مستقبل تحلية المياة لمنطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال أفريقيا

تحلية المياه هي عملية معالجة للمياه يتم فيها فصل الأملاح من المياه المالحة لانتاج مياه صالحة للشرب. عملية التحلية تستهلك كمية كبيرة من الطاقة لانتاج الماء العذب من مصادر المياة المالحة. يتم ضخ الماء المالح في عملية التحلية وتكون المخرجات عبارة عن خط ماء عذب بالاضافة لخط أخر من المياة عالية الملوحه جداً.

يوجد أكثر من 15000 وحدة تنقية مياه على المستوى الصناعي في العالم، بطاقة اجمالية تزيد على 8.5 مليار جالون يومياً. يتفوق أسلوب الترشيح بالأغشية في هذا المجال حيث تبلغ نسبته حوالي 44% من اجمالي الطاقة الاجمالية، يليه التحلية بالتسخين MSF بنسبة حوالي 40 %. وبالنسبة للمصادر، تمثل مياة البحار حوالي 58 % والمياه الجوفية المالحة نسبة 23 % والباقي من مصادر أخرى كالانهار والبحيرات المالحة.

مشاكل المياة في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا

الحصول على الماء العذب يعد من أكبر مجالات الاهتمامات الصحية اليوم. فمنطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا من أكثر مناطق العالم جفافا. وتؤدي معدلات زيادة السكان العالية بالاضافة للتمدن والزيادة الصناعية مع ندرة المصادر الطبيعيه للماء العذب الي عجز حقيقي في الماء العذب في هذه المنطقة. مصادر المياه العذبه في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا يساء استغلالها دائماً مما يؤدي حتما الي زيادة الطلب على المياه المحلاه للحفاظ على مستوى مقبول من امدادات المياه.

ان محطات التحلية التقليديه كبيرة الحجم عالية التكلفة وشديدة الاستهلاك للطاقة، وليست مناسبة للبلدان الفقيرة في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا للزيادة في تكاليف الوقود الأحفوري. بالاضافة لذلك، التأثير البيئي لهذه المحطات يعد خطراً على مستوى الانبعاثات الناتجة من استهلاك الطاقة وصرف المحلول الملحي في البحر. المحلول الملحي الناتج له كثافة ملح عالية جدا ويحتوي ايضاً على بقايا لكيماويات ومعادن ناتجه من عملية التحلية مما يهدد الحياة البحرية.

التأثير السلبي لعمليات التحلية يمكن تقليله الي حد ما عن طريق استخدام الطاقة المتجددة لتغذية المحطات بالطاقة. فالمحطات المداره بالطاقة المتجددة تقدم طريقة مستدامة لزيادة توريد المياه العذبة لدول المنطقة، فدول المنطقة لديها امكانيات كبيرة في طاقة الرياح والطاقة الشمسية، والتي يمكن استخدامها بكفاءة في عمليات التحلية مثل التناضح العكسي، والفصل الكهربي وعمليات الفلتره. ان المحطات المداره بالطاقة المتجددة ستزداد جاذبيتها مع تقدم التكنلوجيات وزيادة اسعار الماء العذب والوقود الأحفوري.

محطات التحلية المدارة بالطاقة الشمسية

يمكن استخدام الطاقة الشمسية مباشرة او بشكل غير مباشر في عملية التحلية. أنظمة التجميع التي تستخدم الطاقة الشمسية للتجميع مباشرة في المجمعات الشمسيه تسمى نظم مباشرة، بينما العمليات التي تستخدم مزيج من الطاقة الشمسية مع الطاقة التقليدية  للتحلية تسمى نظم غير مباشرة. العقبة الرئيسية في استخدام الطاقة الحرارية الشمسية على نطاق محطات التحلية الكبيرة هي قلة معدل الانتاجية، وقلة الكفاءة الحرارية واحتياجها لمساحات واسعة. محطات التحلية المعتمدة على الطاقة الحرارية الشمسية تناسب الاحتياجات الصغيره خصوصا في المناطق البعيده والقاحلة والجزر التي تعاني فقرا في مصادر الطاقة التقليدية.

تقدم الطاقة الشمسية المركزة (CSP) خياراً جذاباً لتزويد مجال التحلية على المستوى الصناعي بالطاقة اللازمة والتي تحتاج الي سوائل عالية الحرارة وطاقة كهربائية. وتوفر الطاقة الشمسية المركزة طاقة مستقرة للاستخدام المستمر لعمليات محطات التحلية المعتمدة على التسخين او الأغشية في عمليتها. في الواقع، بدأت دول كثيرة في المنطقة كالأردن ومصر والمملكة العربية في تطوير مشاريع تحلية ضخمه معتمدة على الطاقة الشمسية المركزة تبشر بعهد جديد في منطقة الشرق الأوسط.

ان منطقة الشرق الأوسط وشمال افريقيا لديها امكانيات ضخمة في مجال الطاقة الشمسية والتي تسهل عملية توليد الطاقة اللازمة لتعويض العجز الظاهر في الماء الصالح للشرب. قد تتعرض المنطقة لأزمة مياه شديدة مع عدد السكان الذي من المتوقع ان يتضاعف بحلول عام 2050. يمكن لمحطات التحلية التي تعمل بالطاقة الشمسية مع الاستعمال السليم لمخزون المياه واعادة استعمال مياه الصرف ان تساعد في التقليل من الأزمة المائية في المنطقة. وسوف تقلل ايضاً من الاعباء المادية على حكومات المنطقة من قطاع المياه والكهرباء، ومن ثم توجيه هذه المخصصات المالية في قطاعات أهم كالتعليم والصحة والقطاع الصناعي.

ترجمة: طه واكد – مهندس مدني مهتم بشؤون البيئة – مصر

شريك مؤسس في مشروع دقيقة خضراء  –  معد وكاتب حلقات دقيقة خضراء عاليوتيوب

للتواصل عبر taha.waked@gmail.com   أو admin@green-min.com

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Water Resource Management in GCC – Issues and Challenges

GCC countries are suffering from a huge deficit in their water resources reaching more than 20 billion cubic meter, being met mainly by an intensive over-drafting of renewable and non-renewable groundwater resources for the agricultural sector, and by the extensive installation of highly expensive desalination plants for the municipal sector, and by reusing a small percentage of treated wastewater in the agricultural and municipal sector. Furthermore, conflict between the agricultural and domestic sectors on the limited water resources in the region are rising, and as a result, groundwater over-exploitation and mining is expected to continue in order to meet growing demand in these two sectors.

If current population growth rates, water management approach, water use practices and patterns continue, annual water demand may reach more than 50 billion cubic meter (Bcm) by the year 2030.  With the anticipated future limited desalination capacity and wastewater reuse, this demand will have to be met mainly by further mining of groundwater reserves, with its negative impacts of fast depletion and loss of aquifer reserves and the deterioration of water quality and salinization of agricultural lands, of which these resources usefulness is questionable with the expected deterioration of their quality. Under these circumstances, water will become an increasingly scarce commodity, and would become a limiting factor for further social, agricultural and industrial development, unless major review and shifts in the current policies of population and adopted food self-sufficiency are made, and an appropriate and drastic measures in water conservation are implemented.

A diagnosis of the water sector in Gulf Cooperation Council countries indicated that the main problems and critical issues in these countries are:

  1. Limitation of water resources and increasing water scarcity with time due to prevailing aridity, fast population growth, and agricultural policies;
  2. Inefficient water use in the agriculture (traditional irrigation practices), and municipal/domestic sectors (high per capita water use, high rates of unaccounted-for-water);
  3. Rising internal water allocation conflicts between the agricultural and municipal sector;
  4. Rapid depletion and groundwater quality deterioration due to their over-exploitation, with multiple impacts on agricultural productivity and ecosystems;
  5. Inferior quality of water services in large cities due to fast pace of urbanization; and
  6. Weak water institutions due to fragmentation of water authorities and lack of coordination and inadequate capacity development.

Currently, there are two main challenges of water resources management in the GCC countries. These are the unsustainable use of groundwater resources with its ramification on these countries socio-economic development, and the escalating urban water demands and its heavy burden on their national budget and negative impacts on the environment.

As the quality of groundwater deteriorates, either by over-exploitation or direct pollution, its uses diminishes, thereby reducing groundwater supplies, increasing water shortages, and intensifying the problem of water scarcity in these countries. It is expected that the loss of groundwater resources will have dire consequences on the countries’ socio-economic development, increases health risks, and damages their environment and fragile ecosystem regimes.  Moreover, the development of many GCC countries is relying heavily on non-renewable fossil groundwater, and the issue of “sustainability” of non-renewable resources is problematic, and requires clear definition.

Sustainability of these resources need to be interpreted in a socio-economic rather than a physical context, implying that full considerations must be given not only to the immediate benefits and gains, but also to the “negative impacts” of development and to the question of “what comes after?” An “exit strategies” need to be identified, developed, and implemented by the time that the aquifer is seriously depleted. An exit strategy scenario must include balanced socio-economic choices on the use of aquifer storage reserves and on the transition to a subsequent less water-dependent economy, and the replacement water resource.

Despite their relatively enormous cost and heavy burden on the national budged, limited operational life (15-25 years), their dependence on depleting fossil fuel, and their negative environmental impacts on the surrounding air and marine environment, the GCC countries are going ahead with desalination plant construction and expansion in order to meet the spiralling domestic water demands – a function of population and urbanization growth.  The rapid increase in urban water demands in the GCC can be explained by two factors, rapid population growth and the rise in per capita consumption; per capita average daily consumption in the domestic sector ranges between 300-750 liters, which ranks the highest in the world. This is due mainly to the reliance on the supply side of management with little attention given to the demand management and the non-existence of price-signaling mechanism to consumers.

The other strategic issue is that, despite the current and anticipated future dependence of the GCC countries on desalination to meet its domestic/drinking water supply, desalination remains an imported technology for the GCC countries with limited directed R&D towards these technologies. Furthermore, desalination industry have limited added value to the GCC countries economies (e.g., localizing O&M, plant refurbishment, fabrication, manufacturing of Key Spare Parts, qualifying local labor to work in desalination industry, etc..).

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Understanding Qatar’s Ecological Footprint

Qatar’s environmental impact remains worryingly high. The country’s per capita ecological footprint is now the second highest in the world, as another Gulf state, Kuwait, has overtaken it to become the worst offender of the 152 countries that were measured, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Report 2014. The third country in the list is the UAE, with Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, in 33rd position. By comparing the total footprint with the planet’s biocapacity – its capacity to generate an ongoing supply of renewable resources and to absorb waste -the report, based on 2010 data, concludes that the average human’s per capita footprint exceeds the planet’s capacity by 1.5. Most MENA countries’ ecological footprints also exceed their biocapacity in terms of their global rankings.

Qatar’s footprint, measured in global hectares (gha), is 8.5 – the second highest in the world, but down from 11.6 in the 2012 report. Only Kuwait fared worse, with a footprint of over 10gha. According to the WWF report, if all people on the planet had the footprint of the average resident of Qatar, we would need 4.8 planets. If we lived the lifestyle of a typical resident of the USA, we would need 3.9 planets. The figure for a typical resident of South Africa or Argentina would be 1.4 or 1.5 planets respectively. The world’s average footprint per person was 2.6gha, but the global average biocapacity per person was 1.7gha in 2010. This is based on the Earth’s total biocapacity of approximately 12 billion gha, which has to support all humans and the 10 million or more wild species.

Salman Zafar, founder of EcoMENA, a voluntary organisation that promotes sustainable development in the Arab world, attributes the Qatari situation on lack of environmental awareness among the local population, lavish lifestyles and a strong dependence on fossil fuels. “The huge influx of workers from across the world has put tremendous strain on already stressed natural resources. Migrant workers, who make up a huge chunk of the population, remain in the country for a limited period of time and are not motivated enough to conserve natural resources and protect the environment,” he adds. As for Kuwait, he says the growing ecological footprint may be attributed to its flourishing oil and gas industry, an increase in desalination plants, the presence of hundreds of landfills, excessive use of water, energy and goods, a huge expatriate population and the absence of concrete environmental conservation initiatives.

Of the 25 countries with the largest per capita ecological footprint, most were high-income nations. For virtually all of these, carbon was the biggest component, in Qatar’s case 70%. Carbon, specifically the burning of fossil fuels, has been the dominant component of humanity’s footprint for more than half a century, says the WWF report – in 1961, carbon had been 36% of the total footprint, but by 2010 it had increased to 53%. In 2013, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere above Mauna Loa, Hawaii – the site of the oldest continuous carbon dioxide measurement station in the world – reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since measurements began in 1958. This is higher than they have been for more than a million years, and climate science shows major risks of unacceptable change at such concentrations. Furthermore, 2014 has globally been the hottest year since measurements started, and the World Meteorological Organisation predicts that this upward trend will continue.

The world’s total population today is already in excess of 7.2 billion, and growing at a faster rate than previously estimated. The dual effect of a growing human population and high per capita footprint will multiply the pressure humans place on ecological resources, the report states. As agriculture accounts for 92% of the global water footprint, humanity’s growing water needs, combined with climate change, are aggravating water scarcity. The authors also make it clear that in the long term water cannot be sustainably taken from lakes and groundwater reservoirs faster than they are recharged. Desalination of seawater also leads to brine (with a very high concentration of salt and leftover chemicals and metals), which is discharged into the sea where it poses a danger to marine life.  In terms of biodiversity, the report shows an overall decline of 52 percent between 1970 and 2010. Falling by 76 percent, population of freshwater species declined more rapidly than marine and terrestrial (both 39 percent) population.

With regards to Qatar’s biocapacity, its fishing grounds make up 92% of the total, while the country ranks 66th globally in terms of its biocapacity per capita. Like other Gulf states, it can operate with an ecological deficit by importing products, and thus using the biocapacity of other nations; and/or by using the global commons, for instance, by releasing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning into the atmosphere, says the report.

Although Qatar has initiated plans to reduce its footprint and live less unsustainably, the latest electricity demand figures from Qatar General Electricity and Water Company (Kahramaa) show a 12% rise in demand for power over the previous year. This is in line with the country’s population growth, meaning that there has been no reduction in the per capita consumption, which is still under the top 15 countries in the world. Its water consumption per capita is also one of the highest in the world.

Qatar’s heavy reliance on gas and oil, its subsidised water and electricity, and the huge amount of energy needed for water desalination and air-conditioning make it unlikely that the country’s per capita standing in terms of the ecological footprint will improve anytime soon, but given the country’s small size its total impact is still relatively small.

Salman Shaban from the metal recycling company Lucky Star Alloys, regards the report as only highlighting Qatar’s current rapid development. “It is not fair to come to any conclusions at this stage when the construction, transport system and population boom is taking place. Any place that will go through such a fast development will initially have its impact on the ecological systems.” He foresees a gradual carbon footprint reduction once the construction and development phase is completed.“ Having said that, it is still every resident and citizen moral responsibility to conserve energy and protect the environment,” he adds. “Recycling should be a standard part of every household culture.”

According to Salman Zafar, grass-root level environmental education, removal of subsidies on water and energy, sustainable waste management practices, effective laws, awareness programs and mandatory stakeholder participation are some of the measures that may improve the environmental scenario in Qatar.

Although it makes for some disturbing reading, the report makes it clear that many individuals, communities, businesses, cities and governments are making better choices to protect natural capital and reduce their footprint, with environmental, social and economic benefits. But given that these exhaustive reports are based on data that is four years old, any current changes for better and worse will only become clear in the near future.

Note:

  • WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organizations; its mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. The full report is available at this link.
  • An edited version of this article first appeared in The Edge, Qatar’s Business Magazine. 

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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.

References

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).

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.

References
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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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 Water Management and River Rehabilitation in Jordan Valley

jordan-riverIn the context of EcoPeace Middle East's recently released Regional Integrated NGO Master Plan, the key challenge in sustainable water management is to overcome the water scarcity related problems  in the Jordan Valley. This means creating a sustainable water supply system that meets the current and future domestic and agricultural water demands; and at the same time preserves the water resources for future generations and for the environment. This requires an Integrated Water Resources Management regime for the whole (Lower) Jordan River, based on international co-operation among Israel, Jordan and Palestine, supported with adequate water management tools (like WEAP) to ensure sustainable water supply and an increase of the baseflow and rehabilitation of the ecological values of the Jordan River.

One of the related key challenges is to achieve full treatment of wastewater generated in the study area and full reuse for agricultural purposes. This will both reduce public health related risks and strengthen the agricultural sector. This requires development of a detailed technical and financial plan, including designs and tender documents, for full scale collection, treatment and reuse of the locally generated wastewater flows, including domestic, industrial (mainly oliveoil wastewater in Jordan) and manure management.

Another key challenge is to restore the function of the lower part of the Jordan River as a natural river and water conveyor in the valley for supply purposes, by keeping its flow as long as possible in the river. Rehabilitating the river will include actions in terms of realizing at least one minor flood (c.a. 20-50 m3/sec) per year. In order to bring back the original habitats of the river, also the flow bed of the river are to be widened to about 50-70 m in the north and at least 30 m in the south, with flood plains on both sides.

The salinity of the Jordan River has a natural tendency to increase downstream. This is caused by natural drainage of brackish groundwater into the river, particularly in the southern part of the valley near the Dead Sea. The key challenge is to prevent any inflow of salt or brackish surface water into the river above the point where the river would still be fresh, i.e. above the confluent with Wadi Qelt. This implies bypassing the salt water from the Israeli Saline Water Carrier (SWC), the brackish water from the Israeli Fish Ponds, and the brine from the Abu Zeighan desalination plant to a new outflow located south of the river’s confluent with Wadi Qelt, close to the Dead Sea. If this will be done, the river will be able to provide water of good quality for different user functions. In terms of chloride concentrations this means a maximum of 400 mg/l for drinking water purposes; 600 mg/l for fresh water irrigation; and 1500 mg/l for irrigation of date palms.

An olive oil mill in Jordan

An olive oil mill in Jordan

Another key challenge is to maintain total agricultural water demands at the same level as today, with the exception of Palestine which is currently heavily underdeveloped in terms of agriculture. To achieve a sustainable water balance within the valley and sufficient flows in the river it will furthermore be required that around 2020 Israel will largely cease pumping water to the extent possible out of the valley from the Sea of Galilee through the National Water Carrier (NWC), meanwhile maintaining its present agricultural water consumption within the valley; that the Sea of Galilee will be kept on a medium water level between the top and bottom red lines ("green line" as defined by the Israeli Water Authority); and that by 2050 Jordan will stop diverting water from the Yarmouk and other tributaries to the Kind Abdullah Canal (KAC) to the extent possible, and instead will use the Jordan River as main conveyor for its irrigation supply purposes. In addition, by 2050 Palestine would also use the Jordan River as its main water conveyor, meaning that the planned development of the West Ghor Canal will not be built.

These challenges require a series of related interventions, including adequate water data monitoring and modeling; promotion of water saving and water demand management measures in all sectors; provision of related training and institutional strengthening support services; improved regulations and enforcement on groundwater abstractions to stop groundwater depletion and salination; and implementation of efficient water pricing policies and related enforcement.

In terms of water governance, the challenge will be to strengthen the authorities, including JVA, PWA, in their role as regulator of the water sector in the Jordan Valley. This includes skills with regard to water data collection and management; water resources planning; efficient operations of the water storage and supply system; and strengthening the co-operation with the local water user associations. It also includes monitoring, regulations and enforcement of surface water and groundwater abstractions; protection of sensitive shallow aquifers, efficient tariff policies, and monitoring reduction of agricultural pollution loads.

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

Desalination – A Better Choice for MENA

Water scarcity is a major problem in many parts of the world affecting quality of life, the environment, industry, and the economies of developing nations. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is considered as one of the most water-scarce regions of the world. Large scale water management problems are already apparent in the region. While the MENA region’s population is growing steadily, per capita water availability is expected to fall by more than 40-50% by the year 2050. Also, climate change is likely to affect weather and precipitation patterns, and the consequences of which may force the MENA region to more frequent and severe droughts.

Growth in desalination has increased dramatically as countries seek solutions to water scarcity caused by population growth, climate change, pollution and industrial development. In addition, the industry has done much to lower the cost of desalination. Advances in technology have led to increased energy efficiency, and greater economies of scale have also helped lower costs. The majority of new commissioned capacity is seawater desalination. As of June 30, 2011, there were 15,988 desalination plants worldwide and the total global capacity of all plants online was 66.5 million cubic meters per day (m3/d), or approximately 17.6 billion US gallons per day.

Existing desalination plants work in one of two ways. Some distil seawater by heating it up to evaporate part of it. They then condense the vapour—a process that requires electricity. The other plants use reverse osmosis. This employs high-pressure pumps to force the water from brine through a membrane that is impermeable to salt. That, too, needs electricity. Even the best reverse-osmosis plants require 3.7 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy to produce 1,000 litres of drinking water.

Recent researches indicate that we can produce that much freshwater with less than 1 kWh of electricity, and no other paid-for source of power is needed. This process is fuelled by concentration gradients of salinity between different vessels of brine. These different salinities are brought about by evaporation. The process begins by spraying seawater into a shallow, black-bottomed pond, where it absorbs heat from the atmosphere. The resulting evaporation increases the concentration of salt in the water from its natural level of 3.5% to as much as 20%. Low-pressure pumps are then used to pipe this concentrated seawater, along with three other streams of untreated seawater, into the desalting unit.

Perspectives for MENA

Seawater desalination powered by renewable power offers an attractive opportunity for MENA countries to ensure affordable, sustainable and secure freshwater supply. The MENA region has tremendous wind and solar energy potential which can be effectively utilized in desalination processes. Concentrating solar power (CSP) offers an attractive option to power industrial-scale desalination plants that require both high temperature fluids and electricity.

The renewable energy potential is now starting to be more seriously considered in the MENA region, driven by rapidly increasing energy usage, high insolation rates, a young and empowered workforce, and an increasing awareness of the costs of burning natural resources. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco, have ambitious solar power generation goals as well as evolving policies and regulatory frameworks to support these goals. Demonstration projects are being deployed in some countries, while large scale projects are being deployed in others.

Conclusion

Water demand and supply have become an international issue due to several factors: global warming (droughts are more often in arid areas), low annual rainfall, a rise in population rates during last decades, high living standards, and the expansion of industrial and agricultural activities. Freshwater from rivers and groundwater sources are becoming limited and vast reserves of fresh water are located in deep places where economical and geological issues are the main obstacles.

Therefore, it has turned into a competition to get this vital liquid and to find more feasible and economical sources that can ameliorate the great demand that the world is living nowadays and avoid water restrictions and service interruptions to domestic water supply. And, desalination powered by renewable energy resources seems to be an excellent alternative for getting fresh water and electricity in MENA countries.

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Freshwater Management Outlook for UAE

Per capita water consumption of freshwater in the United Arab Emirates is the highest in the world. Over the last several decades, the demand on municipal water supply has increased significantly in the UAE. This is mainly due to increase in population growth, economic development and changes in lifestyle of the people. Though water is used by many sectors such as manufacturing industries, agriculture and domestic purposes, residential  and commercial uses of water during the operational phase of the building is one of the biggest contributing factors that puts a strain on freshwater supply in the country.

Desalination and Sustainability

Due to lack of existing freshwater sources in the UAE, limited annual rainfall, high water evaporation rate, the only source of potable water in the region is the desalinated of sea water. The desalinated water contains huge amount of embedded energy due to the process involved in producing it. Apart from energy use, there are many other environmental and socio-economic issues associated with desalinated water. To name a few, there are multiple issues associated with the disposal of brine, salt intrusion, and the high costs of its production.  Forecasts show that the demand for desalinated water is expected to double by 2030. Not only the potable water production creates the problem, but also the resulting wastewater generated by the users poses many sustainability challenges such as putting strain on treatment facilities, land and surface water contamination due to overflow of untreated water, disposal of treatment sludge and expensive to production method. Hence, the management of fresh water is considered as one of the most important challenges for the United Arab Emirates.

To deal with freshwater management challenges in UAE, it is important to bring a balance between water supply and demand side. This can be done by employing strategies to increase water efficiency and conservation. These strategies include reduce the use of potable water where possible, find alternative source of water for various water usage and increase the water efficiency of fixtures and equipments.  Efficient strategies along with water monitoring that tracks water consumption and identifies problems can significantly reduce both indoor and outdoor water consumption. 

Ways to Implement Water Efficiency Strategies

The best way to implement water efficiency in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah etc is to develop a comprehensive water strategy at the early stage of project design for both indoor and outdoor water use reduction. The indoor comprehensive water strategy must include the baseline building interior water consumption information based on number of occupants in the building and the flow fixtures and other strategies used. It is required to do calculations for the both baseline water use and projected indoor potable water use based on the fixture and flow rates. The water use reduction targets can be achieved by using water efficient fixtures and appliances and by using recycled water where possible.

To achieve the targets of exterior water use efficiency and reduction, the project team has to develop water reduction strategies for outdoors at the early stage of the design. The strategies should include provision of metering facilities on all exterior water use and provision of easily accessible and clearly labelled water meters that are capable of monitoring water consumption for water uses in heat rejection, external hose bibs, irrigation system, swimming pools, water features etc.

Similarly, at the early stage of design, develop a Landscaping and Irrigation Operation and Maintenance plan. This should contain information on plant species, irrigation strategies to be used and strategies to use recycled water. The low water-use landscaping strategies include carrying out the baseline and design case calculation of building water use, developing a site plan showing the landscape areas, areas of hardscape and softscape along with their irrigation requirements. Strategies to minimise landscaping water demands should be done through appropriate plant selection, irrigations system and recycled water use. Similarly, develop strategies to reduce potable water use for heat rejection and exterior water features.

Conclusion

Use of large volume of water for building operation not only puts strain on municipal water supply and causes negative impacts on the environment but also increases the maintenance and life cycle costs of the building operations. It also increases the consumer’s costs for additional municipal water supply and treatment facilities. Hence, various water efficiency measures can reduce water use in average buildings by 20% or more. Many of the water conservation strategies have no additional cost implication or provide rapid payback while other strategies such as wastewater treatment systems and graywater plumbing system often require substantial investment. The main strategies that should be considered for water use reduction in United Arab Emirates are installation of efficient plumbing fixtures, use of non-potable water, installation of submeters, use of native adaptive plant species, xeriscaping, mulching and efficient irrigation systems.

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Managing Water-Energy Nexus For Better Tomorrow

Water is an essential part of human existence, green source of energy production and input for thermal power generation. The world’s 7 billion people are dependent on just 3% (called freshwater) of the total volume of water on earth. The MENA region is home to 6.3 percent of world’s population but has access to measly 1.4 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. Due to burgeoning population and rapid economic growth, the per capita water availability is expected to reduce to alarming proportions in the coming decades. The demand for water is expected to increase significantly in future, which is also true for energy.

With increasing demands and declining availability, the competition for water resources for food and energy production, drinking and industrial usages has already intensified. Water scarcity is a reality in almost all Middle East countries. However, most of the people are either unaware or have ignored this stark fact. High population growth coupled with rapid industrialization calls for a sustainable water use pattern in domestic, industrial and agricultural sectors. 

Relationship Between Water and Energy

Energy is needed to produce, transport, treat, and distribute water. In spite of an obvious energy-water nexus, the policies and practices of either sector display a sense of disconnect, which could lead to unsustainable outcomes. For example, electricity being highly under-priced or offered free to agriculture consumers in India (also in several other countries) does not encourage its efficient utilisation, which has led to an alarming drop in water table in certain parts of the country due to over-exploitation of groundwater resources. In the MENA region around 85 percent of the water is used for irrigation. This level of irrigation is not inherently sustainable and leads to overuse of scarce renewable water resources, which in turn leads to increased energy use for desalination. Infact, MENA’s average water use efficiency in irrigation is only 50 to 60 percent, compared to best-practice examples of above 80 percent efficiency under similar climate conditions in Australia and southwest US. 

In developing countries, a lot of people living in urban areas are using electricity to treat municipal water due to its poor quality, causing undesirable consumption of electricity for water-related applications.In thermal energy production, efficiency norms for primary fuel, auxiliary consumption, and manpower per unit of electricity production etc. are there but similar benchmarks for water-use efficiency are either absent or weak. Similarly, for large power intensive consumers (industries and commercial), there is no binding provision for checking the water use efficiency under the Energy Conservation Act 2001 of India. However, conducting periodic energy audits is mandatory.

The National Water Policy 2002 of India was designed to govern the planning, development, and management of water resources in the national perspective but lacks clarity in terms of inter-agency coordination and respective accountabilities. It is clear from such examples that understanding of how water-energy interacts at different scales, and what are the conflicting and/or synergetic outcomes, is crucial for addressing the negative trade-offs of water-energy nexus. Of course, all negative trade-offs cannot be avoided, but this understanding could help in taking informed decisions in future policy formulations.

With increasing demands, declining availability and competition for water, mere myopic approach of encouraging efficiency of utilization and conservation of water and energy in isolation would not give the best results. Huge amounts of energy and water subsidies are the driving force behind inefficiencies. Regulatory institutions in both these sectors in consultation with each other have to do a lot to inculcate conservation habits and achieve noticeable outcomes. Introduction of the principle of cost recovery is conceptually the simplest solution, but politically difficult to implement in many countries. It is important to renew our attention on demand-side-management and conservation approaches for water for various applications.

Future Outlook

Development and use of modern irrigation systems in the farm sector, and water saving devices in all other sectors should be encouraged by offering appropriate incentives, setting higher efficiency standards, and creating wider awareness among its users. For example, overconsumption of water is a serious issue in most of the Middle Eastern countries where per capita water consumption is several times higher than the global average. 

For a better tomorrow, it is essential to better integrate policy frameworks while addressing water-energy challenges with specific attention to efficient utilization and conservation. A common legislative framework that addresses efficiency and conservation in areas, which impinge on each other in the water-energy domain, would be desirable, if that helps in  tackling future challenges. Though one can supplement energy needs through a host of renewable energy sources, water has no substitute, and we have to treat it respectfully.

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Future Water Scenarios in GCC

Water is an important vector in the socio-economic development and for supporting the ecosystem. In the arid to extremely arid Arabian Peninsula, home of the GCC countries, the importance and value of water is even more pronounced. The GCC countries of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait, are facing the most severe water shortages in the world.  Rainfall scarcity and variability coupled with high evaporation rates have characterized this part of the world with a limited availability of renewable water.  However, the scarcity of renewable water resources is not the only distinctive characteristic of the region, inadequate levels of management and the continuous deterioration of its natural water resources have become during the past few decades equally distinguishing features as well.

Clamour for Water

In the last four decades, rapid population growth and accelerated socio-economic development in the GCC countries were associated with a substantial increase in water demands, which have escalated from about 6 Billion cubic meters (Bcm) in 1980 to about 30 Bcm in 2010.  These demands have been driven mainly by the agricultural sector consumption (currently (2012) consumes about 77% of total water used), and by rapid population and urban expansion (18%).  

To meet rising demands, water authorities have focused their efforts mainly on the development and supply augmentation aspects of water resources management.  Demands are being satisfied by the development of groundwater (83%), extensive installation of desalination plants (15%), expansion in wastewater treatment and reuse (2%), in addition to dams construction to collect, store, and utilize runoff.  Currently, groundwater resources are being over-exploited to meet mainly agricultural water demands, with continuous deterioration in quantity and quality. In most of the countries, unplanned groundwater mining continues without a clear “exit” strategy. To meet domestic water supply requirement, GCC countries have turned to desalination and have become collectively the world leaders in desalination, with more than 50% of the world capacity.  However, desalination remains an important technology, capital intensive and costly, and with negative environmental impacts.  In terms of wastewater recycling, available treated wastewaters are still not being reused to their potential; planning for full utilization of treated effluent are in the early stages.

In fact, the supply augmentation approach coupled with inadequate attention to improving and maximizing the efficiency of water allocation and water use have led to the emergence of a number of unsustainable water uses in these countries, such as low water use efficiency, growing of both water demands and per capita water use, increasing cost of water production and distribution, and deterioration of water quality as well as land productivity.  The situation was further aggravated by the lack of comprehensive long-term water policies and strategies that are based on supply-demand considerations, and was further compounded by the institutional weaknesses, multiplication and overlap of water agencies, and inadequate institutional capacity development and enabled participating society. 

The Way Forward

Fortunately, all the GCC countries have realized that efficient development and management of water resources requires water policy reforms, with emphasis on supply and demand management measures and improvement of the legal and institutional provisions. In essence, appropriate water sector policy reform need to address the key issues of reliable assessment of water supply and demand, water quality deterioration and protection, water use efficiency and allocation, role of the private sector, pricing policies and cost recovery, groundwater mining, stakeholder participation, improved institutional support, food security and the increasing problem of water scarcity. Water policy reform needs to address these key issues, taking into consideration the specific requirements and the prevailing social, economic, and cultural conditions of the GCC countries. 

Furthermore, addressing the immense challenges associated with water resources management in the GCC countries requires daring reforms to existing institutions and policies governing water resources. Far-reaching and multi-sectoral approaches will be critical if we are to overcome inefficient use of water resources and make their use sustainable.

However, the most important choices affecting water resources, as well as the environment, in the future are not necessarily water/environment sector choices; achieving water/environmental sustainability relies on a multitude of potential interventions and developments, such as changing governance approach, the education system, the implementation of technological innovations, changing the behavior of people, in addition to many other socio-economic policies. Moreover, water and environmental policies should not be compartmentalized, and they should be integrated and mainstreamed into the national socio-economic development plans. 

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