Water Pollution Worries in Developing World

Water pollution has become a major concern worldwide, especially in developing countries where around 3.2 million children die each year as a result of unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. Access to adequate wastewater treatment facilities in the developing countries is very limited. For example, only 209 of India's 3,119 towns and cities—less than one in ten—have even partial sewage systems and treatment facilities. As a result water bodies in developing nations are often used as open sewers for human waste products and garbage, which is evident at the Ganges River in India which receives over 1.3 billion liters of domestic waste, along with 260 million liters of industrial waste, run off from 6 million tons of fertilizers and 9,000 tons of pesticides used in agriculture, and thousands of animal carcasses.

The reason behind the absence of adequate water treatment facilities and regulations in developing countries is the lack of finances available for funding infrastructure that can regulate water pollution. This in turn reduces the amount of clean water available for human consumption, sanitation, agriculture and industrial purposes, in addition to various other ecosystem services. A decrease in the amount water available for use holds devastating environmental, health, and economic consequences that disrupt a country’s social and economic growth.

Environmental and Human Health Costs

Unsafe water, lack of sanitation facilities and poor hygiene are the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in developing countries because contaminated water carries various diseases such as cholera, intestinal worms, and diarrhea. It is estimated that up to half of all hospital beds in the world are occupied by victims of water contamination. Furthermore, Dirty water (standing in puddles or stored) provides a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes that go on to spread diseases such as malaria and encephalitis.  The UN estimates that 60% of global cases of malaria and 80% of malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa (nearly 1 million per year) are related to inadequate water storage facilities.

Economic Implications

It is estimated that around $7.3million is spent on healthcare for waterborne diseases alone.  Furthermore, large amounts of money are lost due to the deteriorating health of a country’s population with many citizens unable to attend school or work due to health issues. Above all, water pollution and lack of sanitation holds a significant burden on women. Teenage women are unable to attend schools that lack adequate sanitation and are often entrusted in collecting water for their families due to the lack of a constant water supply. Women embark on 3-4 hour treks in order to collect contaminated water, which they carry back to their homes. This deprives them from the possibility of attending school or holding a permanent job thus further reducing a family’s income.

Water quality is also important for various industries (such as power generation, metals, mining, and petroleum) that require high-quality water to operate. Lower quality water could impact and limit the choices of technology available to developing countries. Reductions in water quality have the dual effect of not only increasing the water stress to industrial companies in these areas but also increase the pressure to improve the quality of the industrial wastewater. This in turn increases the costs spent on environmental rehabilitation and remediation.

Tackling the Challenge

Water quality is gradually becoming the leading problem throughout the developing world. Drinking water sources are under increasing threat from contamination, which holds widespread consequences for the health, and the economic and social development of various countries. Governments in the developing nations, as well as donor nations and organizations, should strengthen efforts to provide adequate water services for their citizens. Water policies must be redefined and be strictly implemented, and water programs should be better integrated into a country’s cultures and values than they have been in the past. Water programs are not required to be large scale and financially intensive, and can be simple and financially viable.

An example of such a program is water.org’s use of the “micro loans” system. This system entails providing micro loans to local families to allow them to build adequate piping systems and sanitation facilities within their homes. This will allow for an increase in the family’s income due to better health and less time spent on water collection. If the governments of developing countries adopt such a system, it will provide them with a simple yet efficient solution to thewater pollution dilemma that will also produce massive payback for the country.

Therefore it is evident that although water pollution can be lessened through the help of donor nations and organizations, the key to addressing these issues lies within the developing countries themselves. Governments must realize that action must be taken immediately because if water pollution continues to grow, the future will be very bleak.

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Oman’s Largest Environment and Waste Management Conference and Exhibition

OWES-EcoMENA_200x200pxOman’s largest environmental and waste management expo and conference, OWES, is scheduled to take place during 23 – 25 May 2016 at the Oman Exhibition Center. The event is supported by reputed local and international regional entities like Be’ah, Haya, PAEW, and EcoMENA. OWES brings together policy-makers, domain experts, engineers, technology companies, scientists, researchers, students, entrepreneurs, equipment suppliers and other professionals on a single platform to discuss environmental challenges in Oman and explore plausible solutions.

OWES strives to focus on all aspects of environmental and waste management sector in Oman. Infact, the exhibition, technical sessions, panel discussions have been designed to address major environmental challenges in Oman, including but not limited to solid waste management, industrial waste management, sewage, air pollution, water pollution, ecological degradation, green buildings, climate change, environmental management and environmental awareness.

OWES will highlight the environmental impacts of refineries and petrochemical industries of Oman and will provide environmental compliance solutions and procedures for such facilities. More than 100 top environmental specialists from different parts of the world are expected to participate, providing an excellent opportunity for peer networking, knowledge-sharing and brainstorming.

OWES will provide stakeholder, including policy-makers, investors, public sector as well as private sector, a perfect venue for dialogue to exchange experiences on how to best improve Oman’s environmental and waste management capabilities.

The exhibition will serve as a solid platform to showcase the latest products in environmental monitoring, industrial pollution abatement, solid waste management, hazardous waste management, recycling, waste-to-energy, green buildings, wastewater treatment and related areas, thus emerging as a key environmental sourcing hub for the entire GCC.

The event is being officially supported and endorsed by EcoMENA, one of the most popular names in MENA's environmental and waste management sector. Please visit http://www.owes-expo.com for more information. 

For enquiries related to sponsorships, stand booking, speaking opportunities, delegate registrations etc, please call Mr. Indrajeet Kumar on +968-246 601 24 or email on indrajeet.kumar@omanexpo.com or india@owes-expo.com or info@ecomena.org.

Waste Management in Gaza Strip

Solid waste management in Gaza Strip is a matter of grave concern. With population of approximately 1.75 million, waste management is one of the most serious challenges confronting the local authorities because of high volumes of solid waste generation and economic blockade by Israel. The daily solid waste generation across Gaza is more than 1300 tons which is characterized by per capita waste generation of 0.35 to 1.0 kg.

Scarcity of waste disposal sites coupled with huge increase in waste generation is leading to serious environmental and human health impacts on the population. The severity of the crisis is a direct consequence of continuing blockade by Israeli Occupation Forces and lack of financial assistance from international donor.

Israeli Occupation Forces deliberately destroyed most of the sewage infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, during 2008-2009 Gaza War inflicting heavy damage to sewage pipes, water tanks, wastewater treatment plants etc. Infact, Israeli forces, time and again, target Gaza's infrastructure and inflict heavy damage during repeated incursions in the Gaza Strip. 

Landfills in Gaza

There are three landfills in Gaza Strip – one each in southern and central part of Gaza and one in Gaza governorate. In addition, there are numerous unregulated dumpsites scattered across rural and urban areas which are not fenced, lined or monitored. Domestic, industrial and medical wastes are often dumped near cities and villages or burned and disposed of in unregulated disposal sites which cause soil, air and water pollution, leading to health hazards and ecological damage. The physical damage caused to Gaza’s infrastructure by repeated Israeli aggression has been a major deterred in putting forward a workable solid waste management strategy in the Strip.

Sewage Disposal Problems

The sewage disposal problem is assuming alarming proportions. The Gaza Strip’s sewage service networks cover most areas, except for Khan Yunis and its eastern villages where only 40% of the governorate is covered. There are only three sewage water treatment stations in Gaza Strip – in Beit Lahia, Gaza city and Rafah – which are unable to cope with the increasing population growth rate.

The total quantity of produced sewage water is estimated at 45 million m3 per annum, in addition to 3000 cubic meters of raw sewage water discharged from Gaza Strip directly into the sea every day. Sewage water discharge points are concentrated on the beaches of Gaza city, Al Shate' refugee camp and Deir El Balah.

Raw Sewage on a Gaza beach

The continuous discharge of highly contaminated sewage water from Gaza Strip in the Mediterranean shores is causing considerable damage to marine life in the area. The beaches of Gaza city are highly polluted by raw sewage. In addition, groundwater composition in Gaza Strip is marked by high salinity and nitrate content which may be attributed to unregulated disposal of solid and liquid wastes from domestic, industrial and agricultural sources.

Recently, the ongoing electricity and fuel shortage caused sewage from Gaza City wastewater treatment plant to overflow into residential areas causing a grave humanitarian and environmental crisis. Several more sewage stations across the Gaza Strip are on the verge of overflowing which could be disastrous from the entire region. The prevalent waste management scenario demands immediate intervention of international donors, environmental agencies and regional governments in order to prevent the situation from assuming catastrophic proportions.

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Egypt’s Water Crisis – Recipe for Disaster

nile-pollutionEgypt has been suffering from severe water scarcity in recent years. Uneven water distribution, misuse of water resources and inefficient irrigation techniques are some of the major factors playing havoc with water security in the country. Egypt has only 20 cubic meters per person of internal renewable freshwater resources, and as a result the country relies heavily on the Nile River for its main source of water. The River Nile is the backbone of Egypt’s industrial and agricultural sector and is the primary source of drinking water for the population.

Rising populations and rapid economic development in the countries of the Nile Basin, pollution and environmental degradation are decreasing water availability in the country. Egypt is facing an annual water deficit of around 7 billion cubic metres. Infact, United Nations is already warning that Egypt could run out of water by the year 2025.

Let us have a close look at major factors affecting Egypt’s water security:

Population Explosion

Egypt’s population is mushrooming at an alarming rate and has increased by 41 percent since the early 1990s. Recent reports by the government suggest that around 4,700 newborns are added to the population every week, and future projections say that the population will grow from its current total of 92 million to 110 million by the year 2025. The rapid population increase multiplies the stress on Egypt’s water supply due to more water requirements for domestic consumption and increased use of irrigation water to meet higher food demands.

Inefficient Irrigation

Egypt receives less than 80 mm of rainfall a year, and only 6 percent of the country is arable and agricultural land, with the rest being desert. This leads to excessive watering and the use of wasteful irrigation techniques such as flood irrigation [an outdated method of irrigation where gallons of water are pumped over the crops]. Nowadays, Egypt’s irrigation network draws almost entirely from the Aswan High Dam, which regulates more than 18,000 miles of canals and sub-canals that push out into the country’s farmlands adjacent to the river. This system is highly inefficient, losing as much as 3 billion cubic meters of Nile water per year through evaporation and could be detrimental by not only intensifying water and water stress but also creating unemployment. A further decrease in water supply would lead to a decline in arable land available for agriculture, and with agriculture being the biggest employer of youth in Egypt, water scarcity could lead to increased unemployment levels.

Pollution

The pollution of river Nile is an issue that has been regularly underestimated. With so many people relying on the Nile for drinking, agricultural, and municipal use, the quality of that water should be of pivotal importance. The reality is that water of Nile is 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 river.

River Nile is commonly used for dumping of household trash

River Nile is commonly used for dumping of household trash

Industrial waste has led to the presence of 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.

Sewage water from slums and many other areas in Cairo is discharged into the river untreated due to lack of water treatment plants. Agricultural runoffs frequently contain pollutants from pesticides and herbicides, which have negative effects on the river and the people using it. All of these factors combine together to make Nile a polluted river which may spell doom for the generations to come.

Regional Upheavals

Egypt controls majority of the water resource extracted from the Nile River due to colonial-era treaty, which guaranteed Egypt 90 percent share of the Nile, and prevented their neighbors from extracting even a single drop from the Nile without permission. However, in recent years countries along the Nile such as Ethiopia are taking advantage are gaining more control over the rights for the Nile.

A big challenge 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.

Conclusions

Water availability issues in Egypt are rapidly assuming alarming proportions. By the year 2020, Egypt will be consuming 20 percent more water than it has. With its loosening grip on the Nile, water scarcity could endanger the country’s stability and regional dominance. It is imperative on the Egyptian government  and the entire population of to act swiftly and decisively to mitigate water scarcity, implement water conservation techniques and control water pollution develop plans that would install more efficient irrigation techniques, and control water pollution in order to avoid a disaster.

With climate conditions expected to get drier and heat waves expected to become more frequent in the MENA region, Egypt cannot afford to neglect the importance of water conservation anymore and must act immediately to augment its natural water reserves.

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Wastewater Treatment Process and its Benefits

With water shortages plaguing the world, water scarcity has become one of the largest threats facing society today, making it one of the UN’s main millennium development goals. Therefore governments have begun to develop new projects and technologies to mitigate its effects on the world. Such projects and technologies include rain harvesting, water location transfers, desalination, and wastewater treatment. Unlike the rest, wastewater treatment presents a sustainable short-term and long-term solution to water scarcity. Wastewater is the water used by residences and commercial/industrial establishments that has become too polluted for further use. The combination between these different types of wastewater causes the resulting wastewater mix to contain both suspended and dissolved organic and inorganic substances such as carbohydrates, fats, soaps, synthetic detergents, as well as various natural and synthetic organic chemicals.

Wastewater Treatment Process

The treatment process must be divided into different treatment stages to ensure good water and sanitation quality. The preliminary stage of the treatment process uses large filtering screens that remove large solid inorganic material such as paper, plastic, and metal. This is followed by the removal of the grit and silt which are abrasive to plant equipment. In the primary stage, wastewater is passed through a primary sedimentation tank where solid particles of organic material are removed by gravity settling at the bottom of the tank. The resultant primary sludge is then raked to the center of the tank where it is concentrated and pumped away for further treatment.

The wastewater then undergoes a biological process known as activated sludge process, which uses natural occurring micro-organisms to break down dissolved and suspended organic solids. The settled wastewater then enters aeration tanks where air is blown into the waterto provide oxygen promoting the growth of microorganisms. These microorganisms then consume the organic pollutants and nutrients in the wastewater. From the aeration tanks the mixture of wastewater and microorganisms is moved to a secondary sedimentation tank where the biomass settles to the bottom of the tank and is concentrated as sludge.

The clarified wastewater is then passed into a tank where the third stage of treatment, known as the Tertiary treatment stage, takes place. In this stage Chlorineis used to remove any biological pathogens present in the clarified wastewater that could be a risk to human health. In some instances this treatment is repeated more than once if the treated wastewater is reused for purposes such as irrigation of food crops or where close human contact may result. After all these treatment processes are complete, fresh water is produced.

Benefits

The water treatment process does not only produce clean reusable water, but also has the potential to produce various other benefits. It has the potential to reduce a country’s waste production, to produce energy through methane harvesting, and the potential to produce natural fertilizer from the waste collected through the process. Below is a more detailed explanation of these benefits:

Waste Reduction

Through the treatment of wastewater, the amount of waste that is usually released into the environment is reduced thus improving environment’s health. By doing so, the government in turn reduces the health risks associated with environmental pollution, and reduces the water loss induced through water pollution. Wastewater treatment also reduces the amount of money spent by a country on environmental rehabilitation projects required to battle pollution.

Energy Production

The sludge collected during the treatment process is itself treated because it contains a large amount of biodegradable material. It is treated with anaerobic bacteria in special fully enclosed digesters heated to 35 degrees Celsius, an area where these anaerobic microorganisms thrive without any oxygen. The gas produced during this anaerobic process contains a large amount of methane, which is harvested and then burned to generate electricity.

This energy can be used to power the wastewater treatment plants making them self-sustainable, andif there happens to be an excess of energy produced, it could be transported into a country’s national grid. This helps lower the reliance on non-renewable energy sourcessuch as fossil fuels, reducing a country’s carbon footprint and a country’s expenditure on energy production. An example of this system being used within the Middle East can be found in al-Samra wastewater treatment plants in Jordan. According to government officials the plant produces 40% of the energy it requires through burning the methane produced by the treatment process.

Fertilizer Production

Any biodegradable material remaining is dried in “drying lagoons” and is then turned into natural fertilizer. The resulting natural fertilizer is then used in the agricultural sector, increasing crop yields. This decreases the use of chemical fertilizers that pollute the surrounding marine and surface ecosystems.

Conclusion

In summary, the combination of these benefits along with water production makes wastewater treatment a sustainable short and long-term solution to the world’s water crisis, which will only increase as the world population increases. It is estimated that the world’s population is set to increase to 9 billion people, and this would cause an increase in the amount of water that can be treated. This will cause the production of large amounts of fresh usable water, thus helping battle water scarcity. 

Water Crisis in Gaza

Gaza Strip has been enduring constant Israeli bombardment for many years which has resulted in severe damages to its infrastructure and to its citizens. However the real risk is Gaza’s lack of usable water.  The only natural source of fresh water in Gaza is a shallow aquifer on the southern part of its coast; 90 to 95% of which is not safe for drinking because of neighboring seawater, sewage, and runoff from agriculture. Even though most of it is not fit for consumption, residents have no other choice but to resort to using it. UN hydrologists have indicated that current extraction rates from the aquifer run at around 160 million cubic meters (mcm)/year, 105 mcm above the recommended abstraction rate.

The repercussions of this over abstraction can be disastrous because a drop in the water table would cause a large volume of sea water to seep through the surface and into the aquifer, further contaminating the entire aquifer.

Of course the situation was not always like this. Prior to 2006, around 97% of all households within the Gaza strip had access to the coastal aquifer. Gaza also showcased five sewage and wastewater treatment plants that improved the water’s health & status. Why did all of this change? What happened? Why have scientists predicted that the Gaza strip will become unlivable by the year 2016?

The ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza has had a heavy toll on the strip's already fragile water infrastructure, leaving the territory's 1.8 million residents facing long periods without access to clean running water. This has driven residents to travel long distances in order to reach a source of water that they could use. Some residents have even relied on purchasing expensive bottled water smuggled in from the underground tunnels that connect into Egypt. The constant bombardment has also had negative effects on the five sewage and wastewater treatment plants in Gaza, three of which have been damaged by the bombings. The damage to the treatment plants led to the discharge of an estimated 3.5 million cubic feet (1 Cubic feet = 0.028 cubic meters) of raw sewage into the Mediterranean Sea every day.

It must be noted that this water crisis in Gaza was present well before the most recent Israeli bombardment began.  Since the Israeli blockade on the Gaza strip enforced in 2006 Israel has controlled everything from the national air space to everything entering and exiting the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, Israel has denied the influx of raw material that would be used to improve the current outdated infrastructure causing the existing infrastructure to deteriorate over time. Additionally, as is the situation in the West Bank Israel did and still consumes a disproportionate share of water (approximately 80%) from Gaza’s only water source, the coastal aquifer. Finally, as if to rub salt into the Palestinians wounds, it constantly rejects Palestinian proposals for the construction of private water wells and often destroys any that exist.

In 2012, the plans for a desalination plant in Gaza were suggested and were backed by Israel, all Mediterranean governments, the UN, the EU, and key development banks. It was also confirmed that the finances for this projects were to be provided by the Islamic Development Bank and the European Investment Bank.However shortly after the plans were published, conflicts reoccurred and Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip continued. This once promising project was discarded and infrastructure destroyed.

The city’s water quality has become a central factor in its water crisis threatening all life in the city. With no end in sight for both the current attacks on the city and the illegal blockade, there are little to no solutions left for Gaza. With its infrastructure constantly being destroyed and its water polluted, the only solution is peace. Without peace the water crisis will continue to worsen until the Gaza Strip becomes unlivable. The illegal blockade must be lifted to allow the people of Gaza the freedom to manage its own water supply, rebuild its infrastructure, and to import fresh water from the outside world because without it Gaza will cease to exist.

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..).

Storm Alexa – Positive Aspects for MENA

The year 2013 saw history being made when Storm Alexa swept across the Middle East and North Africa bringing blizzards, torrential rain and icy winds to a region that hasn’t experienced such a storm in over 100 years. Storm Alexa caused devastating floods in Arab cities, such as Gaza, and power cuts in certain areas of Jordan. Heavy snowfall in Jordan covered the streets, hindering mobility and forcing people into their homes for several days. The storm has also brought hardship and misery upon the Syrian refugees enduring the bitter cold in fragile tents and makeshift shelters.

Postive Aspects

However, with no intention of belittling or undermining the aforementioned difficulties and suffering, such a storm could be beneficial in terms of one aspect: the water it brings to the region. Storm Alexa brought an abundance of water to a region suffering from severe water scarcity. The effects of water scarcity are rapidly being felt across the region, with water shortages affecting countries such as Palestine, Egypt, and Jordan. Therefore, this outpour of water could bring some respite in terms of water availability, with rainwater runoff and snowfall being large sources fresh water. Sadly these sources have been very poorly managed causing floods, and snow covered streets.

Flooded rainwater has mixed with wastewater triggering an overflow of wastewater throughout local cities and towns. This has produced adverse health problems among the resident populations, who are calling out for rapid solutions to their strife. One solution that can be utilized is harvesting floodwater and the large amounts of snowfall available. Harvesting such water sources would help reduce the effects of water scarcity, and reduce physical harm to cities and towns.

Once these water sources are collected, they must be treated before they are reused. Once treated, the water can be used for a variety of activities such as irrigation or any type of domestic use.

Case Study – Amman

Over the course of the storm, Amman has seen ample amounts of snow and rainfall that have put the city in what seemed like a standstill. Residents were snowed in unable to go to work and perform their daily routines. The streets were covered with snow that reached up to 3 feet, making it very difficult to move about. Although the snowfall had its detrimental repercussions, it is a source of fresh water.  Harvesting it would have been a fairly simple procedure.

The procedure would require manpower, along with trucks, to set out to the streets and start collecting as much snow as possible. Once collected, it would be transported to the nearest wastewater treatment plant, such as the Samra wastewater treatment plant located in the greater Amman Russeifa-Zarqa area (there are currently 26 wastewater treatment plants that exist in Jordan). Once treated the water produced can be added into the water pipe systems and distributed among households.

Harvesting and treating these water sources eases the effects of water scarcity even if for a short time period. This is beneficial in several ways:

  • It allows over used water aquifers and rivers time to replenish (even if for a short period).
  • It reduces the financial costs spent on water extraction (for a short time period).
  • It reduces the amount of fossil fuels used during water extraction (reducing CO2 release).
  • It removes snow off the streets allowing people to go back to their daily routines, and to their work.

Challenges to Overcome

Needless to say, wastewater treatment has its downsides. First, it is energy intensive and financiallydemanding. Second, it requires very advanced technological capabilities. Third, it requires a large area in which it is to be implemented. With the exception of Jordan and a handful of other countries in the region, not many have the economic and technological capabilities to undergo this type water management. The problem is further exacerbated by the political strife the region is currently experiencing. Countries such as Syria and Palestine have more political constraints than others that do not allow them to use this water source to its full potential.

However, there are simpler ways to treat wastewater that are not so economically and technologically reliant. Such techniques require a large area where the excess rainwater is allowed to be stored for a certain period of time, which allows the waste to settle at the bottom of the area (in which the water is stored). The water is then passed through a large filtering screen that removes the remaining waste and bacteria from the water. This method does not treat water as thoroughly as wastewater treatment plants, but it treats it enough for it to be reused for certain water intensive practices (e.g. irrigation, washing machines, showering).

Conclusions

Water scarcity has become the most immediate threat the world is facing, with the UN declaring the year 2013 “International Year of Water Cooperation”. Water scarcity is further intensified in the MENA region because it only holds 1% of the usable water resources in the world, while having 5% of the world’s population. With regional population set to increase even further, water scarcity is likely to increase, with predictions indicating that the MENA region will run out of water by the year 2050.

Although harvesting the water provided by storm Alexa does not provide a long-term solution to water scarcity in the region, it offers a short-term respite from its effects. This gives countries more time to plan ahead and to develop further in their quest to mitigate water scarcity. With scientists indicating that such storms are to become even more rare due to the effects of climate change, there are good opportunities to use these events for the welfare of mankind.