Articles News & Interviews Books Editorials Home
      اللغة العربية    
Editor in Chief - Environment And Development
Secretary General - AFED
About Gallery Videos Contact
More News & Interviews

Securing a Water Future in the Arab World
Revolve -2012

Revolve speaks to the Lebanese environmental expert Najib Saab and asks: what is the key water challenge in the Mediterranean region, and how should it be addressed?


Securing a Water Future in the Arab World


by Hanan El-Youssef

Original article found on

"The key water challenge in the Mediterranean region is water scarcity, especially in the southern part of the Mediterranean. Scarcity is more important than pollution. Pollution is not a root cause, but rather a symptom. On the southern shores of the Mediterranean, it is precisely because there is water scarcity that pollution is simply not affordable.

"Even if these countries use their renewable freshwater resources in the most efficient way, and even if these countries could harness all available renewable freshwater resources, at some point in the near future - as early as 2015 - we will face a huge and very real crisis. Many WANA countries are already in a water crisis.

"Whatever we do, we need alternative and new sources of water. Natural freshwater resources will not suffice, no matter how efficient their use and management. Scarcity is the main problem."

What exactly are these new sources of water?

"These new and alternative resources go much further than desalination. There exist untapped resources, and these are crucial in addressing water issues in WANA." Saab says that a rapid and far-reaching improvement of efficiency rates, especially in agriculture, can help ease the pressure on dwindling sources in the region.

"Evaporation is not to be underestimated in inefficient and out-of-date irrigation schemes. And when you consider that 80 percent of water in the region is used for agriculture, and that agricultural water-use efficiency rates hover around 30 percent, there is clear room for improvement." Saab also emphasizes that continued research on traditional, alternative and drought-resistant crops should not be neglected.

But maximizing efficiency in agricultural, industrial and domestic uses will not suffice. The reuse and recycling of treated wastewater is crucial. "Roughly 40 percent of sewage is not or only partially treated, and only 20 percent of treated water actually flows back into the system for use.

"I think the barrier for efficient use of treated wastewater is primarily cultural. But even with improved infrastructure and irrigation schemes, and even with an increase in wastewater treatment and use, the region will need desalination.

"The problem with desalination right now is that Arab countries produce more than half of the world's desalinated water. But they depend entirely on imported technologies, machinery and spare parts."

In sum, the WANA region really needs to secure its water future: "We need investment in research and development, in order to localize (not nationalize) the sharing and acquisition of local know-how, the production of spare parts and machinery. All this would increase local capacity for the development of new technologies to maximize water use and reuse in climates of scarcity."

Water pricing remains a culturally sensitive question in many WANA countries, where water is seen as a gift from God that should remain in the public domain. Does this mean that water should not be priced?

"This is rubbish. If pricing leads to proper use - use that is equal and equitable and protects both the environment and humanity - then the regulation actually adheres to the Islamic principle." Indeed, some religious figures in the Gulf have made public declarations allowing for and even encouraging the fair pricing of water in the region. "But governments fear water dependency, water trade. A sound collaboration between the public and private sector, in addition to protective regulation, can prevent monopolies and other unfair advantages resulting from the pricing or privatization of water.

"I attend conferences and forums on the issue on a regular basis. But we are tired of lab reports and experiments. The WANA region wants results. WANA needs results that will reach the masses."

Najib Saab is editor-in-chief of Environment and Development, a pan-Arab magazine on sustainable development. He is also secretary general of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development.



Arab Environment in 10 Years
ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
Environmental Agenda
Environment in Arab Media
News & Interviews Photo Gallery Videos