How we meet the 2030 agenda through water system transformations in the MENA region

Source(s)
Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science

By Amgad Elmahdi

  • As water turns into an even scarcer resource in the region, cooperation both within countries and among riparian countries is essential for system transformation.
  • The MENA region is facing a systemic crisis as it battles extreme climatic conditions water scarcity, biodiversity loss, high population growth rate and conflict and fragility.
  • The systemic crisis in MENA requires a systemic approach and solutions to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

This year’s World Water Day focuses on what water means to people, its true value and how we can better protect this vital resource. According to UN Water, about 2.2 billion people lack safe drinking water. Unsustainable use of water and global heating will continue to generate competition for water resources displacing millions of people and creating food insecurity. Recent pandemic conditions (COVID 19) and the interruption to the world trades and accessibility to labour and markets in addition to the natural disasters (e.g., extreme climate change of droughts, storms and floods) have exacerbated food insecurity and poverty in many developing countries. It made 2020 one of the most challenging years that called for integrated actions, system change and system transformation.

The MENA region is facing a systemic crisis as it battles extreme climatic conditions water scarcity, biodiversity loss, high population growth rate and conflict and fragility. These systemic crises call for fast actions to achieve SDGs by 2030 which less than 10 years way. This scarcity issue in the MENA region derives from a combination of low availability of physical water resources with important demand. Most of the countries in the region are characterized by high and extremely high levels of water stress. Indeed, over 60% of the regional population and 70% of their economic activities are located in areas that are characterized by high and very high levels of water stress. Apart from surface water stress, groundwater resources in MENA are also being critically depleted as overexploitation is maintained in the region. For example, in Libya groundwater abstraction rates are about eight times their natural recharge rates.

Historically, agriculture has been the largest source of water withdrawing in the MENA region. Overall, this sector accounts for nearly 85% of regional water uses (almost 15 points higher than the global average) in a given year. Though agriculture is the foremost agenda for many governments, the high agricultural water withdrawing in the MENA contrasts the poor agricultural productivity of the region. With an accelerating population growth and global climatic changes, per capita water availability in the region is predicted to drop by 50% by mid-century. As water turns into an even scarcer resource in the region, cooperation both within countries and among riparian countries is essential for system transformation.

Meeting these challenges will require bold actions and new mindsets on water and food systems transformation to mainstream the SDGs. The system transformation requires several actions and tackling several needs to produce more food with less water and energy. However, these actions need to be supported by strategies that are:

  • Demand Driven at the scale: Responding to the current and future identified priorities of end-users, national and international partners, and key stakeholders and targeting specific spatial domains.
  • Challenge oriented: Addressing critical regional issues, including climate change, water scarcity, groundwater depletion, land degradation, food insecurity and inequality.
  • System oriented: Driving benefits across multiple areas and scales while leveraging synergies and managing trade-offs between systems (land-water-food-energy).
  • Integrated: Building on the breadth of capabilities in the region and countries to deliver integrated solutions supported by an enabling environment to assure sustainability.
  • Rigorous: Designed based on well defined, compelling theories of change (state of the art-implementing science) with clear, meaningful and measurable results framework in place. Strategies need to not lose on-the-ground impacts out of sight, and they should be underpinned with clear monitoring, evaluation and learning indicators.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI)   and  CGIAR   are at the front lines of the above actions. During the last three decades, IWMI has delivered and implemented research results that have led to changes in water management and its systems that have contributed to social and economic development. IWMI’s strategy 2019-23 addresses these challenges.  However, these strategies and transformations need to be done in a nexus approach (Water, Food, Energy and Environment) to revive the agricultural system. This will involve;

  • Transforming the agri-food system to help eliminate hunger and reduce poverty through multiple benefits infrastructure and partnerships and investments of private sectors.
  • Increase availability and affordability of cash crop such as vegetables and fruits through improving water productivity and climate resilient crops.
  • Improve affordability, accessibility and availability of healthy diet (change policy from increase production to produce nutritious food and affordable).
  • Access to sustainable energy sources and develop nexus policy to nexus implementation plan.
  • De-risking the agricultural systems at scale and redesign the farming system (integrated farming system to diversify value chain and improve the livelihood).
  • Investments in early warning/action & emergency response through Digital Climate Smart Agricultural advisory services Initiatives to convey information to the hand of farmers and decision-makers using the same reference information.
  • Strengthen governance beyond water (nexus governance) including human capital and institutions for policy coherence and multilateralism, including trade at scale (local, national and regional).

In the MENA context, IWMI works on water management issues with a range of international, regional and national institutions through multilateral and bilateral projects. Working closely with implementing partners, NARs, universities, local communities including small-holders and government agencies, IWMI is currently implementing projects in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco with staff based in Cairo, Lebanon, Jordan and Dubai. 

The systemic crisis in MENA requires a systemic approach and solutions to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Some of the key programs implemented and how they aim to help solve the water crisis, best-practice agriculture and resolve other related crises in the MENA region are provided for further reading:

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