The conference agenda included several important topics on Arab water issues, most importantly follow-up on the implementation of the Arab Sustainable Water Development Plan 2030 and the Framework Convention on Shared Resources among the Arab Countries. Topics discussed at the conference included the WEF Nexus, challenges and opportunities for a Nexus approach to sustainable development in the Arab region, water resource management successes and the partnership between the public and private sectors.
The Nexus session debated and analysed the potential of adopting a Nexus approach to address water challenges in the Arab region. Dr Bisher Imam, Senior Programme Specialist in Water Sciences at UNESCO in Cairo, highlighted the challenges and opportunities of a Nexus approach to sustainable development in the Arab region. In his presentation, he stressed the need for creating interlinkages between sectors working on water resources and using them to ensure the water sector’s sustainability in the service of development goals in the Arab countries. From Dr Imam’s perspective, the Arab Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development 2015-2025, proposed by UN ESCWA represents an opportunity to apply the Nexus approach in the Arab countries.
Professor Walid Zubari, Dean of the Post Graduate College for Water Resources at the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain, presented the six WEF Nexus policy briefs prepared by the Nexus Dialogues Programme in collaboration with the GIZ Regional Programme “Adaptation to Climate Change in the Water Sector in the MENA Region” in cooperation with the LAS and Arabian Gulf University. Prof. Zubari stressed that the importance of adopting a Nexus approach is well recognised in the region, especially in regards to mainstreaming the approach at all levels and across different sectors. He concluded by stating how this prepares the groundwork for implementing Nexus projects across the region.
Dr Khaled Abu Zeid, Director of Regional Water Resources at the Centre for Environment & Development for the Arab Region & Europe (CEDARE), discussed the opportunities and challenges facing the waste water-energy Nexus. He presented drip irrigation systems as an example of a system that enhances overall water efficiency but is more energy intensive. Dr Abu Zeid emphasised that in convincing decision-makers to adopt the Nexus approach, it is important to clarify the economic return of integrated policies in comparison with sectoral policy approaches through various scenarios.
Amal Ismail, Researcher at the National Energy Research Center (NERC) in Egypt, suggested initiating a high-level Nexus council in Egypt. She proposed reforming the pricing policies for energy, as well as the use of revenue from fossil fuels in Egypt to diversify sources of energy from renewable sources by initiating investment projects for solar energy plants. Ismail emphasised that these mechanisms call for a paradigm shift in public sector policies. They must also be accompanied by public-awareness raising campaigns and government incentives for private and public sectors to invest in renewable sources of energy.
Dr Islam Alzayed, Vice Head of the Nile Basin Studies Department at the Water Resources Research Institute in Egypt, gave the final presentation at the Nexus session. Dr Islam introduced his research paper “The potential for improving water-food Nexus in Sudan’s irrigation scheme and its implications for Egypt's River Nile Flow.” The paper was written as a response to concerns that Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile River would reduce water quantities delivered to the downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.
The research revealed that increasing water use efficiency of the Gezira Irrigation Scheme in Sudan, which at 8,000 km2 is one of the largest irrigation schemes in the world, from 44% to 75% would save approximately 68 million m3 of water/year for downstream users. This would be accomplished by accounting for rainfall in irrigation and utilising rainwater harvesting, which has the potential to increase productivity, improve the water-food Nexus and achieve SDGs in Sudan.
The concluding discussion focused on the need to identify the consequences of the suggested shift in water policies, mainly water subsidies, by using economic instruments such as water pricing, incentives and taxes to ensure sustainability of water resources and social equity. The discussion also highlighted the importance of changing consumers’ inefficient use of the scarce water resources in the region.
The session concluded with a consensus by the presenters and audience on the need to transfer its recommendations to decision-makers and mainstream the Nexus approach in the Arab region.