IWMI in Middle East
and North Africa

Countries in the MENA region increasingly recognize the value of an integrated approach to land and water management. Some have approved national water resource plans and others have developed water policy frameworks and strategies. International and regional undertakings, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Arab Strategy for Water Security, African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the Africa Water Vision for 2025, commit countries to supporting the sustainable and equitable use of water resources for socioeconomic development. In the MENA region, water scarcity is exacerbated by the occurrence of climate change-induced extreme weather events (such as droughts and floods), leading to loss of biodiversity and land degradation. There is an urgent need for a systemic integrated approach to solve the water crisis, especially with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic. IWMI’s regional office for Middle East and North Africa, based in Cairo, Egypt (with suboffices in Lebanon and Jordan), works closely with government and nongovernment partners, including end users (smallholder farmers), nongovernmental organizations and innovators, to find evidence-based land and water management solutions that respond to regional challenges and national priorities. As a research-for-development organization, our goal is to empower local people to solve their development challenges. IWMI’s strategy is centered around three strategic programs – Water, Food and Ecosystems; Water, Climate Change and Resilience; and Water, Growth and Inclusion – each supported by high-quality science and digital innovation. IWMI is also delivering on the CGIAR strategy and investment plan under system transformation.Dr. Amgad Elmahdi, IWMI Representative, MENA Region

  • Woman washing wheat (wafaa)
    Woman washing wheat (wafaa)
  • Man holding sugar beet seeds in Teba before planting
    Man holding sugar beet seeds in Teba before planting
  • Man sprays nitrate on apple plants
    Man sprays nitrate on apple plants
  • Large modern automatic sprinkler for potato crops
    Large modern automatic sprinkler for potato crops
  • Ciaro,  Giza  Pyrimids Old and  water tank
    Ciaro, Giza Pyrimids Old and water tank
  • Man adjusting newly introduced modern sprinklers systems on a farm
    Man adjusting newly introduced modern sprinklers systems on a farm
  • Man feeding a goat
    Man feeding a goat
  • A Shepard and his flock of sheep
    A Shepard and his flock of sheep
  • Women selling fish at the market
    Women selling fish at the market
  • Two men look at an improved small irrigation chanal (marrwa)
    Two men look at an improved small irrigation chanal (marrwa)
BackgroundWater, Food and EcosystemsWater, Climate Change and ResilienceWater, Growth and Inclusion
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.

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Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, Health & Food Security Climate Adaptation and Mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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