Water Crisis in Refugee Camps

The refugee crisis has hit record heights in recent years. According to the UNHCR, as of the end of 2014 there were approximately 60 million refugees worldwide. This is a significant increase from a decade ago, when there were 37.5 million refugees worldwide. Syria’s ongoing civil war, with 7.6 million people displaced internally, and 3.88 million people displaced into the surrounding region and beyond as refugees, has alone made the Middle East the world’s largest producer and host of forced displacement. Adding to the high totals from Syria are displacements of at least 2.6 million people in Iraq and 309,000 in Libya. This significant increase in refuges has only escalated the need for specific water quality and quantity regulations for refugee camps.

Water Shortages in Refugee Camps

A human being can survive a week without food but cannot live more than three days without water. While the abundance of water in our daily lives means most of us take it for granted, the reality on the ground is that millions around the world suffer from lack of access to water – many of which are refugees. Refugee camps often do not have enough water to supply all refugees residing within them.

Majority of refugee camps in the world are unable to provide the recommended daily water minimum of 20 liters water per person per day. In addition, many countries holding refugees are water-scarce. Jordan, for example, is one of the top 10 water-scarce countries in the world and holds more than 1.4 million refugees (mainly from Syria). This has caused tremendous strain on the country’s very low water resources, making it extremely difficult to supply sufficient water for refugees. However the biggest reason behind lack of water at refugee camps across the globe is the lack of water infrastructure.

The lack of water infrastructure makes it very difficult to transport sufficient amounts of water, and provide proper sanitation to all residents of a refugee camp. In fact, a recent study by the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation showed that the country’s sewerage network are being overflowed and are subsequently leaking due to the increase in the number of refugees. Furthermore, studies have shown that water borne diseases are more persistently present when the minimum water requirement (20 liters per person) is not met simply because there is less water for sanitation and cleaning purposes. That is why it is absolutely vital that governments ensure that recommended daily water minimum is provided to all refugees.

Water Quality Issues

Poor quality of water in refugee camps has created a “crisis within a crisis” causing outbreaks of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. This is due to misuse of the water quality regulations present and the lack of time available to implement these regulations on water quality in refugee camps.

In refugee camps, surface water is usually treated in three steps:

  • Sedimentation: The water is stored for a few hours so that the biggest particles can settle to the bottom.
  • Filtration: It is then necessary to get rid of the small, invisible particles by filtering the water through sand filters.
  • Chlorination: The last stage, chlorine solution is added to the water which kills all the microorganisms.

Groundwater, on the other hand, is generally subjected to chlorination. These techniques seem to be sufficient to provide an acceptable quality of drinking water. However, according to Syed Imran Ali, an environmental engineer affiliated with UC Berkley, who worked extensively in refugee camps across Africa and the Middle East, the amount of chlorine used to purify the water is not sufficient enough to completely eliminate all the bacteria in the water used in refugee camps. The reason being that the current emergency guidelines on free residual chlorine concentrations (0.2 – 0.5 mg/L in general, 0.8 – 1.0 mg/L during outbreaks) are based on conventions from municipal piped-water systems (i.e. used in cities) rather than refugee camps.

A study conducted by Ali in South Sudan, where there was an outbreak of hepatitis E and other waterborne diseases, showed that the decay of chlorine added to drinking water is much faster in refugee camps than it is under urban conditions, and within 10-12 hours of household storage and use the chlorine all but disappears. Within a refugee camp, water is distributed from one point within the camp, carried to homes via containers and then stored and used over 24 hours or more. Therefore, due to all these different factors the guidelines used may not be sufficient enough to maintain an acceptable quality of water in all refugee camp settings.

Refugee camps must have specific guidelines created to deal with the water quality provided within the camps to prevent outbreaks and improve livelihood within the refugee camps. In his study in South Sudan, Ali recommended that guidelines for chlorination control to be revised to 1.0 mg/l in the camps there rather than 0.2 – 0.5 mg/l. This would provide protection of at least 0.2 mg/l for up to 10 hours post-distribution, which is consistent with the recommended concentration for point-of-use water chlorination in emergency and nonemergency settings and is within the WHO limits generally considered to be acceptable to users (2.0 mg/L).

Time to Act

With the refugee situation worsening and no permanent solution to this crisis in sight, the minimum that can be done is to provide an adequate amount and quality of water for these refugees. The current purification techniques are not efficient enough to protect refugees from all harmful bacteria. There are a variety of ways that water can be provided.

Wastewater treatment, rain harvesting, humidity harvesting, among others are sustainable sources of water. However, providing water is not sufficient; water quality is just as important as water quantity. There must be water quality regulations specific to refugee camps that take into account the different aspects that might affect the quality of water (transport, storage, temperature). If things are to improve, it is absolutely vital for concerned governments, aid agencies, NGOs, volunteers etc. to band together and create water quality guidelines specific to refugee camps and that are capable to withstand different aspects within these camps. Without these guidelines, the condition of refugees will continue to worsen, and the refugees will continue to flee to Western countries in search of better living conditions.

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Water Conservation in Islamic Teachings

water-conservation-islamWater occupies a pivotal role in Islam, and is recognized by Muslims as a blessing that “gives and sustains life, and purifies humankind and the earth”. The Arabic word for water, ma’a, is referenced exactly 63 times throughout the Holy Qur’an and is a recurring topic in many of the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).

Water is not only praised for its life providing and sustaining properties, but it is essential in the daily life of a Muslim. A follower is required to complete ablution prior to the performance of the prayer, five times a day. This ritual cleansing before the prayer signifies the attainment of cleanliness and purification of the body and soul. According to a Hadith narrated by Hazrat Abu Huraira, no prayer is accepted without ablution (Sahih al Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 4).

The Holy Quran and the Hadith teach its followers principles of social justice and equity which extends into the practice of preserving earth’s natural resources, particularly water conservation. According to Islam, water is community resource and is a right for all humankind. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) highlights this in the following hadith:

“Muslims have common share in three things: grass [pasture], water, and fire [fuel]” ( Musnad Vol. 2, Book 22 ).

The Holy Qur’an has set down the foundations of water conservation and demand management by making it known to humankind that earth’s water resources are finite in verse 23:18 of Surah Al Mu’minun (The Believers):

 “And We sent down from the sky water (rain) in (due) measure, and We gave it lodging in the earth, and verily, We are Able to take it away.”

Furthermore, God has instructed humankind not to be wasteful in the following verse: “O Children of Adam! Eat and drink but waste not by excess, for God loveth not the wasters” ( Surah al Araaf, The Heights 7:31 ).

Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) exemplifies the “logical approach to sustainable water use” through the manner in which he performed the ritual ablution. The principle of water conservation is beautifully illustrated by the rule which says that while making ablutions (wudu) we should be abstemious in the use of water even if we have a river at our disposal. : “Do not waste even if performing ablution on the bank of a fast flowing large river” (Al Thirmidhi). The Prophet himself would perform ablution with just one mudd of water (equivalent to 2/3 of a liter), and take bath with one saa’ of water (equivalent to around 3 liters in modern volume measurements).

As per Islamic law (shariah), there is a responsibility placed on upstream farms to be considerate of downstream users. A farm beside a stream is forbidden to monopolize its water. After withholding a reasonable amount of water for his crops, the farmer must release the rest to those downstream. Furthermore, if the water is insufficient for all of the farms along the stream, the needs of the older farms are to be satisfied before the newer farm is permitted to irrigate. This reflects the emphasis placed by Islam on sustainable utilization of water.


  1. Naser I. Faruqui, Asit K. Biswas, and Murad J. Bino. (2001) Water Management in Islam, UN University Press <available on http://www.idrc.ca/EN/Resources/Publications/openebooks/924-0/index.html>
  2.  Abumoghli, I. (2015), Islamic Principles on Sustainable Development, EcoMENA <available on http://www.ecomena.org/islam-sustainable-development/>
  3. Zafar, S. (2016) Environment in Islamic Teachings, Cleantech Solutions <available on http://www.cleantechloops.com/islam-environment/>

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Litani River: A Sorry State of the Affairs

litani-river-pollutionThe Litani River, the largest river in Lebanon, faces a multitude of environmental problems. Due to decades of neglect and mismanagement, the river has become heavily polluted. The main contributors to the degradation of Litani River are industrial pollution from factories and slaughterhouse, untreated sewage, chemicals from agriculture runoffs and disposal of municipal waste. The pollution has reached such a level where it is obvious to the human eye.

The Litani River is a source of income for many families who use it in summer for many recreational activities; moreover, it is used for irrigation. On the banks of the Litani River, many hydroelectric and electric projects have been set up. The Lebanese government had made a dam that is linked to a hydroelectric power plant of 185MW capacity. The dam had been responsible for the formation of Qaraoun Lake; a polluted man-made lake.

In 2016, the World Bank approved a loan of $55 million to address the wastewater and agricultural runoff along the lake and the river.  The problem of the fund is that they did not give a bigger investment to agricultural runoff. The Litani provides irrigation to 80% of agriculture lands in Bekaa and 20% in south Lebanon. Many agricultural projects were implemented on the basin as Joun project and Al-Qasmieh project. Farmers are using the fertilizers and pesticides that are polluting the river with chemicals. On the other hand, farmers are impacted by the water they are using to irrigate their crops since it is polluted with chemicals and full of soil, gravel and sand.

Serious and concerted efforts are urgently required to restore Litani River to its lost glory

Serious and concerted efforts are urgently required to restore Litani River to its lost glory

Two years ago, the Lebanese government announced $730 million project to clean up the pollution of Qaraoun Lake and Litani river. The seven years ambitious plan is divided into four components: $14 million will go to solid waste treatment, $2.6 million for agricultural pollution, $2.6 million for industrial pollution and $712 million for sewage treatment.

The Way Forward

In order to save the Litani River, here are few steps that must be taken urgently:

  • Establish a sewage system especially for the new refugee camps near the river basin.
  • Promote measures to tackle the industrial pollution.
  • Stop industrial effluents from polluting the River.
  • Establish waste treatment plants in the area.
  • Hire staff to operate existing wastewater treatment plants. For example Zahle plant that lacks staff to operate.
  • Build water treatment facilities for the local communities.

Small steps can effectively reduce the pollution and restore the lost glory of the Litani River.  Thousands of people volunteered to clean up the Litani River on the national day of the Litani River. This took place after there was a huge online campaign titled “together to save the Litani River” initiated by activists. Thousands of people engaged online and then onsite to fish out rubbish; bulldozers removed accumulated sands and mud in the river from nearby sand quarries.

أثار التغير المناخي على مصادر المياه

النقص الحاصل في كمية المياه العذبة في الشرق الأوسط و شمال إفريقيا يمثل خطرا حقيقيا في النمو الإقتصادي , التلاصق الإجتماعي , السلام و الإستقرار السياسي . علاوة على ذلك , إستهلاك المياه العذبة في هذه الأيام لم يعد يقتصر على توافرها الحالي و المستقبلي و إنما تعتمد على إحتياجات الإستهلاكية التنافسية قطاعياً و جغرافياً .

و ما يزيد الأمر سوءا , أن هذا الوضع الرهيب بدأ بالتفاقم بسبب التغيرالمناخي السريع . التغير المناخي يؤثر على مصادر المياه من خلال تأثيره العميق على كل من كمية المياه , التوقيت  , التغير , الشكل و شدة الترسيب .

منطقة الشرق الأوسط و شمال أفريقيا تحديداً هي الأكثر عرضة لأثار التغير المناخي التخريبية و ذلك بسبب أن دول هذه المنطقة بلا شك هي من الدول التي تعاني  شدة في النقص للمياه عالمياً , حيث أن نصيب الفرد للمياه أقل من المعدل الطبيعي .

بالإضافة إلى أن دول الشرق الأوسط و شمال إفريقيا تعاني من وضع حرج بالنسبة لإنخفاض تساقط الأمطار و تفاوت شديد في هطولها مكانيا و زمانيا , غير أن لبنان هي الأفضل حالا من ناحية الهطول , و قطر هي الأسوء في تغير نسب هطولها .

كيف يؤثر التغير المناخي على مصادر المياه

درجات الحرارة المرتفعة تزيد من نسبة تبخر للمياه الموجودة في الجو , مما يؤدي إلى زيادة قدرة الجو على حمل المياه .هذا يسبب حدوث مواسم جريان مبكرة و قصيرة و زيادة في المواسم الجافة . كما أن زيادة التبخر يقلل من مستويات الرطوبة في التربة , والتي بدورها تزيد من نسبة تكرار الجفاف الحاصل في المنطقة , و زيادة أرجحية حدوث التصحر . بالإضافة إلى نقصان نسبة الرطوبة في التربة أيضا و حدوث إنخفاض في نسب الترشيح مما يؤدي إلى إنخفاض معدل التغذية في المياه الجوفية .

التغير المناخي أيضا يؤثر على مستويات البحر . إن إرتفاع مستويات سطح البحر قد يؤدي إلى إنخفاض في طبيعة و وفرة المياه في المناطق الساحلية . إرتفاع مستويات سطح البحر قد يؤثر سلبا على نوعية المياه الجوفية من خلال تسرب المياه المالحة إليها . بالإضافة إلى ذلك إرتفاع مستوى سطح البحر يؤثر على دورة المياه تحت سطح المناطق الساحلية  مما يؤدي إلى إنخفاض تدفق المياه العذبة و قلة نسبة المساحات المائية العذبة . و من ناحية أخرى فإن إرتفاع مستويات سطح البحر يزيد من مستوى المياه في خزانات المياه الجوفية , مما قد يزيد نسبة الجريان السطحي لكن على حساب تغذية الخزانات الجوفية . إنه من المتوقع أن يرتفع مستوى سطح البحر ما يقارب 19 إلى 58 سنتيمترا في نهاية القرن الواحد و العشرين . و الذي بدوره سيؤثر على 12 دولة من أصل 19 دولة من دول الشرق الأوسط و شمال أفريقيا . إرتفاع سطح البحر على هذا النحو من المحتمل أن يكلف جمهورية مصر , حيث أنها من الدول الرئيسية التي ستتأثر بهكذا إرتفاع , 10 % من سكان دلتا نهر النيل مشمولين مع الأراضي الزراعية و الأنتاج .

هذه الأنخفاضات في مصادر المياه ستؤدي إلى عواقب اجتماعية واقتصادية مكلفة . المياه المستعملة في تصنيع الأغذية , إنتاج الطاقة , الصناعات التحويلية , الملاحة , استخدام الأراضي , و إعادة التصنيع . و بناءا على ذلك فإنه من الصعب أبقاء توازن بين جميع إحتياجات الإنسان بإستمرار حصول نقص في مصادر المياه . على سبيل المثال , إنه لمن المتوقع في حال زيادة درجات الحرارة حدوث زيادة في إحتياج المحاصيل للمياه  بحدود من 5 إلى 8 % بحلول عام 2070 , و الذي يجب أن يعوض عن طريق إستخدام المياه المستعملة في تصنيع الطاقة , و بالتالي يهدد أمكانية إنتاج الطاقة . كما أن النقص في مصادر المياه يشارك في زيادة أسعار المياه , من خلال فواتير المياه الشهرية أو خدمات توصيل المياه مرة واحدة شهريا للمنازل و الشركات .

و أخيرا , إن النقص المتزايد في مصادر المياه سيؤدي إلى لجوء الحكومات لإتباع مشاريع إقتصادية شديدة مثل محطات تحلية المياه , الأنابيب ( مشروع نقل مياه البحر الأحمر – البحر الميت ) و السدود . هذه المشاريع ليست الوحيدة الشديدة إقتصاديا بل أيضا غير مستادمة بيئا و سوف تساهم بالنهاية إلى إحتباس حراري و تغير مناخي ( انبعاثات غاز ثاني أكسيد الكربون من محطات التحلية ) .

نقاط مفتاحية سريعة

الإحترار العالمي لا ينكر , و الزيادة في إنبعاثات الغازات الدفيئة سيكون له أثر عميق مناخيا , بيئيا , و إجتماعيا بشكل عالمي , خصوصا في مجال مصادر المياه . هذا من أكبر إهتمامات دول الشرق الأوسط و شمال إفريقيا , حيث أن هناك تزايد في تسجيلات الجفاف المتكررة , كما أن توافر المياه من المتوقع أن ينقص بنسبة 30-50% بحلول عام 2050 .

و من الواجب على دول المنطقة أن تقلل من إنبعاثات غازاتها الدفيئة و تحويل مصادر طاقتها إلى الطاقة النظيفة . و ينبغي على هذه المناطق عمل جهود عاجلة و طويلة الأمد للحفاظ على الماء عن طريق تقليل  المتطلبات و الإستهلاك , من خلال تحسين البنى التحتية للمياه بهدف التقليل من التسريب , تحسين تقنيات إدارة المياه ,  و إزالة دعم المياه .

كل فرد يعتمد على شيئ موثوق, دعم نظيف للمياه العذبة للحفاظ على حياته . المياه شيء أساسي لكل جزء في الحياة من الطاقة لإنتاج الغذاء و حتى الحفاظ على النظام البيئي . الإجراءات يجب أن لا تكون فقط لإيقاف النقص , لكن أيضا لتحسين الوضع , لأنه بدون ماء , ليس هناك حياة .  


علا محمود المشاقبة , حاصلة على درجة البكالوريوس تخصص " إدارة الأراضي و المياه " من الجامعة الهاشمية – الأردن بتقدير جيد جدا , عملت تطوعيا كعضو إداري مع مجموعة " مخضّرو الأردن  JO Greeners – الجيل الأخضر حاليا -"   منذ ثلاثة سنوات, و متطوعة أيضا مع منظمة  EcoMENA  . موهبة الكتابة شيء أساسي في حياتي و قمت بتوظيفها في  خدمة القضايا البيئية


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A Message on World Water Day

Water is the major driving force of sustainable development. World Water Day aims to increase people’s awareness of the water’s importance in all aspects of life and focus on its judicious use and sustainable management. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March as the first World Water Day (WWD). Since then the WWD is celebrated to draw wider public attention to the importance of water for mankind. Globally the day is celebrated to focus attention on water conservation, carrying out appropriate concrete measures and implementing the UN recommendations at individual, local and national level. WWD is a global day creating awareness on the subject and urging people to take appropriate actions for its conservation and avoiding its misuse.

The World Water Day 2016 theme is ‘Better water, better jobs’ which aims to highlight how water can create paid and decent work whiile contributing to a greener economy and sustainable development. Water is essential to our survival, it is essential to human health. The human body can last weeks without food, but only days without water. Water is at the core of sustainable development. From food and energy security to human and environmental health, water contributes to improvements in social well-being and growth, affecting the livelihoods of billions.

Globally, 768 million people lack access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion people have no improved sanitation. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 7.5 liters per capita per day to meet domestic demands. Around 20 liters per capita per day will take care of basic hygiene needs and basic food hygiene. Poor water quality and absence of appropriate sanitation facilities are detrimental to public health and more than 5 million people die each year due to polluted drinking water. The WHO estimates that providing safe water could prevent 1.4 million child deaths from diarrhea each year.

This year, the UN is collectively bringing its focus to the water-sustainability development nexus, particularly addressing non access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient food and energy services. It is ironical that a large number of people in the Middle East are still consuming excess water and are ignorant or careless about the looming water shortages. With the threat of dwindling water and energy resources becoming increasingly real and with each passing day, it is important for every person in the Arab world to contribute to the conservation of water.

Celebrating World Water Day means that we need to conserve and reduce our water use as excessive water use will generate more waste water which is also to be collected, transported, treated and disposed. We need to understand that 60% of total household water supply is used inside the home in three main areas: the kitchen, the bathroom and the laundry room.

Saving water is easy for everyone to do. Let us try to implement the following basic water conservation tips at home:

  • Turn off the water tap while tooth brushing, shaving and face washing.
  • Clean vegetables, fruits, dishes and utensils with minimum water. Don’t let the water run while rinsing.
  • Run washing machine and dishwasher only when they are full.
  • Using water-efficient showerheads and taking shorter showers.
  • Learning to turn off faucets tightly after each use.
  • Repair and fix any water leaks.

The World Water Day implores us to respect our water resources. Act Now and Do Your Part.

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Water-Energy Nexus in the UAE

desalination-plant-uaeThe United Arab Emirates has been witnessing fast-paced economic growth as well as rapid increase in population during the last couple of decades. As a result, the need for water and energy has increased significantly and this trend is expected to continue into the future. Water in the UAE comes from four different sources – ground water (44%), desalinated seawater (42%), treated wastewater (14%), and surface water (1%). Most of the ground water and treated seawater are used for irrigation and landscaping while desalinated seawater is used for drinking, household, industrial, and commercial purposes.

Water consumption per capita in UAE is more than 500 liters per day which is amongst the highest worldwide. UAE is ranked 163 among 172 countries in the world in total renewable water resources (Wikipedia 2016). In short, UAE is expected to be amongst extremely water stressed countries in 2040 (World Resources Institute 2015).

To address this, utilities have built massive desalination plants and pipelines to treat and pump seawater over large distances. Desalinated water consumption in UAE increased from 199,230 MIG in 2003 to 373,483 MIG in 2013 (Ministry of Energy 2014). In 2008, 89% of desalinated seawater in UAE came from thermal desalination plants and most of them are installed at combined cycle electric power plants (Lattemann and Höpner 2008). Desalination is energy as well capital intensive process. Pumping desalinated seawater from desalination plants to cities is also an expensive proposition.

Electrical energy consumption in UAE doubled from 48,155 GWh in 2003 to 105,363 GWh in 2013. In 2013, UAE has the highest 10th electricity use per capita in the world (The World Bank 2014). Electricity in UAE is generated by fossil-fuel-fired thermoelectric power plants. Generation of electricity in that way requires large volumes of water to mine fossil fuels, to remove pollutants from power plants exhaust, generate steam that turns steam turbines, to cool down power plants, and flushing away residue after burning fossil fuels (IEEE Spectrum 2011).

Water production in UAE requires energy and energy generation in UAE requires water. So there is strong link between water and energy in UAE. The link between water and electricity production further complicates the water-energy supply in UAE, especially in winter when energy load drops significantly thus forcing power plants to work far from optimum points.

Several projects have been carried out in UAE to reduce water and energy intensity. Currently, the use of non-traditional water resources is limited to minor water reuse/recycling in UAE. Masdar Institute launched recently a new program to develop desalination technology that is powered by renewable energy (Masdar 2013).

Water-energy nexus in the UAE should be resilient and adaptive

Water-energy nexus in the UAE should be resilient and adaptive

Despite their interdependencies, water-energy nexus is not given due importance in the UAE. Currently, water systems in the UAE are vulnerable and not resilient to even small water and energy shortages. To solve this problem, water-energy nexus in UAE should be resilient and adaptive. Thus, there is a need to develop and demonstrate a new methodology that addresses water and energy use and supply in UAE cities in an integrated way leading to synergistic type benefits and improved water and energy security. Modern, cutting-edge science and engineering methods should be used with the goal of developing a robust framework that can identifying suitable future development scenarios, selection criteria and intervention options resulting in more reliable, resilient and sustainable water and energy use.


IEEE Spectrum. How Much Water Does It Take to Make Electricity? 2011. http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/environment/how-much-water-does-it-take-to-make-electricity (accessed December 6, 2016).

Lattemann, Sabine, and Thomas Höpner. "Environmental impact and impact assessment of seawater desalination." Desalination, 2008: 1-15.

Masdar. Renewable Energy Desalination Pilot Programme. 2013. http://www.masdar.ae/en/energy/detail/renewable-energy-water-desalination-in-uae (accessed 12 7, 2016).

Ministry of Energy. Statistical Data for Electricity and Water 2013-2014. Abu Dhabi, 2014.

The World Bank. n.d. http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-arab-emirates?view=chart (accessed December 6, 2016).

The World Bank. Electric power consumption (kWh per capita). 2014. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.ELEC.KH.PC?year_high_desc=true (accessed December 7, 2016).

Wikipedia. List of countries by total renewable water resources. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_total_renewable_water_resources (accessed December 6, 2016).

World Resources Institute. Ranking the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries in 2040. 2015. http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/08/ranking-world’s-most-water-stressed-countries-2040 (accessed December 6, 2016).

Egypt’s Water Crisis and Degeneration of Nile

pollution-nileEgypt is struggling to cope with water shortages and food production. It is expected that Egypt’s per capita annual water supply will drop from 600 cubic meters today to 500 cubic meters by 2025, which is the UN threshold for absolute water scarcity. Egypt has only 20 cubic meters per person of internal renewable freshwater resources, and as a result the country relies heavily on the Nile for its main source of water. Water scarcity has become so severe that it has been recorded that certain areas in the country could go days without water, with pressure sometimes returning only for a few hours a week. The country can no longer delay action and must act now.


Agriculture contributes roughly 15% of Egypt’s GDP, and employs 32% of Egypt’s workforce with rice being the biggest produce in the country. Rice is an important part of an Egyptian family’s diet. However, the cultivation of rice is very water intensive. On average about 3000 liters of water is used to produce 1 kilo of rice. This number can vary depending on climate, soil type and water management practices.

The government has restricted cultivation of rice to an area of 1 million acres (farmers were previously able to use most of the Nile Delta for cultivation) in specified areas of the Nile Delta. The government has even resorted to taking drastic measures as spreading incendiary compounds on rice fields cultivated outside the area allocated by the government. This has caused outrage and demonstrations by farmers who insist that the area allocated is not enough for them to be able to make ends meet. This type of tension caused by the lack of water was one of the catalysts of the Arab Spring in 2011/2012.

To alleviate population tension and unrest the government has been trying to increase water supply by exploring with reusing treated agricultural and municipal wastewater for agriculture. However implementation of such initiatives is not being applied fast enough to cope with the rising demand. Government must enforce new irrigation methods in the country (Egyptian farmers still rely heavily on flood and canal irrigation in the Nile Delta) as well as smart agricultural practices such as using less water intensive crops. Resorting less water intensive water crops could drastically cut water used in agriculture and help increase water supply.

Pollution of the Nile

The Nile has been a lifeline for Egypt at least since the time of the pharaohs. Yet, despite the world’s largest river’s importance to the country, its water is being polluted by various sources, and pollution levels increasing exponentially in recent years.

The degeneration of the Nile is an issue that is regularly underestimated in Egypt. With so many people relying on the Nile for drinking, agricultural, and municipal use, the quality of that water should be of most importance. The waters are mainly being polluted by municipal and industrial waste, with many recorded incidents of leakage of wastewater, the dumping of dead animal carcasses, and the release of chemical and hazardous industrial waste into the Nile River.

Industrial waste has led to the presence of metals (especially heavy metals) in the water which pose a significant risk not only on human health, but also on animal health and agricultural production. Fish die in large numbers from poisoning because of the high levels of ammonia and lead. Agricultural production quality and quantity has been affected by using untreated water for irrigation as the bacteria and the metals in the water affect the growth of the plant produce, especially in the Nile Delta where pollution is highest.

Industrial pollution is wrecking havoc in Nile

Industrial pollution is wrecking havoc in Nile

Of course the pollution of Nile is a complex problem that has been continuing for more than 30 years and the government is trying to implement stricter rules on the quality and type of waste/wastewater dumped into the river to reduce the pollution of the Nile. However, swift and decisive action must be taken towards cleaning the Nile, such as treating the wastewater prior to disposal, and placing stricter restrictions on industries to dispose of their waste safely and responsibly. This issue cannot be ignored any further as the continual increase in population will cause an increase in demand on Egypt’s dwindling water resources. Every drop of water counts.

The Blue Nile Dam

Another challenge at hand is tackling the issue of Ethiopia building a dam and hydroelectric plant upstream that may cut into Egypt’s share of the Nile. For some time a major concern for Egypt was Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the Blue Nile watershed, which is a main source of water for the Nile River. Construction of the Renaissance Dam started in December 2010, and has the capacity to store 74 to 79 billion cubic meters of water and generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity for Ethiopia a year. This creates major concern for Egypt, who is worried that this damn would decrease the amount of water it receives (55.5 billion cubic meters) from the Nile River. Egypt is concerned that during dry months, not enough water will be released from the GERD thus decreasing the water received downstream. This will greatly hinder Egypt’s attempts to alleviate the water shortages during those months.

Earlier this year, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan assigned two French companies to prepare a report on the impact of the dam on the three countries. This report will clarify the affects the Dam will have on downstream countries. The results of this report are yet to be released. 


In case of business-as-usual scenario, Egypt runs the risk of becoming an absolute water scarce country in less than a decade. Therefore Egypt has a battle on its hands to ensure adequate conditions for its population. Like many other water scarce countries around the world, it needs to mitigate water scarcity by implementing smart conservation techniques, adopting water saving technologies, and control water pollution. With climate conditions expected to get drier and heat waves expected to become more frequent in the MENA region, Egypt cannot afford to neglect its water conservation policies and must act immediately to meet the population’s water demand.


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Water-Energy Nexus in Arab Countries

Amongst the most important inter-dependencies in the Arab countries is the water-energy nexus, where all the socio-economic development sectors rely on the sustainable provision of these two resources. In addition to their central and strategic importance to the region, these two resources are strongly interrelated and becoming increasingly inextricably linked as the water scarcity in the region increases.  In the water value chain, energy is required in all segments; energy is used in almost every stage of the water cycle: extracting groundwater, feeding desalination plants with its raw sea/brackish waters and producing freshwater, pumping, conveying, and distributing freshwater, collecting wastewater and treatment and reuse.  In other words, without energy, mainly in the form of electricity, water availability, delivery systems, and human welfare will not function.

It is estimated that in most of the Arab countries, the water cycle demands at least 15% of national electricity consumption and it is continuously on the rise. On the other hand, though less in intensity, water is also needed for energy production through hydroelectric schemes (hydropower) and through desalination (Co-generation Power Desalting Plants (CPDP)), for electricity generation and for cooling purposes, and for energy exploration, production, refining and enhanced oil recovery processes, in addition to many other applications.

The scarcity of fresh water in the region promoted and intensified the technology of desalination and combined co-production of electricity and water, especially in the GCC countries. Desalination, particularly CPDPs, is an energy-intensive process. Given the large market size and the strategic role of desalination in the Arab region, the installation of new capacities will increase the overall energy consumption. As energy production is mainly based on fossil-fuels and this source is limited, it is clear that development of renewable energies to power desalination plants is needed. Meanwhile, to address concerns about carbon emissions, Arab governments should link any future expansion in desalination capacity to investments in abundantly available renewable sources of energy.

There is an urgent need for cooperation among the Arab Countries to enhance coordination and investment in R&D in desalination and treatment technologies.  Acquiring and localizing these technologies will help in reducing their cost, increasing their reliability as a water source, increasing their added value to the countries’ economies, and in reducing their environmental impacts. Special attention should be paid to renewable and environmentally safe energy sources, of which the most important is solar, which can have enormous potential as most of the Arab region is located within the “sun belt” of the world.

Despite the strong relation, the water-energy nexus and their interrelation has not been fully addressed or considered in the planning and management of both resources in many Arab countries. However, with increasing water scarcity, many Arab countries have started to realize the growing importance of the nexus and it has now become a focal point of interest, both in terms of problem definition and in searching for trans-disciplinary and trans-sectoral solutions.

There is an obvious scarcity of scientific research and studies in the field of water-energy nexus and the interdependencies between these two resources and their mutual values, which is leading to a knowledge gap on the nexus in the region.  Moreover, with climate change deeply embedded within the water energy nexus issue, scientific research on the nexus needs to be associated with the future impacts of climate change.  Research institutes and universities need to be encouraged to direct their academic and research programs towards understanding the nexus and their interdependencies and inter-linkages. Without the availability of such researches and studies, the nexus challenges cannot be faced and solved effectively, nor can these challenges be converted into opportunities in issues such as increasing water and energy use efficiency, informing technology choices, increasing water and energy policy coherence, and examining the water-energy security nexus.

1. Siddiqi, A., and Anadon, L. D. 2011. The water-energy nexus in Middle East and North Afirca. Energy policy (2011) doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2011.04.023. 
2. Khatib, H. 2010. The Water and Energy Nexus in the Arab Region. League of Arab States, Cairo.
3. Haering, M., and Hamhaber, J. 2011. A double burden? Reflections on the Water-energy-nexus in the MENA region. In: Proceedings of the of the First Amman-Cologne Symposium 2011, The Water and Energy Nexus. Institute of Technology and resources Management in the Tropics and Subtropics, 2011, p. 7-9. Available online: http://iwrm-master.web.fh-koeln.de/?page_id=594.

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Countering Water Scarcity in Jordan

Water scarcity is a reality in Jordan, as the country is counted among the world’s most arid countries. The current per capita water supply in Jordan is 200m3 per year which is almost one-third of the global average. To make matters worse, it is projected that per capita water availability will decline to measly 90m3 by the year 2025. Thus, it is of paramount importance to augment water supply in addition to sustainable use of available water resources.

Augmenting Water Supply

There are couple of options to increase alternative water supply sources in Jordan – desalination of seawater and recycling of wastewater. Desalination can provide a safe drinking water to areas facing severe water scarcity, and may also help in resolving the conflict between urban and agricultural water requirement needs by providing a new independent water source.

The other way to counter water scarcity in Jordan is by recycling and reuse of municipal wastewater which is an attractive method in terms of water savings. Infact, the reuse of the treated wastewater in Jordan has reached one of the highest levels in the world. The treated wastewater flow in the country is returned to the Search River and the King Talal dam, where it is mixed with the surface flow and used in the pressurized irrigation distribution system in the Jordan valley.

Another cheap and natural option for wastewater reuse is the construction of wetlands, and surface water reservoirs, which are water storage facilities that are able to collect and hold rain water for later use during dry seasons for irrigation or even for fish farming purposes. To prevent water loss by evaporation, reservoirs should be covered in a specific way to allow air to enter but with minimum evaporation rate. Another option is to install floating solar panels above the reservoir which will not only reduce the evaporation rate but also produce clean energy.

However, technology-based solutions are also raising several environmental and health concerns. Seawater desalination and wastewater treatment are like large-scale industrial projects which are capital-intensive, energy-intensive and generate waste in one form or the other. The desalination process may be detrimental to the marine ecological system as it increases the salinity of seawater.

Similarly, irrigation using recycled municipal wastewater is causing public health concerns. For example, directly consumed vegetables and fruits are excluded from allowable crops. Further studies should be conducted so as to address health issues that might arise from municipal wastewater usage. Effluent irrigation standards should be broadened to encompass a wider range of pathogens, and appropriate public health guidelines need to be established for wastewater irrigation taking into consideration the elimination of steroids.

New Trends

New intervention is needed to satisfy local irrigation demands; irrigation water for agriculture makes up the largest part of total average water used, which accounted for 64% during 2010. The main period of water stress is during summer due to high irrigation demand, and there is therefore a conflict arising between the supply of water for urban use and agricultural consumption. There has to be a proper combination between improvement of irrigation methods and selection of crop types. Application of updated water techniques, such as micro-sprinkling, drip irrigation and nocturnal, can reduce water loss and improve irrigation efficiency. Infrastructure improvement is also necessary to improving efficiency and reducing water loss.

Crop substitution is another interesting method to increase water efficiency by growing new crop types that tolerate saline, brackish, and low irrigation requirements. Such approach is not only economically viable, but also is socially beneficial and viable to mankind in an arid ecosystem. Mulching system is also highly recommended to reduce evaporative loss of soil moisture and improve microbial activities and nutrient availability. Farmers should use organic manure, instead of chemical fertilizers, to increase quality of water and reduce risk of groundwater contamination and agricultural run-offs.

The industrial sector uses about 5 percent of water resources in Jordan, while releasing harmful substances to the environment (including water). Industries have to put together a water management plan to reduce water intake and control water pollution. For instance, the establishment of a local wastewater treatment plant within a hotel for irrigation purposes is a good solution. Traditional solutions, like Qanats, Mawasi and fog harvesting, can also be a good tool in fighting water scarcity in arid areas.

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الارادة والتعليم سر الانجازات الاقتصادية

education-arabiaإقتصادياً؛ ينظر الكثير إلى مياه البحر من زاوية التكاليف الباهضة لمشاريع تحليتها، هذه النظرة تجعل من مياه البحر عقدة بدلاً من كونها حلا لبعض الحاجات الإقتصادية والمشاريع التنموية. قبل أيام أطلقت أستراليا مشروعاً زراعياً يعد الأول من نوعه على مستوى العالم، إذ يستغني عن التربة والمياه الجوفية والوقود الأحفوري، ويكتفى بأشعة الشمس ومياه البحر لإنتاج 17 ألف طن من الطماطم سنوياً. وفي ظل الأزمة التي تواجه العالم في الحصول على المياه العذبة وإنتاج الطاقة فإن المشروع يشكل الوجه الجديد للزراعة المستقبلية حسب تعبير مجلة New Scientist التي ذكرت أن المشروع استغرق ست سنوات فقط، وهي مدة قياسية بالمقارنة بمشاريعنا، بل حتى بالنسبة لحجم الإنجاز ذاته.

التفاصيل على قدر كبيرمن الأهمية لأنها تدفعنا لإدراك إمكانية تطبيق مثل هذا المشروع في المنطقة، بل وابتكار مشاريع أخرى، فطبيعة الصحراء الأسترالية هي نفسها طبيعة صحراء الجزيرة العربية، لذا فإن من المهم معرفة الأساليب العلمية التي لجأ إليها فريق العمل للتغلب على هذه الظروف القاسية، بدلا من الإعتماد على القدرة المالية في الحصول على أدوات مرتفعة التكاليف من أجل تحقيق إنجاز ما.

في التفاصيل، مدّ فريق العمل أنابيب لنقل مياه البحر على طول 2 كلم محطة في الصحراء لتحلية المياه بالطاقة الشمسية تقوم بإنتاج مياه عذبة بكميات تكفي لري 180 ألف نبتة طماطم زرعت في بيوت محمية. وعالج فريق العمل مشكلة التربة بإيجاد بديل لها هو قشور ثمرة جوز الهند.

مشاريع المياه تعتبر من المشاريع المكلفة

مشاريع المياه تعتبر من المشاريع المكلفة

المدهش هو أن هناك مبادرات لتطبيق نموذج المشروع في دول عدة من بينها قطر والإمارات وسلطنة عمان. وهذا يدل على رغبة هذه الدول المجلس في وضع حل لمشكلة شح المياه العذبة والعمل على استغلال الطاقة المتجددة في إنتاج محاصيل زراعية.

مشاريع المياه تعتبر من المشاريع المكلفة، فدول المجلس كانت قد خصصت أكثر من 100 مليار دولار أمريكي للإستثمار في هذا القطاع بين عامي 2011 و2016، وأعلنت عن خطط لاستثمار 300 مليار دولار أمريكي أخرى بحلول عام 2022، وهذا من شأنه إرهاق الموازنات الحكومية خاصة مع انخفاض أسعار الوقود، بينما هناك إمكانية لإيجاد بدائل تساهم في تخفيف العبء.

ينبغي القول أيضاً أن المياه المالحة قد تشكل ثروة كبيرة، حتى دون اللجوء إلى تحليتها، فهناك نباتات مفيدة قادرة على التكيف مع ملوحة مياه البحر، ويمكنها المساهمة في التنمية الإقتصادية، ومن بينها الساليكورنيا (الشمرة البحرية) والسبارتينا (العقربان).


إن هذا الإنجاز الذي حققته أستراليا يؤكد لنا حقيقتين هما: إن الحاجة ليست أم الإختراع (كما يقال) فقد بقينا عقود في حاجة للمياه العذبة دون نتيجة، بل يأتي الإختراع عبر إرادة التغيير والسعي الحثيث والإخلاص في وضع هذه الحاجة على السكة العملية لتوفيرها.

والحقيقة الأخرى هي أننا يجب أن نولي التعليم والبحث العلمي أهمية كبيرة، فنحن نمتلك الكثير من الإمكانات الطبيعية والبشرية التي يمكنها أن تخلق واقعاً أفضل إذا ما وضعنا التعليم في قمة أولوياتنا والبحث العلمي في صلب اهتمامنا، وهذا ما أثبتته تجارب الدول المتقدمة، وهو ما أكد عليه "لي كوان" مؤسس سنغافورة، في كلمته المشهورة: أنا لم أقم بمعجزة إنما أعطيت المعلم مكانته التي يستحقها وهو من أنتج جيلاً قاد نهضة الوطن.

Destruction of the Dead Sea

Dead Sea is the lowest point on the planet and one of the most unique environments around the world. It lies on the borders of Jordan, the West Bank and Israel. Known for its high-density waters and mineral rich soils, the Dead Sea is visited by a large number of tourists from all over the world. Its soils contain minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and salt.These minerals are used in cosmetics, chemical products such as industrial salts and are even used in table salts for home use.

State of the Affairs

The once mineral-rich Dead Sea has shrunk to the size of a small and pitiful pond. Water levels have been dropping at a rate of 1 meter per annum. Currently it lies 1,300 feet below sea level and if the rate of decline continues it will reach 1,800 feet below sea level before the end of the century. This sharp decline is due to the over-exploitation of its minerals, the use of its water for desalination, and the large increase in agriculture in both Jordan and Israel.

Many environmental casualties have been associated with the rapid retreat in the shoreline of the Dead Sea. An example is the emergence of sinkholes. Many residential areas and roads around the Dead Sea have been destroyed because of sinkholes. Sinkholes are natural depressions in the Earth’s surface caused by the chemical dissolution of nutrients in the soil.These sinkholes endanger the livesof locals and tourists alike.

In an attempt to save the Dead Sea, the governments of Jordan and Israel plan to implement a project called the “Red to Dead Water Conveyance Plan” which involves building of a pipeline that connects both the Red and the Dead Sea and pumping around two thousand million cubic meters (mcm) of water per year into the latter which is equivalent to the water produced by 60 desalination plants in a day. However, many scientists are skeptical of this project due to the many problems that would arise including:

  1. The different densities and minerals in the waters would cause algal blooms that would be detrimental to the environment while also causing the water to turn red/green.
  2. Large water withdrawal from the Red Sea would have a detrimental effect on the coral reefs, sea level, and nutrient levels.
  3. The pipeline carrying the water from the Red to the Dead Sea might leak salt water into groundwater reserves along its route thereby increasing salinity in both the groundwater and the surrounding soil.

On the basis of these apprehensions it seems that this project would do little to help rectify the problem and might even add to it. An alternative way to save the Dead Sea would be to rehabilitate the Jordan River. As it stands today, only 50 mcm of water from the Jordan River reaches the Dead Sea as opposed to 1.3 billion cubic meters in 1950.

The Jordan River is a shadow of what it once was. The river acts as the main water source for Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. As a result, 90% of the fresh water that replenishes it is diverted to agriculture.  Another problem facing it is pollution from agricultural and wastewater run-offs. About 50% of the agricultural run-offs from the surrounding areas are dumped into the river which has caused its water levels to drop dramatically.

Action Plan

Unfortunately, with limited sources of water, it will be difficult to ask concerned governments to stop relying heavily on the Jordan River. Some of the actions that governments may initative include:

  1. Improve irrigation systems and abandon the traditional systems that waste more than 25% of the water that is used.
  2. Renovate pipe systems in cities to reduce the number of leaks from the pipelines and to supply clean drinking tap water for the public.
  3. Plant local plants, which do not require much water and refrain from planting water intensive plants (e.g. rice).
  4. Harvest rainwater by manufacturing storage Pillars or tanks.

The Dead Sea has a geological importance in the region, and has many important aspects that make it significant. It is the saltiest and most mineral rich water body in the world. It also has a biological importance as it is home to many unique biological bacteria that are not present anywhere else on Earth. Regenerating the Jordan River, less water desalination, and improving water management practices will help regenerate the Dead Sea and help maintain this unique and important environment.

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Sustainable Agriculture: Perspectives for Jordan Valley

agriculture-palestineSustainable agriculture development is one of the most important pillars of the EcoPeace Middle East's Jordan Valley Master Plan as it provides livelihood and prosperity for all the people in the valley. The strategic agricultural objective for the study area is improving water use and irrigation efficiencies and economic outputs per unit of water used, and meanwhile stabilize, or even reduce the total water demands for the agricultural sector in the Jordan Valley. This will require adequate tariff policies on water used for irrigation, including enforcement, to stimulate more efficient use of water through for instance greenhouse drip irrigation. These are challenges specifically relevant for Jordan and Palestine.

Greenhouses are a very effective manner to improve water efficiencies and economic outputs in the agricultural sector, using greenhouses reduce the production related risks, provide for better quality crops and provide wider options for crop diversification. Finally, evapotranspiration from greenhouses is substantially less than from open field agriculture (and it does not cause soil salinity). However, greenhouses decrease open spaces, with negative visual impacts to rural landscapes and to wildlife corridors. Hence greenhouse development needs to be carefully planned and many farmers would require adequate and reliable micro-credits in order to invest in greenhouses.

Drip irrigation is another effective manner to improve water efficiencies in the open fields. The challenge is to set up sustainable drip irrigation systems in the Jordan Valley, including appropriate operations and maintenance and monitoring systems. This requires also financial facilities for farmers to invest, standardization of designs and manufacturing and provision of technical support services.

A related challenge is to maximize the reuse of treated wastewater, efficient use of pesticides and fertilizers, introduction or expansion of growing high yield crops, and improving extension services and post harvesting support to the farmers to enable them to create higher economic returns.

Pollution and mismanagement has severely damaged the Jordan River

Pollution and mismanagement has severely damaged the Jordan River

Another major challenge is to address the negative environmental impacts associated with the fish farms. These farms consume substantial amounts of water, due to high evaporation rates, which may be as much as 1-2 meter of water per year. In addition the ponds are flushed once or twice per year, releasing water into the Jordan River, which is polluted with excrements from the fishes, and anti-biotic medications that have to be added to the fish ponds. Due to the evaporation, the effluent is usually brackish as well. Consequently, discharging this wastewater into the environment has substantial impacts to surface water and groundwater quality.

Mitigating these impacts require investments in wastewater treatment facilities, and converting the process to a closed system. Without resolving these issues the future of this industry in the valley must be in doubt, despite any ecological benefits that the fish farms present for bird migration and associated tourism related to bird watching. The master plan sees the need to ensure that those communities relying currently on the fish ponds as their main source of income enjoy stability and that they be supported in the effort to move to closed systems.

A related challenge will be to strengthen the Extension Services for the farmers in the Jordan Valley. These services might be provided through the existing water user associations. In terms of rural economics, an important challenge is to improve the post-harvesting and marketing potentials of the farmers in the Jordan Valley, including setting up product organizations, better information about markets (nationally and internationally) and related product requirements and creating better access to export markets, with particular focus on eco-friendly and sustainable production techniques, regional labeling and fair-trade related markets.

Note: This is the third article in our special series on 'Regional Integrated NGO Master Plan for the Jordan Valley.