Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the most water-scarce region in the world, with only about 1% of global freshwater resources. Increasing demand for water from cities, industries and agriculture has pushed the already hot and dry countries of the region into extreme stress. The region is challenged by environmental and land degradation, rapid urbanization and persistent food insecurity, compounded by conflict, civil unrest, and complex water management and governance. More than 60% of the region’s population
has little or no access to potable water.
In the MENA region, it is expected that the occurrence of extreme weather events (such as floods and droughts) will increase as a result of climate change. Increased flooding contaminates water sources and destroys sanitation facilities, while droughts amplify water scarcity with serious impacts on health and agricultural productivity. Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Approximately 85% of the region’s water is used for irrigated agriculture, even though this might vary locally. Still, agriculture is the largest water user and polluter. However, due to highly inefficient use, more than half of the irrigation water is lost. Countries extract groundwater faster than it is replenished. Also, untreated wastewater is discharged into the environment, causing health hazards and wastage of water. In addition, approximately 82% of the region’s wastewater is neither used nor treated and there is room for improvement, and this could help to close the gap between water supply and demand. About 80% of surface water resources and 66% of total water resources in the region are shared between countries, leading to disputes over water resources. By 2050, two-thirds of countries in the MENA region could have less than 200 cubic meters (m3) of renewable water resources per capita per year (the annual average in other geographical regions is about 7,000 m3 per capita).
Increasing water-use efficiency and agricultural productivity is an important regional goal. IWMI works to enhance the effectiveness of irrigation systems and introduce innovations for sustainable agricultural intensification, while increasing water productivity. In Egypt and Lebanon, for example, we introduced web- and phone-based tools
to improve the timing of water applications in irrigation schemes and support the better planning of cropping cycles according to soil type, irrigation system, crop system, etc. With support from Germany and the Netherlands, we aim to improve agricultural productivity using less water and energy, for example, through shifting cropping patterns, improving irrigation water-use efficiency, and introducing mobile applications (IRrigation Water Information [IRWI
] in Egypt and LARI-LEB
in Lebanon) that advise farmers on water use and crop health. In Jordan, IWMI is designing, implementing and promoting water-saving technologies
for agriculture, while strengthening the capacity of national institutions to monitor water savings through on-farm water accounting. In partnership with the Nile Basin Initiative, we are helping countries in the Nile River Basin to test water-saving scenarios, and develop policies and approaches for achieving their irrigation expansion goals. Another project is finding solutions and mitigation measures for the region’s groundwater crisis, focusing on the crucial area of governance of the resource. Also, in partnership with and support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Dutch government, IWMI is implementing the MENA Regional Innovation Hub for the Water and Energy for Food
(WE4F) Grand Challenge. The aim of WE4F is to support innovators and small and medium-sized enterprises with scaling up/out their products by providing an enabling environment, technical assistance, access to finance and investment readiness packages.
Despite the increasing frequency and severity of droughts, few countries have management or mitigation plans, and rely on expensive and often ineffective crisis management responses. With support from USAID, IWMI is working to improve drought management and enhance resilience to climate change in Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco. Based on satellite data and ground observations, we investigate the factors that contribute to drought-related stress. IWMI helps to strengthen the capacities of stakeholders to develop and use drought monitoring and early warning systems
with seasonal forecasting. We work with technicians and climate change experts to carry out participatory risk planning, and assist policy makers with co-designing strategies and actions for managing and mitigating drought. Such actions might involve, for example, reallocating water or changing cropping systems to include more drought-tolerant crops. We also provide local communities with guidance and training on climate-resilient agricultural practices and locally-led development. Through IWMI’s work, the aim is to achieve more stable rural livelihoods, reduced migration from rural areas during drought episodes, and drought management and mitigation strategies that fully reflect national and local needs and priorities. In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO
), IWMI’s MENA office delivered a new generation of policies and investments
in agricultural water in the Arab region. The region has a unique opportunity to harness emerging technological innovations and financing mechanisms to address water-related challenges.
Wastewater is an untapped resource in the MENA region. Approximately 82% of the region’s wastewater is neither used nor treated. According to IWMI’s research, wastewater could provide irrigation water and fertilizer for more than 2 million hectares of agricultural land. IWMI leads a regional project to expand the safe reuse of treated wastewater in agriculture
(ReWater MENA project). Funded by Sida, the project addresses obstacles to wastewater reuse, such as cultural barriers, institutional fragmentation, insufficient regulation and a lack of business models for cost recovery. The project also promotes safe practices for wastewater treatment and use. We are working with six communities in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon to formulate local plans for wastewater reuse, and to design business models that will be attractive to the private sector. The local plans and lessons learned during project implementation will feed into the development of national policies and plans and, eventually, a strategy for wastewater reuse for the entire MENA region. The project emphasizes the importance of capacity building and networking among stakeholders, as well as the role of communications to subvert negative attitudes and cultural constraints around wastewater reuse. Focusing on the MENA region, and specifically on Egypt, in many technically-oriented projects, gender – while important – remains peripheral to technical innovations. With support from CGIAR, IWMI’s MENA office, in partnership with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), is mapping and documenting the gendered dynamics of wastewater reuse in crop and livestock agri-food systems and value chains, which have been exposed as an outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic
Water accounting and auditing tools examine the status and trends in water supply, demand, accessibility and use, including water governance. This information is critical for planning sustainable water management interventions. Collective and integrated approaches to sharing and managing water resources are critical for supporting development and reducing the risk of conflict. However, many countries do not have adequate knowledge on how much water is being used and how much is available for future use, and this makes approaches to water management challenging. IWMI is working with eight countries in the region to better understand their water situation. In collaboration with FAO, IWMI aims to build the capacity of countries to design and implement tailor-made water accounting systems through a process that brings together stakeholders in the water sector to share reference data, and water governance strategies and plans. In the long term, the countries will aim to develop regional approaches to water management that maximize economic and social progress without compromising ecosystem services. In addition, in partnership with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), IWMI is analyzing the impact pathways of sustainable agricultural intensification options across scales through examining and identifying water and land management solutions to support the transformation of food systems. This work will include the setting up of integrated assessment models (Community Water Model [CWatM]) for selected river basins in the world to analyze impact pathways of changes in resource availability and management of water systems, with an emphasis on agricultural, water and land management solutions across scales.