluted water from reaching residents. “The water distribution stations in Alexandria are old and only designed to remove solid waste in the water. If the water in the canal contains other pollutants – for example if the operators notice that the water smells or has an odd color – the stations are shut down,” says Mostafa.

In the past, pollution levels in the canal made the water undrinkable only during December and January, but lately the concentration of dangerous pollutants is high year round, explains researcher Abdullah. “The concentration of nitrites and nitrates is higher than accepted limits. Nitrite levels in Alexandria can sometimes reach five times the accepted limit.” Both of these pollutants, coming mainly from wastewater and agricultural fertilizers, may have serious health effects, especially in babies. Researchers are also studying the link between long-term exposure to nitrates and nitrites in drinking water and cancer in adults.

This has made life hard for Alexandrians, who face regular water cuts, especially in the more densely populated parts of the city. “The water pressure is very low across most of the city,” says Farid. “In summer, the water in my home is cut for at least four hours a day, sometimes even up to 12 hours. It has become unbearable.”

Water use by sector in Egypt Source: FAO Aquastat (2010).







Farid blames those who throw garbage into the canal, but to Mostafa they are merely victims of a system that is failing on multiple fronts. “People throw garbage in the running water of the canal, thinking they can get rid of it this way. If they had

“Fixing the disastrous state of our water supply is more important than fighting terrorism.” Sayed Mostafa, head of the freshwater pollution unit, Ministry of Environment

Middle-class families and those who can afford to buy bottled water avoid using tap water for drinking or cooking. Many families have filters installed in their homes for cooking and depend on bottled water for drinking. “I wouldn’t even let my cat drink it,” says Mennat Abou Shoer, a 33-year-old writer and English-language teacher from Alexandria. “It smells terrible and tastes gross.” Her family spends an average of $60 per month on bottled water, and all her friends and relatives do the same. For many poorer families, however, that is an expense they cannot bear and they are forced to resort to tap water. “During Ramadan this year, one area in Alexandria had continuous water cuts for 10 to 15 days due to the high water demand in other parts of the city,” says Farid. “Imagine what it was like for the people fasting there.”

alternatives, if there was a proper waste disposal system, they wouldn’t use the canal.” Mostafa sees a lack of coordination between all parties involved in the different ministries. “We need to get together and develop a lasting solution,” he says. “All the ministries know there is a problem, but no one wants to be responsible. We are like ostriches burying our heads in the sand.”

are equipped for secondary treatment, which removes dissolved and suspended organic compounds. “This is a minimum requirement to make water suitable for agriculture, though it is not yet drinkable at this stage,” he says. Both agree that a wide range of stakeholders will need to be involved in finding long-term solutions, and that there must be a clear plan that relies on institutions rather than ministers or governors, who are often replaced after a short time in office.

However, Abdullah fears that the damage may be irreversible. First of all, he says, fixing Egypt’s wastewater system would require an investment of around $20 billion, far outstripping the country’s limited resources. Wastewater treatment plants across the country urgently need to be upgraded. Most of them can only handle primary treatment, which removes settleable solids and debris. Very few


Fast solutions “First of all, we urgently need to outline the root causes of the problem,” says Mostafa. Once this has been done, the different ministries must work out a longterm action plan, with clear responsibilities and deadlines. The Ministry of Housing has outlined plans to install a sewerage system across Giza City (north of Cairo) over the next three years, which would remove considerable amounts of sewage from the Al-Rahawy Drain. “If this happens, it would vastly improve water quality in the Rosetta Branch,” says Mostafa. “Next we need to convince the General Authority for Fish Resources Development (GAFRD) to strictly enforce the removal of fish farms in the area.” This could prove challenging, however, as the GAFRD still does not recognize that the fish farms pose a serious problem. “Nobody wants to take

the blame for what is happening,” he says. “The GAFRD is not even convinced that the fish farms are a problem.” Mostafa insists that each of the ministries must have a clearly defined role in improving water quality, with regular progress reviews. “So far we have gone for fast solutions to calm people down, but this does not solve the problem,” he says. “The government needs to urgently focus on the disastrous state of our water supply. It is a matter of life or death that cannot be ignored. They need to realize that this is more important than fighting terrorism.” However, until a comprehensive plan is developed and effectively implemented, Alexandrians – and residents of the other cities along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast – will continue to bear the brunt of the failure to properly maintain the Mahmoudiyah Canal and protect its waters.

Population growth and annual water availability per person in Egypt (1962-2014) Water availability (m3)

Population (millions) 100


90 80


70 60


50 40


30 20


10 0








Water availability per person per year in m3 Population in millions of inhabitants

Note: Egypt’s total annual water availability has remained constant between 1962 and 2014 at 58.3 billion cubic meters. Of this, 98% comes from the Nile. Source: FAO Aquastat (2014).


Did you know? •

Egypt draws 98% of its water from the Nile.

• Water tariffs in Egypt are among the lowest in the world, with water users in Cairo and Alexandria paying just $0.04 per cubic meter of water. This compares to $0.93 per cubic meter in the Moroccan capital Rabat or $2.50 per cubic meter in the Spanish city of Barcelona. • More than 40% of the 379 wastewater treatment plants operating in Egypt in 2014 were overloaded and in need of upgrading. Source: FAO Aquastat (2014); IBNet Tariffs DB (2016); Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (2014).

Garbage dumped along the Mahmoudiyah Canal, Alexandria, Egypt, 2016. Source: Mohammed Yahia.

“I wouldn’t even let my cat drink it. It smells terrible and tastes gross.” Mennat Abou Shoer, English-language teacher


A Map of Lower Egypt from Various Surveys communicated by Major Bryce and Other Officers. Drawn by A. Arrowsmith, 1807, London. Source: The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Alexandria’s Water Supply Through History Alexandria has struggled to provide a regular and clean supply of fresh water to its citizens since medieval times. 32

Rosetta Branch Supplying drinking water to Alexandria became more challenging from then on. In addition to rain-water collection in the city’s numerous cisterns and reservoirs, water was transported by boat over the Mediterranean and overland by animals. Most importantly, however, over the following centuries several canals were built from the more distant Rosetta Branch of the Nile Delta to Alexandria. In addition to fresh water, these canals had the added benefit that they allowed the shipping of goods to Alexandria. The disadvantage was that the water supply was seasonal and directly linked to the Nile flood: in the low season or in years of low floods, water supply did not meet demand for drinking water and the canal was too shallow to navigate. Maintenance and restoration were also permanent concerns as the weak current allowed sand, silt, dirt, rocks and other debris to settle on the canal beds and rapidly cause them to silt up and become unnavigable. Moreover, the canals constantly needed to be protected against the encroaching waters of the Mediterranean Sea. A series of dikes along the Mediterranean coastline were designed to prevent seawater from spilling into the delta areas, where they would make the agricultural land unusable and mix with the fresh water in the canals. Exposed to the incessant crashing of waves, these dikes also needed regular repair.

Writer: Francesca de Châtel

Founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, Alexandria lies on the Mediterranean coast, on the western edge of the Nile Delta. At the time of the city’s foundation, the Nile Delta had seven branches and Alexandria was located just to the west of the Canopic Branch. This westernmost distributary of the Nile was a major waterway at the time, and one of the two largest Delta branches, according to the Greek geographer Strabo. Alexandria drew part of its drinking water from the Canopic Branch via the Schedia Canal that also brought boat traffic to the city. In addition, Lake Mareotis, south-east of the city, was fed by the Canopic Branch and formed an important source of fresh water for Alexandria. However, as the water levels in the Canopic Branch decreased during the Byzantine period and the waterway silted up completely in the 12th century, Lake Mareotis was cut off from the Nile and turned into salty marshland.

More than 300,000 peasants were brought in from across Egypt to build the Mahmoudiyah Canal. Commercial center By the end of the 18th century, Alexandria was steadily growing to be a center of commerce and trade in the Mediterranean region, connecting Egypt to the Arab region, Anatolia, Persia and Europe. Until then, it had been a small coastal port city of just a few thousand inhabitants that was overshadowed by the port city of Rosetta to the east. However, according to Ottoman sources, the city’s population had grown to between 20,000 and 30,000 by 1817. The Ashrafiyya Canal that supplied the city at the time was unreliable and in years of low flooding or when the canal was in disrepair, Alexandrians and inhabitants of the surrounding villages


faced water shortages and even famine. During such periods, the water levels in the city’s 210 large and small cisterns was so low that the population was forced to turn to local water merchants who brought water by ship from the Rosetta Branch and sold it at very high prices. As the city’s commercial importance grew, the Ottoman state feared that news of water shortages in the city would scare off foreign merchants and lead to Alexandria’s commercial ruin.

Mahmoudiyah Canal It was Egypt’s ruler Muhammad Ali Pasha who ordered the construction of the Mahmoudiyah Canal – named after the reigning Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II – at the beginning of the 19th century. The total length of the new canal was to be 75 kilometers, while the inlet from the Rosetta Branch was moved upstream from AlRahmaniyya, where an island obstructed the old inlet and slowed water flow, to Al-Atf. The canal was dug to a width of 6.8 meters and was to be deep enough to allow ships to pass during the flood season. Even then, however, the canal had to be regularly dredged to ensure ships could pass. While the Mahmoudiyah Canal was to be modeled on the earlier Ashrafiyya Canal and partly follow its route, it was a project on an entirely different and unprecedented scale. Employing 300,000 peasants from across the country – more workers than the entire population of Cairo at the time – and killing 100,000 of them, the construction of the Mahmoudiyah Canal marked a new beginning for Alexandria. By 1846, Alexandria’s population had risen to nearly 165,000 and the city had become one of the largest ports on the Mediterranean and a major center for international trade.

The Mahmoudiyah Canal near Alexandria, Egypt, around 1892. Source:

Today, Alexandria is Egypt’s second-largest city, with a population of 4.5 million. It is a major industrial center and the country’s largest port, processing 80% of Egyptian imports and exports. The Mahmoudiyah Canal still forms the city’s main source of drinking water but severe problems of pollution threaten the water supply and there are frequent water shortages across the city. Source: Cooper, J. The Medieval Nile: Route, Navigation, and Landscape in Islamic Egypt (2015); Mikhail, A. Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History (2013); Halim, H. Alexandrian Cosmopolitanism: An Archive (2013); Khalil, E. The Sea, the River and the Lake: All the Waterways Lead to Alexandria (2008).

During the Middle Ages, there were three sources of water supply in Alexandria: rain, transport by boat over the Mediterranean and overland by animals, and freshwater canals from the Nile.

Population growth in Alexandria, Egypt (1806-2015) 5,000,000 4,500,000 4,000,000 3,500,000 3,000,000 2,500,000 2,000,000

completion of the Mahmoudiyah Canal

1,500,000 1,000,000 500,000 0 1806






1937 1947

1960 1975


Source: Khafaji, I. Tormented Births: Passages to Modernity in Europe and the Middle East (2004); Panzac, D. ‘Alexandrie : Peste et croissance urbaine (XVIIe-XIXe siècles)’ (1987).


Chap. 4

Jordan 22%

of the water used in agriculture is treated wastewater


Tackling Water Scarcity in Jordan

Wadi Mujib, Jordan, 2008. Source: Effi Schweizer.

Massive population growth, the expansion of agricultural activities and inefficient water use over the past 60 years have plunged Jordan into a deepening water crisis.

Did you know?

Writer: Francesca de Châtel

As one of the most arid countries in the world, Jordan faces growing challenges to its water supply. Water availability per person plummeted to 123 cubic meters per year in 2014, among the lowest in the world. A number of factors contribute to the steadily growing gap between water supply and demand: ►► Rapid population growth: Successive waves of refugees entering the country over the last 60 years from Palestine, Iraq and, most recently, Syria have led to massive population growth, which has in turn put heavy pressure on the country’s scarce water resources.


►► The intensification and expansion of agricultural activities from the 1960s to the 1980s led to a sharp rise in water use. The government has since made efforts to reduce freshwater use in agriculture by increasing irrigation efficiency and introducing treated wastewater use. The agricultural sector contributes just 3.8% to the country’s GDP, but still consumes 53% of its water resources. ►► Large losses through leakage: estimates of current losses through the ageing water distribution network are as high as 50% in both urban and rural areas.

• Jordan is one of the five most water-scarce countries in the world. • 92% of the Jordanian territory is covered in semi-arid deserts and receives less than 100 mm of rain per year. • Jordan shares most of its water resources with its neighbors: Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Source: Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation (2013); FAO Aquastat (2014).

The situation is likely to be worsened by the effects of climate change, with predictions of more frequent drought, less rain- and snowfall and higher temperatures. Jordan draws its water from three main sources: groundwater (part of which is nonrenewable), surface water and, increasingly, treated wastewater. Jordan’s natural freshwater sources are rapidly deteriorating in quality and quantity. The Jordan River, which is shared between Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, has been reduced to 2% of its historic flow due to dam building and diversion schemes in the upstream part of the river basin in Israel, Jordan and Syria. Jordan’s groundwater supplies are also rapidly shrinking as a result of over-exploitation. Pollution of surface and groundwater sources has also been a growing problem over the last decades as untreated domestic wastewater was released into the environment. In order to increase supply and preserve existing freshwater sources, the Jordanian government has planned and implemented a number of ambitious large-scale projects over the past decade, including: ►► The Disi Project, which transports 100 million cubic meters per year of nonrenewable groundwater from the Disi Aquifer in the south of the country to the capital Amman and the coastal city of Aqaba. The project became operational in 2013. ►► The Red Sea – Dead Sea Project, which is a major regional desalination and water transfer project. Jordan signed an agreement with Israel and Palestine in 2013 for the joint implementation of the project, which will increase water supply to the three countries through seawater desalination and replenish the Dead Sea with the brine from the desalination process. In addition to such large-scale supply projects, which mainly provide fresh water to the cities, there are also important projects to protect water sources from pollution and increase the amount of treated wastewater available for irrigation. Jordan has doubled its wastewater treatment capacity since

1994: as of 2013, the country had 30 wastewater treatment plants with an annual treatment capacity of 102 million cubic meters. The most important of these, the As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, is discussed on the following pages of this report.

Sources of water supply in Jordan Source: Ministry of Water and Irrigation (2013).




The second part of this section on Jordan highlights the challenges faced by rural communities in the north-west of the country as long-term drought and dwindling groundwater supplies make it increasingly difficult for farmers and shepherds to make a living off agriculture. Efforts to build resilience to climate change in these communities may provide a solution.


Surface water Renewable groundwater Non-renewable (fossil) groundwater Treated wastewater

Population growth and annual water availability per person in Jordan (1962-2015) Water availability (m3)

Population (millions)


10 9


8 7


6 600

5 4


3 2


1 0 1950

0 1960







Water availability per person per year in m3 Population in millions of inhabitants Note: 85% of Jordan’s population lives in cities. Source: FAO Aquastat (2014).


The Power of Wastewater Jordan Resident Country Director for the Millennium Challenge Corporation Alex Russin speaks to Revolve Water about a ground-breaking project to expand Jordan’s largest wastewater treatment plant.


The hydroelectric turbine at As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant is powered by wastewater from Amman, Jordan. Source: SPC.

Alex Russin, Jordan resident country director, MCC. Source: MCC.

What is the background of the As Samra project? Why did the wastewater treatment plant need to be expanded? The As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) was initially designed in 2003 with support from USAID to treat wastewater for the 2.3 million inhabitants of Amman. Construction of the plant was completed in 2008, replacing the old system of waste-stabilization ponds with a modern plant, dramatically improving both the quantity and quality of water available to downstream agricultural areas in the Jordan Valley. However, the country’s rapid population growth due to an unanticipated influx of refugees created the need to fund and execute an expansion of the plant. Without the expansion, the plant would either have had insufficient capacity to treat increased volumes of wastewater, or would have become overloaded. This, in turn, could have resulted in serious food safety risks in downstream irrigated agriculture. To address these challenges, the Jordanian government partnered with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to assist the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) with an expansion project. As part of the Jordan Compact, MCC provided transaction advisors, $93 million in grant funding, and a financial agreement to secure private

financing through a build-operate-transfer (BOT) public-private partnership (PPP). The As Samra expansion increased the average hydraulic capacity by 36% and expanded sludge capacity by 75%. With Jordan facing dramatic growth in population rates, the expansion means the government can now address 70% of the country’s wastewater-treatment needs. Expansion works began in August 2012 and were completed in October 2015. What were the key aims besides improving the water treatment process? The government made clear that the project had to be based on sustainable principles to support the country’s economic development. In addition to the water treatment process, the project had the following goals: ►► Agriculture and irrigation reuse. The As Samra WWTP provides high-quality treated water for irrigation to the Jordan Valley. The government has taken a very proactive approach to ensure that the public perception of the use of treated water is positive. Although As Samra WWTP water quality is very high, local legislation limits the direct use of all treated water in Jordan. Once cleaned and discharged from the As Samra


“The success of the As Samra expansion has demonstrated the significant benefits of combining private-sector and public financing.”

WWTP, the treated water flows into the Zarqa River and then travels approximately 60 kilometers to the King Talal Dam. The dam blends stored rain water and treated water from As Samra WWTP and releases the water for irrigation in the Jordan Valley. The process of blending rain water and treated water has helped ensure farmers quickly adapt to using reclaimed water in agriculture. ►► Restoration of the Zarqa River. Prior to the construction and expansion of As Samra, flooding tended to wash untreated sewage from the stabilization ponds into the Zarqa River. As Samra now treats all wastewater to international standards and the effluent water released into the Zarqa River is clean. Fish and other wildlife are returning to the river. This was a top priority for Jordan’s Ministry of Environment and a key element of the country’s long-term water resource management strategy. ►► Employment & knowledge transfer. The operating company recruits almost exclusively local staff and all employees attend targeted skill-improvement programs. This guarantees the highest possible expertise for the plant’s operations.

delegates to a private-sector entity the responsibilities of financing, designing, building, operating and maintaining the facilities for a certain period of time. As part of the As Samra expansion, the MWI signed a 25-year concession with the As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant Company Limited (SPC), a private company whose investors include a number of leading American and French companies. A syndicate of nine local Jordanian and international financial institutions arranged by the Arab Bank provided a Jordan Dinardenominated limited-recourse loan with a term of up to 20 years.

Facts & Figures: As Samra WWTP 70% of the wastewater treated in Jordan The plant treats more than 70% of the total wastewater treated in Jordan and the discharge from numerous septic tankers unloading in the Ain Ghazal pre-treatment plant.

10% of water used in Jordan comes from the WWTP The plant produces reusable treated wastewater for agricultural use which represents around 10% of water use in Jordan, freeing up fresh water for more valuable uses.

80% energy self-sufficiency Through hydro-energy and biogas production, the WWTP has an energy potential recovery of 80% of its needs; only 20% is drawn from the national grid.

300,000 tons of CO2 is saved per year thanks to production of renewable energies.

133 million m3 per year of highquality water produced Professional operation and maintenance ensures the production of very high-quality water in compliance with international effluent standards.

230,000 kWh of green energy produced per day. Source: As Samra – Suez.

►► Supporting the government’s renewable energy policy. The As Samra Plant is among the largest Jordanian renewable energy producers generating energy from biogas and hydropower. The plant produces 12 megawatts of renewable energy, or about 80% of the plant’s energy requirements. How was the project financed? The project was financed through a BOT, a form of PPP, in which the government


Financial structure for the As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant Expansion Source: World Bank, 2016.

Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC)

Government of Jordan: Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI)

Lender Syndicate led by Arab Bank

Project Sponsors Suez Environment/IDI/MorgantiCCC

Viability Gap Funding Grant

Limited Recourse Loan

Government Contribution

Debt Service

Investment Returns


Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant Company (SPC)

Revenue/Project Cash Flows

Supply of Finance Repayment Flows

As-Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant

Public /Donor Agencies

Financial Intermediary

Private Financiers

Service Provider

Aerial photo of As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, Jordan, 2014. Source: SPC.


What technologies are used to treat the water and to what level does the plant treat the water? The expansion of the As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant was implemented using activated-sludge technology. The main components of the expansion include:

has benefited farmers who use the water for irrigation purposes and improved environmental conditions as fish and other wildlife return to the river. What is the potential for this project to be replicated in other MENA countries?

5. Primary and biological sludge thickening

The As Samra expansion is among the largest PPPs transacted in Jordan. Its success has proven the feasibility of this type of project and demonstrated the significant benefits of combining private-sector and public financing. MCC hopes to adapt the contractual structure developed for the As Samra expansion for upcoming infrastructure projects around the world. Every publicprivate partnership is different, but As Samra serves as an example of what is possible in development going forward.

6. Sludge digestion and biogas energy recovery

For more details and the full interview visit:

1. Primary settling 2. Biological treatment and clarification 3. Disinfection by chlorination 4. Energy recovery from treated wastewater

About MCC The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent US-government agency working to reduce global poverty through economic growth. Created in 2004, MCC provides time-limited grants and assistance to poor countries that meet rigorous standards for good governance, from fighting corruption to respecting democratic rights.

7. Odor and noise control 8. Mechanical de-watering to accelerate decomposition and reduce volumes of sludge. High-quality water is produced in compliance with  international effluent standards  through professional operation and  maintenance. The expansion project will continue to employ rigorous odor- and air-quality controls, including capturing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to produce electricity.

“Water quality in the Zarqa River has improved dramatically: fish and other wildlife are returning to the river.” Clean effluent from As Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant and the hydroelectric turbine, Jordan. Source: SPC.

To what extent have environmental conditions improved in the area since the project was completed? Until 2009 when the As Samra WWTP began operations, the Zarqa River Basin – the most heavily populated and industrialized basin in Jordan – was heavily polluted because insufficiently treated wastewater was released into the environment. Local farmers were irrigating their crops with polluted water, threatening the well-being of thousands of citizens. The environmental situation improved when the As Samra Plant began operation in 2009 and has improved even further since the completion of the MCC-supported plant expansion. Greater water quality in the Zarqa River 42

Building Climate Change Resilience Building resilience can help vulnerable rural communities face the challenge of climate change.

Writer: Lara Nassar

Changing weather patterns and growing pressure on natural resources are making it increasingly important to prioritize environmental sustainability and durability in the West Asia-North Africa region. The impact of climate change is also becoming increasingly noticeable in countries like Jordan, where it mainly affects the poorest and most vulnerable communities. There are different ways of adapting to climate change. Resistance allows communities to prevent the direct effects of climate change, for example by building flood walls in coastal communities. Resilience, on the other hand, helps communities learn how to cope with its impacts. The West Asia – North Africa (WANA) Institute in Jordan in partnership with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) are developing systems to help local communities cope with climate change by increasing their resilience. Piloted and developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and partners through the SEARCH project, this conceptual framework helps build ‘social-ecological resilience’. The aim is to strengthen local mechanisms to cope with the shocks and stresses of a changing climate by encouraging changes that will also reduce poverty.

Source: Ed Brambley, 2009.

WANA is piloting this framework in a local community in Mafraq Governorate in north-western Jordan. Initial results show that the area has been affected by drought and lower rain- and snowfall, which has reduced agricultural production and made it more difficult for shepherds to graze their flocks. The result is that growing numbers of people are leaving farming and seeking public-sector jobs with stable salaries. Others work several jobs to make ends meet. The building of climate-resilient communities can help address these trends by integrating four components: ►► Diversity: Diversifying the economy, livelihoods and nature, for example by giving locals income alternatives to compensate for failed crops after a drought. ►► Sustainable infrastructure and technology: Providing adaptable and sustainable technologies to reduce vulnerability, for example building rainwater-harvesting systems to secure water supply in times of drought. ►► Self-organization: Participatory governance and local community empowerment. ►► Learning: Ensuring that the local community can read climate change data and use it to inform adaptation strategies.

It is our hope at the WANA Institute that this research can prove valuable in determining methods for local communities to not only adapt to the climate challenges of the future, but also to grow and thrive. Read the full article at

The SEARCH project The Social, Ecological & Agricultural Resilience in the Face of Climate Change (SEARCH) Project is a three-year EU-funded project in five countries (Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon) to develop and pilot a framework for local action to increase climate-change resilience. The SEARCH project demonstrates how local communities can successfully overcome the negative impacts of climate change.


Jordan: Positive Water Impact Over the past 10 years, PepsiCo in Jordan has reduced water consumption per liter by 42%.

Wadi Al Ahmar Sand Dam Location: 190km South Amman Collection Capacity : 230M m3

Globally, PepsiCo makes responsible water stewardship a priority – it’s about protecting our planet. PepsiCo cares deeply about the environment. Take Jordan for example: it is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. So, PepsiCo has responded with a set of initiatives that make both business and environmental sense.

Al Jeezeh Pond Location: 30km South Amman Collection Capacity: 60M m3

In Jordan, PepsiCo has invested in watersaving technology and systems. Their water collection and reuse systems have maximized how they use water, including at source. PepsiCo has also trained their people to sustain water resources over the long-term. PepsiCo is committed to achieving Positive water impact, a journey started in Jordan in 2012. Positive water impact is achieved by returning more water than is used to manufacture its products through conservation efforts. PepsiCo partners with Jordan’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) with projects including construction of dams for rainwater harvesting, launching a community water-awareness campaign, and installing a treatment unit to render a non- potable water source compliant with Jordanian drinking water regulations to support the local community.

Abu Kataf Sand Dam Location: 70km South Amman Collection Capacity : 300M m3

Wastewater can hurt the environment. So, PepsiCo invested in a wastewater treatment unit that produces irrigation-grade water. It hopes to supply this water locally for improved irrigation. And, over the coming decades, PepsiCo plans to align with the new PepsiCo ‘2025 Sustainability Agenda’ and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

PepsiCo Launches 2025 Sustainability Agenda Omar Farid PepsiCo’s President for the Middle East and North Africa

Towards a Sustainable Future for All At PepsiCo, we are committed to global sustainability. That means continuing to scale our business in a way that responds to changing consumer and societal needs. We are creating a healthier relationship between people and food. As part of that effort, we are pursuing sustainable business practices, including responsible water stewardship. Under PepsiCo’s ‘2025 Sustainability Agenda’, we have committed to protecting our planet. We have set ambitious targets for reducing the environmental footprint of the food system. Over the next decade, we aim to improve water-use efficiency by 25%, fully replenish the water we use in water-stressed areas, and provide access to safe water to 25 million people where water is in short supply. Water scarcity is a severe threat in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It is our collective responsibility to protect our natural resources. Jordan, AMWAJ’s host, has one of the lowest levels of water resource availability in the world. So, here, we have reduced water consumption per liter by 42% through innovation-led conservation measures in our manufacturing processes. Globally, PepsiCo has implemented a strategy to help protect and conserve water supplies while, at the same time, providing communities access to clean, safe water. Last year, we achieved a 26% reduction in operational water use per unit of production compared to what we used in 2006, exceeding our target by 20%. PepsiCo through its foundation also provided access to safe water in water stressed communities around the world reaching 9 million people since 2006 and far exceeding its original goal of 6 million by end of 2015. We are making water stewardship a global priority, knowing that what is good for business can be good for the planet and society. 44

To substantially increase our efforts to improve the products we sell, protect our planet and empower people around the world in order to contribute solutions to shared challenges

PLANET WORK TO ACHIEVE POSITIVE WATER IMPACT - Improve water-use efficiency among growers and in our operations - Replenish water within local watersheds - Advocate for and collaborate on local solutions & enable access to safe water, with

PEOPLE ADVANCE RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS - Promote application of the UN Guiding - Principles on Business and Human Rights across our operations and with all franchisees and joint venture partners - Improve farmers’ livelihoods, conditions for farm workers and crop yields while increasing environmentally responsible agricultural practices

PRODUCTS TRANSFORM OUR PORTFOLIO & OFFER HEALTHIER OPTIONS - Reduce added sugars - Reduce saturated fat - Reduce salt - Offer more positive nutrition like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein and hydration - Provide access to healthier options for underserved communities and consumers

Chap. 5

Saudi Arabia 88%

of water resources go to agriculture, while the sector only contributes 2% to GDP


Saudi Arabia’s Great Thirst Years of massive over-exploitation have severely depleted Saudi Arabia’s water resources. The government is now taking steps to curb consumption in all sectors but public awareness of the growing crisis remains low.

The population of the Saudi capital Riyadh has increased from 150,000 in the 1960s to 6 million today, 2008. Source: Peter Dowley.

Writer: Ahmed Almansouri & Francesca de Châtel

Saudi Arabia is facing a severe and rapidly escalating water crisis, with potentially disastrous consequences for the country’s economy, environment and the public health of its citizens. In the wake of a World Bank report on global water scarcity released in February 2016, various Saudi government officials and water experts warned that the kingdom could run out of water entirely by 2029 if it did not radically reform its agricultural practices and address high water consumption patterns across the country. Eighty-eight percent of Saudi water resources go to agriculture, while the sector only contributes 2% to GDP.


The former undersecretary at the Saudi Ministry of Water and Electricity, Ali al-Takhees, said the use of nonrenewable groundwater on economically unviable  agricultural projects would end in disaster.  “Saudi Arabia is facing a catastrophe if agricultural practices  don’t change. The remaining  groundwater needs to be preserved.” With an average rainfall of just 59 mm per year and summer temperatures that reach 55°C, Saudi Arabia’s climate is among the harshest in the world. Ninety-five percent of the country is covered in deserts and there are no rivers or lakes. Instead the kingdom

relies on its rapidly shrinking groundwater reserves and desalinated water.

Fossil reserves Saudi Arabia’s vast deserts harbor large groundwater reserves that have accumulated in six deep aquifers in the central and eastern part of the country. This so-called ‘fossil’ groundwater, which accumulated 20,000 years ago, lies at depths of between 150 and 1,500 meters. But this supply is not renewable, which means that water pumped out of these reservoirs cannot be naturally replaced.

great strain on water resources in an arid country that is naturally water scarce. “It is scary to think about the water situation in the next 20 to 30 years if consumption patterns continue to rise,” says Nour Fitiany of the Jeddah-based environmental NGO Alnabta, which focuses on raising environmental awareness. “We are basically drinking oil at this point. Relying on desalinated water in this way is not sustainable.”

Water use by sector Source: FAO Aquastat (2010).

Did you know? • Saudi Arabia produced 26% of the world’s desalinated seawater in 2011. • 95% of the country is covered in deserts and there are no rivers or lakes. • Average daily water use in Saudi Arabia is among the highest in the world at 265-300 liters per person. Source: Ouda, O. (2013); FAO Aquastat (2014).

According to the 1984 Water Atlas of Saudi Arabia, the country had 253 cubic kilometers of proven groundwater reserves and 705 cubic kilometers of ‘possible’ reserves. The current status of the country’s groundwater reserves is not clear: the issue is considered to be sensitive and no official data is published on the subject. However, it is clear that many of the country’s large aquifers are severely over-exploited and some have already been depleted. “The country is facing a severe water shortage challenge,” says Omar Ouda, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Prince Mohammad Bin

Fahd University in Al Khobar. “The available natural resources are not sufficient to cover demand and all resources, primarily groundwater, are over-exploited.” The decline in water availability is the result of the country’s rapid economic development over the last 40 years, together with massive population growth and rising living standards. Saudi Arabia’s population has increased from 4.3 million in 1962 to 31.5 million in 2015. With a growth rate of 2.3%, population figures are set to reach 42 million by 2040. This obviously places







Reduce and reuse Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of desalinated water in the world, with 30 desalination plants on the country’s east and west coasts producing 1.3 billion cubic meters of desalinated water in 2015. Desalinated water is used in the industrial and domestic contexts, providing 50% of municipal water and thus making up for the growing “water gap” between demand and supply. According to a 2013 UNDP report, the Saudi government plans to invest $53 billion between 2011 and 2020 to increase desalination production by 3.92 billion cubic meters. However, even in oil-rich Saudi Arabia desalination is putting pressure on energy security. According to a 2013 World Bank report, the country – which is the largest oil exporter in the world – is burning 1.5 million barrels of crude oil equivalent every day to produce desalinated water and generate electricity. If energy efficiency is not improved and current trends continue, domestic fossil-based fuel demand is set to reach 8 million barrels per day of crude oil equivalent by 2040, which would considerably reduce the amount


available for export and thus jeopardize the country’s oil export revenues. Furthermore, desalination has a significant environmental impact, including damage to marine environments due to the release of brine and other chemicals into the sea and air pollution due to high emissions of CO2 and other harmful gases. In a bid to address growing water and energy demand, the government is investing in research and development of renewable energy options. It is also currently building the world’s largest solar desalination plant at Al Khafji on the country’s eastern coast. The plant, which is set to become operational in 2017, will produce 30,000 cubic meters of desalinated water per day (in its first phase) to meet the needs of 100,000 people. “Water is inevitably connected to energy in Saudi Arabia,” says Faisal Al Fadl, the secretary-general of the Saudi Green Building Forum, which promotes the greening of buildings across the country. “Whether we want to desalinate or extract groundwater, we need energy. This means that both problems need to be addressed if

you want to achieve sustainable patterns of use. In terms of water, the strategy should be: reduce, reuse, reproduce. And make production cheaper. This is where solar desalination can play an important role.” But critics say such initiatives to increase supply – even if it is in a sustainable manner – need to be coupled with decisive measures to curb demand. “Building the largest solar-powered desalination plant may seem like the way to go, but it does not solve the issue of high water consumption,” says Fitiany. “On the contrary, it accommodates it. Basically nothing changes.”

No sense of urgency Annual water availability in the kingdom has been steadily declining for the past 60 years, dropping from 550 cubic meters per person in 1962 to 76 cubic meters in 2014 – among the lowest in the world. Yet despite this deepening crisis, public awareness of the state of acute scarcity remains low.

Average domestic water use in Saudi Arabia compared to other countries (liters per day per person) Minimum UN requirement for personal hygiene and cooking


Germany (2006)


Netherlands (2007)


United Kingdom (2007)


Jordan (2013)


OECD average


Egypt (2010)

Note: Data are collated from different sources and are approximate. Source: UK Environment Agency, (2008); FAO Aquastat (2005); (2016); Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation (2013); Canada Environment (2009); US Geological Survey (2016).



Lebanon (2005)

Saudi Arabia (2016)


Canada (2009)



USA (2016)

UAE (2016)







550L 500


“Saving water is not in the culture yet in Saudi Arabia.” Nader Nakib, environmental consultant

The Floating Mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2011. Source: Sammy Six.

“We are living in la-la land now,” says Fitiany. “If people really thought about how much water they use and how that is connected to the desalination  plants that pump harmful gases into the air 24/7, they would make more of an effort to change their behavior. It’s true that more people are aware of things like environmental protection and recycling, but in general I don’t think people care. There is no sense of urgency.”

Yet the actual cost of production and transmission of desalinated water, which makes up 50% of the municipal water supply, comes to about $2. According to Ouda, under this tariff system with its heavy subsidies, Saudi citizens were paying less than 5% of water production costs. Thus while water resources are rapidly declining, low prices and easy access to water make people think the resource is abundant.

Saudis are among the world’s highest water consumers at a domestic level, using 265-300 liters of water per person per day – around double the average daily use in most European countries. Monthly water bills for an average Saudi family of five came to less than $2 in 2015, with water users in the capital Riyadh paying $0.03 per cubic meter of water. This is one of the lowest rates in the world.

“There are lots of government and grassroots initiatives to raise awareness of the water crisis,” says Nader Nakib of the greening consultancy G which works on increasing water efficiency in cities and reducing water consumption. “But saving water is not in the culture yet. Awareness campaigns only have a limited impact until people have no option but to save water.”

Both Fitiany and Nakib believe the government and civil society should make more efforts to raise awareness of the water crisis and actively encourage more careful water use. Popular media and social media channels can also be highly effective in disseminating messages about water use efficiency, while schools and mosques could also play an important role. “There is still a long way to go,” says Fitiany. “Much more needs to be done on a grassroots and government level. If that means increasing oil, water and electricity prices, then so be it.”

Targeting wallets The Saudi government has taken the first steps towards actively reducing domestic water use, with the introduction of a fiveyear plan to gradually increase water tariffs.


The first price hike in early 2016 sparked a wave of complaints from consumers who saw their water bill increase from a few dollars per month to hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars due to an error in the water metering and tariff system. This is now being addressed, according to Ouda, who says that while tariffs are still very low, the higher rates could change water use behavior in the medium to long term.

Saudi Arabia's Water Gap DEMAND (million m3/year)









SUPPLY (sustainable water resources in million m3/year)

1,050 Desalinated water


Non-conventional resources

240 Treated wastewater


Total 3,850 Groundwater


Conventional resources

1,300 Surface water

Every year Saudi Arabia uses 11,423 million m3 more water than it receives.

Source: Revolve Water based on Ouda, O. ‘Water demand versus supply in Saudi Arabia’ (2014), data for 2010.


“Believe me, this is the best awareness program that has ever been implemented,” he says. “Awareness programs are great, if you start introducing them to school-age children and then build it up to be part of the culture. But if you want to change behavior patterns among adults who have many other things on their mind, you have to target their wallet – within reason of course.” Besides changing individual consumption patterns, there is also considerable scope for increasing water use efficiency in Saudi Arabia’s cities, where 80% of the country’s population is concentrated. According to World Bank figures, 35% of water that is distributed through the country’s networks is lost through theft, metering inaccuracy and leakages in the transmission or distribution system – so-called non-revenue water. “There is a need for investment in new water infrastructure in order to reduce the amount of non-revenue water,” says Nakib. “Making building codes more stringent on water efficiency would also help, as well as enforcing grey-water recycling on residential compounds and in the industrial sector.” He also points to a range of simple measures that individual consumers can take to reduce consumption, such as placing watersaving devices on their taps and toilets.

No space for irrigation Still, the domestic sector only accounts for 9% of Saudi Arabia’s total annual water use, while agriculture consumes 88%. Any effort to reduce the country’s water demand will therefore have to involve drastically cutting agricultural water use.

Saudi Arabia’s agricultural sector expanded massively from the 1970s when the government launched an ambitious program to make the country food secure by subsidizing wheat production using fossil groundwater. Over a period of 15 years from 1980 to 1994, annual agricultural water use nearly tripled from 8 billion cubic meters to 22.3 billion in 1994. By the late 1980s, Saudi Arabia was sixth largest wheat exporter in the world, competing in the international market against rain-fed wheat.

Population growth and annual water availability per person in Saudi Arabia (1962-2015) Source: FAO Aquastat (2015).

Water availability (m3)

Population (millions)

But the high environmental cost of fossilwater mining soon became evident: by 1995, about 35% of the country’s nonrenewable groundwater reserves had been depleted and natural springs were drying up. Water levels in some aquifers have dropped by more than 200 meters over the past 20 years. Drastic measures to cut wheat subsidies and ban wheat exports reduced agricultural water demand to 17.5 billion cubic meters in 2003. This was followed in 2008 by the decision to entirely phase out wheat production by 2016. Agricultural water use had dropped to about 15 billion cubic meters by 2010 and is set to be further reduced as the government continues to push through water-saving measures such as the phasing out of green fodder production by 2019. This will save about 7 billion cubic meters of water a year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Wheat farmers have been encouraged to move to other crops such as greenhouse farming or the production of fruits and vegetables using advanced drip irrigation techniques.

level, which makes it suitable for use in agriculture. Of this about a third – 240 million cubic meters per year – is used for irrigation purposes, which means there is clearly considerable room for growth.

Ouda says these are positive steps. “They are moving in the right direction,” he says, “but changing agricultural policy takes time and implementing these changes takes an even longer time. Of course they have to change crop choices and adapt cropping patterns, but the bottom line is that there is no fresh water available for irrigation. Any water that is available should be used in the domestic and industrial sectors and if they want to irrigate they should use treated wastewater.”

Yet even with recent measures to raise domestic tariffs, reduce agricultural water use and increase water use efficiency in all sectors, Saudi Arabia faces a formidable challenge over the coming decades to fill the growing water gap. Estimated at 11.5 billion cubic meters in 2010, it is set to at least double by 2030, according to Ouda – and that is under an “optimistic” scenario in which agricultural water use is cut by 3.7% every year and domestic and industrial demand do not increase significantly.

Saudi Arabia currently only treats about half of its wastewater to tertiary

“Very hard measures are needed to make water use sustainable in this country,” says

Ouda. “People will probably not be happy with this and it will be very hard for decisionmakers to come to an agreement.” Meanwhile, Fitiany is working to educate a new generation of water users to be aware of the importance of water preservation by conducting workshops in schools and organizing other activities for children. “Kids are like sponges: they absorb what they see adults say and do,” she says. “If we continue wasting water as we do now, we are not only depriving the next generation of a future; we are not even preparing them for it. That is why it is our job to teach children the values and habits that can help them build a sustainable future.”


The Future of Desalination Jauad El Kharraz, the head of research at the Middle East Desalination Research Center in Oman, speaks about the potential of desalination and renewables.

Writer: Ahmed Almansouri

What are the key challenges facing the water and energy sectors in the Arabian Peninsula? The main challenge in this region is that desalination technology is still being imported – even after 50 years. There is no localization of the technology. The question is how we can change this. When it comes to the desalination process, energy consumption remains one of the biggest challenges. Gulf countries can afford desalination for now, because energy is cheap there. Other nations, such as Morocco or Jordan, do not have the same luxury. Over the past decade, much global effort has gone into cutting costs and the price of one cubic meter of desalinated water is now around €0.45 or lower. There is a lot of talk in the Gulf countries about renewable energy and its applicability to desalination. The benefits are clear: not only does it cut costs; it also reduces carbon-dioxide emissions and fossil-fuel dependency. There is great potential for solar desalination in the Arab region. There are several ambitious projects in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to develop large solar desalination plants, including a project in the area of Al-Khafji on Saudi Arabia’s eastern coast and one in the area of Ras al-Khaimah in the UAE. Both plants are set to become operational by 2020 and will be among the largest in the world. I think the Arab countries are starting to realize that solar energy is the future. However, decision-makers, the private sector and researchers need to stimulate and support more development. How do you see the future of water and energy management in the Arabian Peninsula? I think there are great opportunities in the Gulf countries, but also considerable challenges. Drops in oil prices hamper economic


Jauad El Kharraz, head of research, MEDRC

growth and affect GDP, but the crisis also gives rise to positive change: clearly, these countries have no choice but to invest in alternative energy sources. Going forward it will be increasingly important to improve the coordination of the energy, water and agricultural sectors – the so-called ‘water-food-energy nexus’. Overall, I am optimistic about all the efforts we are seeing. At the same time, we must be careful, because if these policies are not implemented as soon as possible and action plans are not developed, we will face very serious problems. The cost of water is rising, climate change is negatively impacting water availability and population growth is placing growing pressure on resources. What needs to change? Besides localization of technology, we also need to localize knowledge. Currently, we do not have enough qualified staff to operate modern desalination technologies, including solar desalination plants. This is why it is important to invest in training, knowledge transfer and capacity building. Furthermore, environmental and water legislation throughout the region must be strengthened if we are to face up to the challenges ahead. For example, many desalination plants continue to release brine and other harmful waste from the desalination process straight into the sea. As a result, salinity is constantly increasing. Stricter laws should be enforced to prevent the disposal of toxic waste. Read the full interview at

About MEDRC The Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC) brings together ten partners who work together to find solutions to fresh-water scarcity through research, training and knowledge exchange.

Chap. 6

Albania 100%

of the electricity produced in Albania comes from hydropower


Damming the Wild Rivers of Albania


The Vjosa between Carshove and PĂŤrmet. Source: Christian Baumgartner, National Park Donau Auen.

Plans to build a series of dams and hydropower plants on the Vjosa River in Albania have unleashed a heated debate across Europe, as hydropower potential is weighed up against ecological considerations.


“The Vjosa should be left free and wild, as God created it.” Marson Murataj, local resident

Writer: Fatjona Mejdini

The Vjosa River is Albania’s third-longest river, covering a distance of 270 kilometers between its source near the village of Vovousa in the Pindus Mountains in northern Greece and the Adriatic coast in Albania. Along its 190-kilometer course in Albania, the river passes through mountainous terrain, carving its way through deep canyons. In its upper reaches, it is fed by several tributaries including the Langarice, which is known for its thermal waters. Further downstream, the Vjosa spills out into the coastal plain where it sprawls over a width of 2 kilometers in places. The river drains into the Adriatic Sea at the Narta Lagoon near the town of Vlora. As one of Europe’s last ‘untamed’ rivers, the Vjosa is highly valued by all, though not always for the same reasons:


environmentalists and nature lovers are advocating the creation of a national park along the river’s entire course in Albania in order to preserve its unique ecosystem. The Albanian government and international developers, on the other hand, see huge potential for hydropower development along the Vjosa and other Albanian rivers. So far, the Pigai Dam in Greece, which was completed in 1984, is the only structure that alters the natural flow of the Vjosa. But if the Albanian government carries out its plans, the Vjosa and its tributaries could undergo dramatic changes over the coming years. Hydropower is generally seen as a source of clean energy, but hydropower projects can have farreaching social and environmental

impacts depending on their scope and scale. Small- and micro-hydro projects generally do not have reservoirs or dams and leave rivers mostly intact, while large-scale hydroelectric dams and their reservoirs entirely modify river flow and flood large tracts of land. According to data published by ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’, a campaign launched by two international NGOs, the Albanian government plans to build over 400 hydropower plants across the country, including eight dams on the Albanian stretch of the Vjosa River and 23 hydropower plants on its tributaries. The Ministry of Energy and Industry would not confirm these figures or the types of structures that are planned, saying that every project proposal is individually

Hydropower is currently Albania’s only domestic source of electricity. According to Albania’s National Institute for Statistics, hydropower supplies up to 80% of the country’s needs, with imports making up the remaining 20%. The country has also seen a steady rise in electricity exports since 2013, though the supply fluctuates widely depending on rainfall levels and river flow. Going forward, the government plans to diversify the sources of electricity production, with plans to implement a controversial and long-delayed thermal power plant on the coast at Vlora and develop renewables such as wind and solar power. Still, the potential of hydropower is enormous in this water-rich country and the government is keen to exploit this, both to satisfy growing demand and to attract foreign investment in renewables.

About EuroNatur EuroNatur is an international nature conservation foundation working on the conservation of Europe’s natural heritage. The organization encourages work across the Europe’s national borders in an effort to create continentwide nature conservation projects.

About EcoAlbania The environmental NGO EcoAlbania was created in 2014 by a group of Albanian academics at the University of Tirana and the ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ team in Albania. The organization works to strengthen environmental awareness and protect natural ecosystems and wildlife in Albania.

River map of Albania Source: Revolve Water based on, 2013. The Vjosa River. Source: Gregor Subic.

Montenegro Lake Scutari

Drin Macedonia






D ck Bla

assessed and the technology to be used will only be determined at a later stage. To date, the ministry has granted licenses for the construction of two hydroelectric dams on the Vjosa at Kalivaç and Poçem, while a number of hydropower plants are already under construction on the river’s tributaries.


Lake Ohrid


Lake Prespa

Hydropower potential Albania is among the most water-rich countries in the Mediterranean region: eight major rivers form a network of over 152 river streams and connecting waterways across the country. This abundance, combined with the country’s mountainous terrain with deep gorges, cascades and rapids, makes it ideally suited for hydropower generation.


um Greece





Hydropower on the Vjosa River Source: Revolve Water based on RiverWatch, EuroNatur, 2014.


Poçem Narta Lagoon

Kuta Kalivaç


Tepelena Përmet Vjo





ADRIATIC SEA Status of hydropower plants on the Vjosa River and its tributaries Planned

Under construction

“Domestic electricity demand is constantly rising, which means we need to increase our power-generating capacity,” says Dardan Malaj, a communications advisor at the Ministry of Energy and Industry. “Moreover, foreign investors are mainly interested in the country’s energy sector and Albania really needs those investments.” Albania has a large trade deficit – exporting 27% as a proportion of GDP and importing 44% in 2015 according to the World Bank – and the prospect of attracting investments and generating energy at low cost for export is clearly alluring.



Plans to dam the Vjosa are not new. In 1997, the Albanian government licensed the Italian Becchetti Group to build the country’s first concessionary hydroelectric dam at Kalivaç. The dam, designed with a height of 45 meters and a reservoir capacity of 350 million cubic meters, was scheduled for completion in 2002, but 14 years on the project remains only 30% completed following a series of missed deadlines. The delays are the result of ongoing disputes between the government and the Becchetti Group amidst allegations of political intrigue, fraud, money laundering and forgery.

The government is, however, determined to pursue the project at Kalivaç, despite serious financial problems and ongoing public protests on local, national and international levels to leave the Vjosa untouched.

A national park Albanian and international environmental groups such as EcoAlbania, EuroNatur and RiverWatch have mounted strong opposition to the government’s plans, warning that the dams will destroy the river’s ecosystems.

“The Vjosa River is an integrated ecosystem from its source to the point where it flows into the Adriatic, and this natural dynamic will be totally destroyed if large dams are built along its course,” says Lavdosh Ferruni, a leading Albanian environmentalist. He warns that the construction of dams on the Vjosa will reduce local biodiversity, prevent fish migration and even affect the environment in the Vjosa Delta due to the decrease in sediment release below the dams. In a bid to calm protesters, the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, announced in July 2015 that his government – which came into office in 2013 – would not build dams along the entire length of the Vjosa, as the previous government had planned. Instead, they would seek a compromise, turning the upstream part of the river into a natural park up to Kalivaç and building hydropower plants downstream of the unfinished dam. “The Vjosa is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe,” he said. “It is a great European treasure. We will work with international organizations to implement the project of Vjosa as a national park.” Ferruni rejects this new scheme as a government ploy to silence opponents and legitimize its dam projects. Critics were also quick to point out that Rama’s statement opened the way for the construction of dams and power plants downstream of Kalivaç. Indeed, barely a month later, in August 2015, the government announced plans to build a new dam at Poçem, 27 kilometers downstream of Kalivaç. Since then, a consortium of two Turkish companies won the international tender for the $110 million project. Malaj insists that the project at Poçem will be carried out according to the environmental standards of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He adds that the government decision to forbid the construction of hydropower plants upstream from Kalivaç shows it is serious about preserving the river’s natural ecosystems. However, environmental activists and scientists involved in the campaign to

prevent the damming of the river say that the Albanian government has a poor record when it comes to conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and that studies carried out in the past have fallen well short of international and EU standards. “Environmental assessments in Albania are usually not worth the paper they are written on,” says Aleko Miho from the University of Tirana. “Our knowledge about flora and fauna as well as about the sediment situation along the Vjosa is too limited to conduct a reliable EIA. We lack the data and research.” Besides the irreversible environmental damage that hydropower plants are likely to cause, campaigners also point out that hydropower is an outdated and unsustainable source of renewable energy. They believe the Albanian government should instead develop eco-tourism

opportunities along the Vjosa and generate power from other renewable sources such as wind and solar. With 265 days of sun per year, Albania indeed has a high potential for solar power generation. “The hydropower epidemic that has taken over Albania since 2009 is just a covert means for a handful of people to make a profit, while destroying the country’s environment,” says Ferruni. “Research shows that solar and wind power are far more sustainable.” The reliability of hydropower has also been questioned. Already today, fluctuating rain- and snowfall levels lead to broad variations in the country’s annual hydropower production. The predicted effects of climate change, including higher temperatures, more frequent drought, and less rain and snow, are likely to further enhance this variability.

Flooding history About ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ ‘Save the Blue Heart of Europe’ is a campaign launched by the international NGOs EuroNatur and RiverWatch to raise awareness of the ecological value and vulnerability of river systems in the Balkans. The Vjosa River is one of the campaign’s three key focus areas along with the Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia and the Sava River that flows through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. All three areas are threatened by large dam projects.

About RiverWatch RiverWatch is a Vienna-based society for the protection of rivers that engages globally against projects that destroy rivers, particularly dam projects. RiverWatch forms an international platform that aims to conserve the world’s last unimpaired rivers.

Local communities along the Vjosa are also worried. They believe the dams will submerge everything: their homes, their land – even their identity. Marson Murataj, 29, who lives in the village of Kuta between Kalivaç and Poçem, says that the dam at Poçem will flood most of Kuta and its agricultural land. It will also affect the neighboring villages of Anebreg, Corrush and Sevester and their agricultural land. Most communities living along the Vjosa live off agriculture, livestock farming and fishing. The dam projects would have far-reaching consequences for them, according to Murataj. “The Poçem Dam will affect up to 10,000 people and flood thousands of hectares of agricultural land in the area, depriving us of our main source of income,” he says. He adds that locals feel disappointed and angry because the government never asked their opinion on the construction of the hydropower plants and now turns a blind eye to their concerns. So far the government has not provided any details about where people displaced by the dams would be resettled or how


they would be compensated for flooded properties and agricultural land. Meanwhile, local and international NGOs have launched a series of campaigns and protests against the dam projects. Eight leading environmental organizations have created the network ‘Protect the Rivers’, while another group of individuals has launched the Vjosa Front, which focuses on mobilizing locals and raising awareness through a social media campaign. The Vjosa campaign has also garnered considerable international attention. In April 2016, the European Parliament called on the Albanian government to control the development of hydropower plants on the Vjosa and recommended it improve the quality of Environmental Impact Assessments to take EU standards into account. A month later in May 2016, the vice-president of the European Parliament, Ulrike Lunacek, joined a group of around 100 environmentalists, kayakers and journalists from across Europe to appeal to the Albanian government to cancel the dam projects on the Vjosa. Meanwhile, a group of scientists from Albania, Austria and Germany has called for a three-year moratorium on all construction plans on the Vjosa and its tributaries, in order to allow for the implementation of an interdisciplinary research and assessment program on the Vjosa River. They suggest the Vjosa could serve as a “large-scale natural refuge and laboratory of pan-European significance” and an international reference site for climate change research.

Did you know? • Hydropower provides 80% of Albania's electricity supply. The remaining 20% comes from imports. • Albania is among the most water-rich countries in the Mediterranean region, with an annual water availability of 10,425 cubic meters per person. • Vjosa is a popular girl’s name in Albania and Kosovo. It is associated with the river and its pristine beauty. Source:INSTAT (2015); Aquastat (2014).

"The Vjosa River is an integrated ecosystem and this natural dynamic will be totally destroyed if large dams are built along its course." Lavdosh Ferruni, Albanian environmentalist Source: Roland Dorozhani, 2015.

On the ground, environmentalist Ferruni says the protests will continue until this goal is reached: “We will continue actively protesting and doing everything we can to stop the project at Poçem.” Murataj is also determined to continue campaigning: “If the dams are built, our history will be flooded and vanish together with the fields. We cannot let that happen. The Vjosa should be left free and wild, as God created it.”


Chap. 7

Spain The province of


is the most arid region in Europe, but also the continent’s most productive agricultural area


The Price of Watering Europe’s Southern Plains

Farmers in south-eastern Spain are complaining of water shortages and say they will go out of business by the end of the year if the government does not increase supply. But planners say there is plenty of water, as long as you pay for it. Writer: Nadia Muhanna


Variety of crops cultivated in the Nijar Plain, Almeria Province, Spain Source: The Agriculture and Fishing Department of the Regional Government of Andalusia (2016).

3% 15% 10% 2%


9% 9%









Other crops

According to the Andalusia branch of the Small Farmers’ Union (UPA), the ongoing drought is affecting 200 export companies and 18,000 business owners who provide around 64,000 jobs in the area. They say large agri-food companies are already starting to move to other, more watersecure areas. Arid landscape near the village of Los Albaricoques, Almerian Levant, Spain, 2013. Source: Luis Daniel Carbia Cabeza.

After months without a single drop of rain, farmers in Almeria, Europe’s most productive agricultural region, say they are growing desperate. “Cultivation techniques have improved a lot and drip irrigation uses less water, but you still need some water,” says Andrés Góngora, the provincial secretary of the farmers association COAG. Following a particularly dry spring this year, Almeria’s Federation of Farmers (FERAL)

warned in July 2016 that 23,000 hectares of crops in the Almerian Levant, a region bordering the province of Murcia, were at risk of crop failure and that farmers were facing a critical situation. “Lack of investment in infrastructure and poor planning may put the whole agrifood sector in the Almerian Levant and the Almanzora Basin out of business in the coming months,” said José Antonio Fernandéz, the president of FERAL.

But Joan Corominas, the former director of the Andalusia water agency and current vice-president of the New Water Culture Foundation (FNCA), is skeptical: “They’ve been saying this for years, that companies are going to leave, but statistics show that the number of irrigated hectares continues to expand every year.” To Corominas, it is not so much about water scarcity as about farmers’ willingness to pay more for water from other sources. “There is plenty of expensive water in Almeria,” he says. “What it lacks is cheap water. There is enough water available and farmers should use this to limit over-exploitation of groundwater.”


Hydrologic imbalance Water management in Spain has for the past century centered on solving the “hydrologic imbalance” that exists between the country’s “humid north” and the “dry south”, initially through inter-basin water transfers and, more recently, through the development of large-scale seawater desalination along Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

Combining the highest number of sunlight hours and lowest rainfall in Europe, Almeria’s semi-arid climate and desert landscape do not naturally lend themselves to intensive agriculture. Traditionally, local farmers here cultivated dry-farmed crops like citrus, olives, almonds and cereals. Until the 1960s, Almeria was among the poorest provinces in Spain and people were leaving the region in search of work in other parts of the country. The situation started to change in the 1970s with the introduction of the first greenhouses, the large-scale exploitation of groundwater and the promise of new water sources from other regions.

The largest of these transfers is the TagusSegura inter-basin water transfer system, which covers a distance of 1,000 kilometers from the headwaters of the Tagus River in the country’s center to the Júcar, Segura and Mediterranean river basin districts in the south-east. Depending on water availability in

The province of Almeria Source: Revolve Water after Data Spain, 2005.

Tagus-Segura Inter-basin Transfer


Negratín Almanzora Inter-basin Transfer

ALMERIA Almanzora River


Pulpi Almanzora Dam

Cartagena-Aguilas desalination plant

Cuevas de Almanzora

Bajo Almanzora desalination plant

Nijar Beninar Dam

Andarax River Dalias


Carboneras Carboneras desalination plant

El Ejido


the upstream basins, it transfers a maximum of 600 million cubic meters of water per year for supply to cities and agriculture in the south-east. The province of Almeria only receives a comparatively small portion of this water however – an average of 16 million cubic meters per year. Together with water from the NegratínAlmanzora transfer, the Tagus-Segura transfer supplies an annual average of 41 million cubic meters of water to the Province of Almeria. Inter-basin transfers make up 38.5% of the water supply in the Almerian Levant, with the remainder coming mainly from groundwater, surface water stored in dams and desalination. The increase in water availability rapidly transformed Almeria Province – and the wider region of Andalusia of which it forms a part – into Europe’s largest producer of agricultural crops in terms of output (production in Andalusia was worth around $8.5 billion in 2014). Today the Dalias Plain, 30 km south-west of the town of Almeria, has the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world, covering an area of 29,000 hectares and producing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, courgettes, aubergines, green beans, melons and watermelons. Further to the north, in the Almerian Levant, greenhouses are less prevalent. Farmers here mainly cultivate vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, artichokes and cauliflower as well as citrus fruit and olives. Large agrifood companies from Murcia and Valencia have established themselves in this area, with particularly strong growth in the municipalities of Nijar and Pulpi. Corominas admits that irrigating 60,000 hectares of land to produce lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers in the middle of the desert may seem crazy. “Almeria’s advantage is that it has sun and high temperatures year round,” he says. “This makes it highly suited to the cultivation of crops in winter, when there is no competition from other parts of Europe. If it weren’t for this comparative advantage, it wouldn’t make sense to irrigate in such an arid climate.”

Groundwater depletion Almerian farmers pride themselves on their efficient water use. “When it comes to irrigation water use, we are one of the most efficient regions,” says Roque Garcia, the UPA secretary. He lists the various technologies local farmers use to optimize water use: the latest drip irrigation systems, computer systems to measure the water requirements of different crops and pressure chambers to monitor hydrologic stress. But despite all these water-saving techniques, the constant expansion of irrigated area has taken its toll on local water resources. Already in the early 2000s, experts warned of risks associated with the intensive agricultural model introduced in the area. “Lettuce is a water-thirsty crop that is being cultivated in an arid basin,” Ángel López Cuquejo, a researcher at the University of Almeria, noted in a critical article in 2002. “The level of the reservoir of the Almanzora Basins Dam (which used to store 150 million cubic meters of water in 1993) has dropped to less than 5 million cubic meters.” Data show that the dam reservoir was filled to just 11% of its capacity in December 2015. Today the main local aquifers, which were already over-exploited in 2002 according to Cuquejo, have also reached critical levels of depletion. Over-pumping and drought have led to a severe drop in groundwater levels, which has in turn caused seawater intrusion. Part of the water in the four main aquifers in the Almerian Levant is now too salty for human consumption or irrigation. As a result, farmers increasingly rely on water from the two inter-basin water transfers (Tagus-Segura and NegratínAlmanzora). But FERAL says the water supplied through the inter-basin transfers will not cover demand until the end of 2016. Early signs of drought in the Segura Basin also do not bode well and FERAL expects a serious cut in the quantity of water transferred in 2017.

Water use by sector in the Almerian Levant Source: Revolve Water based on Demarcacion Hidrográfica De Las Cuencas Mediterráneas Andaluzas, Proyecto De Plan Hidrológico 2015/2021.





According to Abel La Calle, a professor of environmental law at the University of Almeria and the current FNCA president, subsidizing groundwater contributes to its over-exploitation. “Farmers think they are paying the full price for groundwater when they just pay the cost of pumping it out of the ground,” he says. “But this does not take the cost of groundwater over-exploitation into account. This water has accumulated over thousands of years and we are consuming it within one generation. The state should reclaim the environmental



Golf courses and parks


cost of over-exploitation by increasing the price of groundwater.” When Spain joined the European Union in 1986, it received heavy subsidies to support the development of its economy. Most of these subsidies were revised and reduced over the years. But La Calle says that for political reasons, this was never done in the agricultural sector. “The irrigated agricultural sector is influential,” he says. “Confronting [the issue of subsidies] would come at a high political price, which no politician is willing to pay.”

“People in Almeria need to take a step back and realize that the current agricultural model has reached its limits.” Joan Corominas, former director of the Andalusia water agency


Desalination The only alternative is desalination, which currently provides 11.5% of the water used in the Almerian Levant. There are currently two operational desalination plants supplying Almeria – one in Cartagena Aguilas in Murcia and one in Carboneras – with three more under construction. However, the desalinated water only reaches part of the province. Large parts of the Almerian Levant are not connected to the distribution network due to a lack of infrastructure, according to Góngora. Furthermore, desalination is expensive: at more than $0.65 per cubic meter, desalinated water is four to six times as expensive as water from inter-basin transfers ($0.09-0.11 per cubic meter) and local groundwater ($0.13-0.15 per cubic meter). “You might be able to afford desalinated water depending on the type of crops you cultivate, but for most crops in this area it is too expensive,” says Góngora.

Did you know? this, but not all,” he says. “Almeria Province cannot just let its treated wastewater to flow into the sea. It should be put to use.” In 2015, reused wastewater made up just 1% of the total available water resources in the Almerian Levant, suggesting there is considerable room for growth. However, very high levels of treatment are required to irrigate crops like tomatoes and lettuce, and farmers are often worried about associated health risks.

• On average, Almeria has around 320 sunny days per year. It is among the warmest regions on the European continent. • Almeria’s desert landscape made it a popular location for the filming of Spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s, including A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. • In 2015, Almeria produced nearly 985 million tons of tomatoes of which 55% was exported. Source: Agencia Estatal de Meteorología;; Prices and Markets Observatory of Andalusia, 2015.

FERAL has called on Spain’s central government to lower the price of desalinated water, connect the desalination plant at Carboneras to the most water-deprived areas and reopen the desalination plant at Bajo Almanzora, which was closed a year after its inauguration in 2011 because of technical problems. However, so far FERAL has not received a response from the government. It has not even managed to gain official recognition of the structural drought in Almeria, which would entitle local farmers to economic compensations. Góngora says the authorities reject farmers’ claims of structural water deficits and point to the availability of desalinated water in the province, even though the Almerian Levant has limited access to it. “Investments are needed to expand the distribution network across the province and these have not been made,” he says. Góngora also sees great potential in the use of treated wastewater for the irrigation of gardens, public parks and golf courses, which would free up fresh water for use in irrigation. “Some municipalities already do


Expansion of the surface area of greenhouses in the province of Almeria, 1985-2013 Source: Revolve Water based on Sanjuan, 2007; CAPMA, 2013.

Surface area (ha) 30,000 25,000 20,000 15,000 10,000 5,000 0








View of the town of Nijar with greenhouses in the distance, Almerian Levant, Spain, 2009. Source: ANE.

Total agricultural area in the Almerian Levant Source: Revolve Water based on Plan Hidrolรณgico, Demarcaciรณn Hidrogrรกfica De Las Cuencas Mediterrรกneas Andaluzas, 2015.

Total: 54,246 ha

19,152 ha 35,094 ha

Rain-fed (65%) Irrigated (35%)


Cost of water FNCA Vice-President Corominas disagrees with the need for more infrastructure. He believes desalination plants can make up for any deficits as farmers are currently only using 10% of the capacity of the two operating desalination plants to save money. “Obviously, farmers always want to get the cheapest resources. They know that water is a state-managed resource, so they complain and try to get the government to subsidize desalinated water as it did this year.” Water makes up just 2-3% of farmers’ total production costs, according to Corominas. Using desalinated water would boost that figure to 5%, but this is still very reasonable in his view. “Seeds make up 15-20% of total costs and farmers have accepted that, they don’t complain about paying for the best seeds,” he says. According to La Calle, people are not aware of how little they are paying for water because water prices are not transparent. “We don’t know what the state actually pays for the production of desalinated water,” he says. “We only know how much it is sold for. This information should be made public. Currently, the comparison between the respective cost of groundwater and desalinated water does not take the real cost of either type of water into account. Once the state adds the cost of groundwater over-exploitation onto the price of groundwater, desalinated water will no longer seem expensive.” The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment was not available to respond to Revolve Water’s questions for this article.

Limited resources Almeria’s farmers believe that public investment in infrastructure is the only longterm solution. In a statement published in July 2016, FERAL called on the authorities to take urgent action, demanding the completion of the ‘water highway’ that is to connect the Benínar and Almanzora Basins Dam reservoirs to the provincial distribution


Greenhouse in Almeria, Spain, 2014. Source: VdS Comunicacion.

network and guarantee the fair distribution of water, including desalinated water. These measures, they say, would allow the Almerian Levant and the Almanzora Basin to get their rightful share of water at an affordable price. Corominas is skeptical though. Instead of investing in infrastructure, he says the authorities should start restricting further expansion of agricultural areas. As for the farmers of Almeria, Corominas says they should accept that agriculture cannot expand any further. Instead, they should work on making their current production volume sustainable by paying for desalinated water. “This region has limited resources and water has to be brought in from outside,” he says. “Farmers cannot keep asking for more support, they should just use desalinated water. People in Almeria need to take a step back and realize that the current agricultural model has reached its limits.”

Available water resources in the Almerian Levant Source: Revolve Water based on Demarcacion Hidrográfica De Las Cuencas Mediterráneas Andaluzas, Proyecto De Plan Hidrológico 2015/2021.

16% 38,5% 33% 1%


Inter-basin transfer Groundwater Surface water Desalination Treated wastewater

Chap. 8

Shared Waters 60%

of the surface area of the European Union lies in a shared river basin


Governance of Europe's Waters The European Water Framework Directive is a successful – although imperfect – model for international management and the protection of water supplies and natural water environments. Writer: Peter Easton


The Rhône River. Source: Stéphane Leignier.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is one of the most advanced and comprehensive examples of environmental legislation from the European Union (EU). Its stated purpose is: “to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater”. The primary objectives are to improve water quality and to protect water quality and availability across

Europe. This has many additional benefits because of water’s critical role in the natural environment, for species protection, provision of safe and sufficient drinking water, economic development and for food production. The publication of the WFD in 2000 was influenced by the increasing internationalization and complexity of water

resources management and by a growing concern for environmental protection. The WFD represents a third wave in EU water policy development. The first wave, from the mid-1970s, was legislation to define drinking water standards and the need to protect water sources from pollution. The second wave, from the early 1990s, included increased controls on polluting emissions and activities (such as the Urban


Wastewater and Nitrates directives). The WFD creates a more integrated approach from both a physical and governance perspective, as encompassed in the river basin model. The most important characteristic of the WFD is that it establishes a governance structure for international and multistakeholder cooperation on the protection and sustainable use of water resources. As such, it provides a working example for other multinational regions of the world. River Basin Management Plans form the core of the WFD. The whole of the EU is separated into River Basin Districts defined on the basis of natural geography rather than political boundaries. Each major river basin is defined by the area from which all surface water drains to a single point of outflow, such as a river mouth. Boundaries are defined by

the topographical high (line of highest ground) between basins. A main river basin contains many smaller sub-basins of its tributary rivers and streams. The river basin concept requires cooperation between different political areas within an EU Member State. For transboundary basins (crossing international borders), the WFD requires member states to cooperate and coordinate on water management. For basins extending to non-EU countries, the WFD strongly encourages cooperation between states. Around 60% of the EU land area lies within an international river basin (Map 1). The WFD does not clearly define the mechanisms for international cooperation on transboundary river basins. Thus, it is for adjacent countries to agree a suitable mechanism. For example, for the RhĂ´ne Basin (extending from Switzerland into

France), periodic formal meetings are held between the relevant French and Swiss water management organizations to ensure cooperation on common objectives and actions. River basins are defined by surface water characteristics, but groundwater is also very important across Europe. For example, Denmark obtains nearly 100% of its water supplies from groundwater. Geological units containing groundwater, called aquifers, may extend over just a few tens of square meters, or over many hundreds of square kilometers. They can be as thin as 1-2 meters, or hundreds of meters thick. Surface water and groundwater bodies are often interconnected, with water flows between them, in either direction, at many locations. The boundaries of groundwater bodies often do not align with surface water boundaries, and many aquifers are transboundary (Map 2).

Specific WFD Objectives

To protect water-based ecosystems and waterdependent land-based ecosystems, with wetlands being particularly important

To promote sustainable water use and its longterm protection (for drinking water, industry and agriculture)

Most of these activities are carried out within the context of the defined river basins, and described in a River Basin Management Plan (RBMP). Such a plan must contain specific information, including: A description of the river basin characteristics: Geographical extent, topography, land use, impacts of human activity and a description of water use. Mapping of important features: Protected Areas, such as water bodies used for drinking water abstraction (surface and


To reduce or stop the discharge of pollutants to water

To help mitigate the effects of floods and droughts

groundwater), species protection areas (aquatic, birds and others); recreational and bathing waters. Monitoring programs: Establish and describe comprehensive programs to monitor water status (quality and quantity), to detect problems and to record improvements. Program of measures: Define actions and measures to achieve the WFD objectives, using legislation if appropriate. A key example is the need to register and license all (except minor) water abstractions.

Map 1. National and International River Basin Districts in Europe Source: Revolve Water after WRc plc on behalf of the European Commission, DG Environment, 2012.























n ia



r ia



ti c













MEDITERRANEAN SEA EU areas falling within an international river basin Non-EU areas within an international river basin shared with EU EU areas falling within a national river basin


Map 2. Groundwater bodies across Europe and around the Mediterranean Source: Revolve Water after BGR Hannover / UNESCO, Paris, 2008.







Groundwater resources (simplified boundaries) Major groundwater basins: water abundant, easy to identify and extract, but can be limited locally due to overuse.

Groundwater areas with complex geology (eg. fractured rock). Water generally abundant, but more difficult to identify productive zones. Areas with very limited groundwater, or small local aquifers.


The Water Framework Directive includes and defines other important terminology and principles: Stakeholder engagement: All interested parties, including citizens, should have an opportunity to be involved in the development of RBMPs. Environmental objectives: Member states must define the criteria that define a healthy water body (‘good status’) in terms of quality, levels and flow regime. The Programme of Measures must then include actions to protect or achieve ‘good status’ for all important water bodies. Priority substances and priority hazardous substances. The WFD established these concepts. A priority substance presents a significant risk to the aquatic environment and should be progressively reduced. A priority hazardous substance presents a higher risk and should be prohibited or phased out entirely. These groups include such substances as pesticides, biocides, metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and flame retardants. The lists are now, in fact, defined by a separate ‘Priority Substances’ Directive 2008/105/EC. There are 33 priority substances (or groups of substances) in total, of which 20 are ‘hazardous’. Recovery of costs of water services: Member States are required to aim to recover the costs of all water services from water users, including environmental and resource costs, and in accordance with the polluter-pays principle. This is so far probably the least successful component of the WFD. Control of pollution of groundwater: Specific additional measures are now defined in the ‘daughter’ Groundwater Directive 2006/118/EC.

with 2027 as a final deadline. The WFD is not a static directive: its progress and achievements are regularly reviewed.

essential economic or social service such as for navigation, port facilities, drinking water storage, land drainage, etc.

To date, the WFD has certainly not achieved all its aims at the intended speed. By 2015, just over half of intended water bodies reached good status compared to the target of 100%. Also, inadequate levels of monitoring meant that 40% had ‘unknown’ status. Other criticisms are that some member states are not trying hard enough, and ‘exemptions’ are applied too widely and without sufficient transparency. The WFD allows a member state to exempt a water body from stringent objectives when heavily modified by human activity and when restoration costs are disproportionately high and when the water body provides an

While it is possible to criticize the incomplete and slow pace of implementation in some geographies, the EU Water Framework Directive has established, overall, a relatively successful program for the management, protection and improvement of the water environment across a multicultural, multinational continent with highly varied climate and geography. Good progress has been and continues to be achieved. As such, it is a model that other regions of the world could learn from.

The Water Framework Directive establishes a governance structure for international and multistakeholder cooperation on the sustainable use of water resources.

Following the publication of the WFD in 2000, the first RBMPs were due in 2006, with a review and update required at six-year intervals. Initial environmental objectives were to be reached by 2015,


The Rhône: Managing a Mediterranean River Under the Water Framework Directive Like all great rivers, the Rhône brings risks and benefits. The Water Framework Directive provides a governance model to achieve a balance between benefit and control, while restoring and protecting the river’s natural characteristics and biodiversity.

The River Rhône discharges 54 km3/year of fresh water to the Mediterranean Sea, more than any other river, even the Nile (15 km3/year). Its basin is transnational: 92% in France and 8% in Switzerland. From its source at the Rhône Glacier, it covers a distance of 813 kilometers, flowing through Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) and passing through the cities of Geneva, Lyon and Avignon and the town of Arles, before branching either side of the Camargue, its original delta, and to the sea. Much of the river is heavily modified, for navigation and flood defenses. It supports 24 hydroelectric schemes, providing 13% of France’s renewable energy supply. It also provides cooling water to nuclear power plants. Populations along its route (16 million) depend on it for water supply, transport, to carry away (treated) wastewater and for leisure. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) provides an effective governance model to achieve a balance between human and environmental needs, and is applied through the comprehensive Rhône-Mediterranean River Basin Management Plan (RBMP). The Rhône-Mediterranean Basin extends from Champagne in the north (along the 473-kilometer Saône tributary), to the Mediterranean coast and the Spanish border (incorporating smaller coastal basins). Its water resources are relatively abundant, including glaciers, rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and aquifers. The land in the basin is 51% forest, 27% agriculture, 14% grassland, 6% urban and 2% aquatic. Nine percent of the 2,800 surface water bodies, are ‘heavily modified’ for essential benefits like navigation, flood defense, water supply and hydropower, and exempt from advanced restoration objectives. The RBMP also maps groundwater bodies, water quality, land use, pollution incidents and flood risk. Key environmental objectives, include: adapt to climate change; prevent pollution and further degradation of water bodies; provide water supply and wastewater services; preserve and restore natural ecology; and flood protection. Like most RBMPs, the Rhône is behind on achieving its objectives, but good progress is being made, with 2027 the target year to


The Donzère-Mondragon Dam and hydropower station in France, the most productive on the Rhône. Source: Wikimedia.

achieve 100%. The Programme of Measures lists thousands of actions, taking into account stakeholder engagement across all community levels – private and public. France engages with Switzerland on the Rhône Basin through the International Commission for the protection of Lake Geneva/ Léman (CIPEL,, and via periodic consultation. Governance is complicated by competing interests, such as energy, water supply, navigation, flood protection, and increasing demands for environmental restoration and protection. Sustainable river management means maintaining the optimal path between human and environmental interests – the aim of the WFD for all European rivers. Results remain imperfect, but important progress is being made. For the full version of this article, "The Rhone and the Power of its Waters", see Revolve Magazine, Issue 21, Fall 2016, pp. 70-80.

The Tigris River at Diyarbakir, Turkey, 2009. Source: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen.

Sharing the Contested Waters of the Middle East In 1988, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali said that the next war in the Middle East would be fought over water. What is the situation nearly 30 years on, as the region’s water resources have dropped to precariously low levels and population figures have soared? Writer: Mike Safadi

Shared water resources continue to form a source of contention and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. As the most water-scarce region in the world, the MENA region also has one of the highest population growth rates in the world and demand for water in the agricultural, domestic and industrial sector has risen beyond what can be sustainably supplied.

Yet despite its vital economic, social and political role, water is still undervalued and widely mismanaged by national governments and users throughout the region. Moreover, cooperation over shared water resources remains weak despite the fact that large parts of the MENA region are part of shared surface or groundwater basins.

“The main reason for the lack of cooperation is the political tension and adversarial relationships [between countries] throughout the region,” says Nadim Farajallah, a senior water expert at the American University of Beirut. He cites the example of Lebanon and Syria which are still at war with Israel and therefore cannot negotiate their just share of the


Jordan River. Similarly, he says Turkey has for a long time had a tense relationship with Iraq and Syria, especially over the Kurdish issue, which has hindered cooperation over the shared Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. While shared waters in Europe are managed through the EU Water Framework Directive (see pp. 68-73), in the MENA region they are governed by the principles of the 2004 Berlin Rules on Water Resources, which is based on the 1997 UN Convention on Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. This was in turn based on the 1966 Helsinki Treaty, also known as Helsinki Rules on the Uses of Waters of International Rivers.

source of conflict for decades as upstream countries contest Egypt’s right to the bulk of the river’s water based on a 1959 agreement that upstream countries say is outdated. The Euphrates and Tigris Basin (shared between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey). The sharing of the “Twin Rivers” remains a source of tension between upstream Turkey and downstream Syria and Iraq. The latter two have seen their water supply steadily decrease over the last 30 years – particularly since Turkey embarked on the ambitious Southeastern Anatolia Project or GAP, which centers on the construction of 22 dams and 19 hydropower plants along the two rivers.

resources in the region: the agreement between Chad, Egypt, Libya and Sudan that was signed in 2013 on the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer. In addition, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia agreed in 2002 to establish a consultation mechanism to jointly manage the North Western Sahara Aquifer System, though this is not a formal treaty. Other groundwater resources such as the Disi Aquifer that is shared between Jordan and Saudi Arabia are not subject to any agreements, partly due to the fact that the exact configuration of the aquifer and the amount of water it contains is not known.

These rules center on a number of key principles, including: The equitable and reasonable utilization of water The obligation not to cause any significant harm to a neighboring country, for example by withholding water, and The principles of cooperation, information exchange, notification and consultation and the peaceful settlement of disputes. Despite the importance of managing the region’s shared resources, there is not a single basin-wide treaty in place in the MENA region. Instead, there are waterrelated agreements and attempts at conflict management, but these are all bilateral or trilateral agreements that do not include all the countries that share the resource. Moreover, there are no comprehensive riverbasin management plans like in Europe, with increasingly visible consequences for the health of the region’s rivers. Three major river basins have formed the basis of disputes and growing tension over the past century: The Nile Basin (shared between Burundi, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo). Water sharing along the world’s longest river has been a


Despite its vital economic, social and political role, water is still undervalued and widely mismanaged by national governments and users throughout the region. The Jordan River Basin (shared between Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria). While this river is much smaller than the Nile or Euphrates-Tigris, it has been subject to controversy and even armed conflict since the creation of Israel in 1948. No comprehensive agreement exists to manage the river and its tributaries and as a result the flow volume of the Jordan River has been reduced to a tenth of its historic flow, which has in turn severely impacted the levels of the Dead Sea.

Mark Twain purportedly once said that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over”. However, with water scarcity increasing across the Middle East, countries would be better served by working together to face the region’s growing environmental challenges. Not only because there is already enough conflict in the region, but also because better regional management of natural resources will ultimately benefit all parties. This article was first published in An Nahar English on 16 August 2016.

With regards to groundwater, there is only one comprehensive agreement in place governing the sharing of

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Nautical chart of Mediterranean area, including Europe with British Isles and part of Scandinavia, Lisbon, Portugal, ca. 1600. Source: University of Berkeley, California.


‫رسم بياني بحري ملنطقة املتوسط‪ ،‬وتتضمن أوروبا مع الجزر البريطانية وجزء من الدول االسكندنافية‪ ،‬لشبونة‪ ،‬البرتغال‪ ،‬حوالي عام ‪ .1600‬املصدر‪ :‬جامعة بيركلي‪ ،‬كاليفورنيا‪.‬‬


Water Report 2016 _ English Version  

A special 160-page report by Revolve Water providing insights in water scarcity around the Mediterranean and Middle East with contributions...

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