Beating water and land shortages in the Middle East and north Africa
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The Nexus in the Arab Region // Beating water and land shortages in the Middle East and north Africa

Focusing on the nexus between scarce resources is the only route to sustainable supplies of water, food and energy. A new initiative by the Stockholm Environment Institute, Texas A&M and Chatham House will act as a hub for knowledge and technology exchange, and for innovating, adapting and benchmarking solutions. By Holger Hoff and Tom Gill, SEI Stockholm

The nexus between water and energy is among the most important inter-dependencies in Arab countries, where socio-economic development relies on the sustainable provision of these two resources. Together, water and energy are required for irrigation and separately, energy is vital to desalination, and water is critical for energy production. While water scarcity in the region increases, food price hikes and food access become grave concerns for many.

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##<<fotos/2013-14/people/holger-hoff.jpg|c|Holger Hoff>>

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Holger Hoff

 

is senior research fellow at SEI Stockholm and part of the theme Managing environmental systems. He is also scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. In Stockholm he coordinates the Green-Blue Water Initiative. He also coordinates SEI's contribution to the Green Water Credits Project and the Glowa Jordan River Project which is funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. {http://www.sei-international.org/staff?staffid=114|more}

##<<fotos/2013-14/people/tom-gill.jpg|c|Holger Hoff>>

 

Tom Gill

 

is a senior editor and writer with the SEI communications team, and managing editor of the academic journal Climate and Development. He has more than 15 years' experience in media and publishing, largely spent editing and writing for a broad range of UK publications and organizations, notably the BBC and The Independent. {http://www.sei-international.org/staff?staffid=167|more}

<<logos/publications/g/logo_guardian_100x160_hb.jpg|c|The Guardian|http://www.theguardian.com>>

This article was originally published by {http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2014/nov/04/water-and-land-shortages-middle-east-north-africa-renewable-energy-desalination|The Guardian} and is reposted here with kind permission by the authors and The Guardian.

Please also check the {http://sei-international.org/blog-articles/2961|SEI website}.

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Water and arable land are more scarce in Middle East and North African (Mena) countries than in any other region. Growing demand, population growth, a shrinking resource base, and climate change are combining to rapidly increase pressure on these resources.

Region-wide investment and collaboration in renewable energy systems could serve to address these issues, leading to a more secure future for the region's 355 million inhabitants in terms of water, food and energy. Furthermore, regional collaboration has the potential to reduce conflict.

The nexus between water and energy is among the most important inter-dependencies in Arab countries, where socio-economic development relies on the sustainable provision of these two resources. Together, water and energy are required for irrigation and separately, energy is vital to desalination, and water is critical for energy production. While water scarcity in the region increases, food price hikes and food access become grave concerns for many.

Current solutions to water and energy problems are often too narrowly focused and have unwanted or unexpected side effects. For example, seawater desalination — which is energy intensive and increasingly widespread in the region, especially in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is almost exclusively based on fossil fuels. This not only contributes to climate change but also impacts on countries' fossil-fuel export revenues. Desalination also requires heavy capital investment and high operation and maintenance costs, and takes a heavy toll on the marine environment.

There is an urgent need for Arab countries to cooperate and invest in research and development into alternative desalination and treatment technologies. Acquiring and localising these technologies will help to reduce costs and increase its reliability as a water source, adding value to economies as well as reducing environmental impacts.

Solar energy, with its nearly unlimited availability in the region, will be critical for powering desalination plants, as well as for meeting climate goals and the broader aim of sustainable development.

But, like any solution, it has to be adapted to the regional context. Solar panels developed for a European context may not work well in the Mena region. Sand can cover or damage solar panel surfaces, the efficiency of power generation decreases with increasing temperature, and shallow coastal zones — common in the area — cannot sustain large amounts of brine discharge from desalination plants. At the moment these challenges are addressed only in a very fragmented way, within sectors and within countries.

An integrated — or 'nexus' — approach is required for any strategy or technological solution for meeting the ambitious renewable energy targets many Mena countries have set, as well as solutions for food security via imports or foreign direct investment in agriculture, to which many countries in the region increasingly resort.

A nexus approach can help countries use resources more efficiently, reduce the impacts of technologies such as desalination, and create synergies between sectors. There is also great potential to reduce pressure on resources by shifting agricultural policy towards multi-functionality (such as the non-trade benefits of agriculture, such as environmental protection and food security) and by the recycling and cascading use of resources. For example wastewater from cities can be used to generate energy and be re-used in agriculture.

The Stockholm Environment Institute, Texas A&M and Chatham House are the core partners in a new initiative, The Nexus in the Arab Region, which will act as a hub for knowledge and technology exchange, and for innovating, adapting and benchmarking solutions. The initiative will demonstrate the benefits and opportunities of a nexus approach, identify entry points for bringing this thinking into policy (such as national development plans and economic incentives), and will showcase innovations, best practices and solutions. Key to the success of this initiative is growing a network of experts and practitioners and its platform for dialogue and information sharing.

This year has seen momentum building for the initiative through a series of conferences, workshops and other events, such as the nexus seminar for the Arab Region at Stockholm World Water Week. The Arab Water Forum in Cairo this December will also be key for building a broad network of partners among regional institutions.

There is hardly any other region for which a nexus approach holds such great potential to reduce pressure on the environment and save on precious resources while at the same time accelerating socio‐economic development, reducing disparities across countries, contributing to cooperation and conflict resolution and ensuring the region's wealth and heritage for future generations.

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