Giving water a second life

Launch of a major project on water reuse at Cairo Water Week.

Launch of a major project on water reuse at Cairo Water Week 

By Michelle Ng, Princeton in Asia Intern, IWMI

Against a backdrop of worsening water stress across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and partner organizations in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan have embarked on a 4-year project aimed at expanding the safe reuse of treated water. The official launch of the project – dubbed ReWater MENA – took place on October 17 at Cairo Water Week.

MENA is the most water-stressed region in the world. The World Bank predicts that water availability per capita in the region – already low in comparison with global figures – will be halved by 2050. Decreasing water availability spells increasing danger for both the region’s social and economic growth and individuals’ health and livelihoods.

Launch of the project

Safe reuse of treated water is among the most promising solutions. For example, water that has been used in cities can be treated and safely reused in agriculture rather than letting it evaporate or run into the sea without any productive use. To give water a second life is to reduce water scarcity, increase resilience to climate change and improve people’s livelihoods. Some water treatment and reuse schemes are already in place, with much scope for expansion but also major obstacles to progress.

Funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and led by Javier Mateo-Sagasta, an IWMI research group leader, ReWater MENA will analyze and address economic, social and technical barriers to reuse in the region and promote safe reuse practices that improve food safety, health and livelihoods. By 2021, the project will produce: 1) a sourcebook with case studies and guidelines about the reuse of treated water, 2) local water reuse plans for six sites in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, 3) national strategies for more and safer water reuse in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon and 4) stronger national capacity for safe water reuse.

“The concept of wastewater treatment and reuse in agriculture is not new in the region,” explains Mateo-Sagasta. “It always looked to be a promising solution to address water scarcity, but it never took off at the expected rate. Our project will examine why and will seek to break barriers for more and safer water reuse in MENA.”

Prior to the launch, the project’s inception workshop, held on September 25-27, brought together 30 IWMI researchers and project partners to lay the groundwork for their collaboration in a flurry of activity and blizzard of colored paper.

The workshop opened with welcoming addresses by Dr. Ahmed Moawad of the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, Dr. Mahmoud Abu-Zeid of the Arab Water Council and Dr. Ragab Abd Elazeem of the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation.

Workshop participants created a timeline of the project’s milestones at the regional, national and local scales. This not only clarified each organization’s role within the project but also highlighted the connections between them, so partners could see how to best support one another.

Project partners began to explore how principles of participation could be applied to their activities, and at which critical points. At the local and national levels, partners resolved to facilitate the participation of all stakeholders, from water users to donors to policymakers.

With the aim of mainstreaming gender in the project, workshop participants worked in groups to identify practical steps to achieve this end, such as the collection of gender-disaggregated data, gender-sensitive reuse plans and support for female leadership in training workshops. In addition, the project is developing a communication strategy designed to help reframe public perceptions of water reuse, as well as the corresponding incentives, norms, policies and organizations that determine its implementation.

As the shadow of water scarcity lengthens, the importance of water reuse cannot be understated. Wastewater is the only water resource that will grow in the future, but whether economies and society can make a safe and productive use of this untapped resource depends on the success of projects like ReWater MENA.

“The project can give new life,” says Amgad Elmahdi, head of IWMI’s MENA office. “If every drop of water is collected and treated for use, this can close the gap between supply and demand.”

Organizations taking part in the inception workshop were the Arab Countries Water Utilities Association, Arab Water Council, Centre for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, Lisode, the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan, Jordan’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation and Egypt’s Ministry of the Environment.

For more information, visit or contact Gihan Bayoumi, project manager (, or Javier Mateo-Sagasta, research group leader ( Read the full-length story here.

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