New UNDP report highlights opportunities for public-private partnerships for water management in the Arab region

A new report from the United Nations Development Programme highlights opportunities for managing scarcity and securing the future for water resources in the Middle East and North Africa. The report identifies generic opportunities for improved management of water resources and governance, public-private partnerships, and institutional reform.

The report provides a more in-depth diagnosis and more considered recommendations than many previous commentators. The former includes:

  • Twelve Arab countries have average per capita water availability rates below the World Health Organization threshold for severe scarcity.
  • Threats include natural variability, pollution, overexploitation and climate change.
  • Most shared resources also lack comprehensive international agreements, threatening both water supply and political stability.
  • The water crisis is a crisis of governance.
  • Water security is inseparable from social, economic, environmental and health considerations.
  • Many factors impede progress in water governance, including unclear and overlapping responsibilities, inefficient institutions, insufficient funding, centralized decision-making, limited public awareness and ineffective regulations and enforcement.
  • With more than 5 per cent of the global population and about 10 per cent of the world’s area, the region receives only 2.1 per cent of the world’s average annual precipitation and contains 1.2 per cent of annual renewable water resources. Renewable groundwater quantities are limited, and non-renewable groundwater supplies are threatened by unsustainable use patterns.
  • Balancing multiple water uses amid water scarcity and competing interests can generate social and economic strains. Although agriculture contributes only 7 per cent of GDP, it consumes more water than industrial and municipal users. But reallocating water to more productive sectors such as heavy industry and tourism would make Arab countries even more dependent on food imports and leave millions of unskilled labourers jobless.
  • Competition over transboundary waters such as the Jordan River, shared by Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the State of Palestine and Syria and the Jubba and Shabele rivers, shared by Ethiopia and Somalia, are at the heart of regional political conflicts. Inadequate governance of shared water resources continues to threaten the region’s stability and impose uncertainty on water resource planning in the downstream countries. Deprivation of water resources in occupied territories is another major issue requiring political movement.
  • The water sector, predominantly publicly owned, has a large funding gap. While most Gulf oil-producing countries can afford the needed investments in water-source solutions such as desalination, many other Arab countries cannot. The Islamic Development Bank estimates that Arab countries may need to invest up to $200 billion in water-related infrastructure over the next 10 years to satisfy growing demand.
  • Some Arab countries have taken steps to reform water governance, but impediments remain, including unclear responsibilities, lack of coordination, inefficient institutions, limited public awareness, highly centralized decision making and ineffective regulations and enforcement.
  • The supply-driven approach to water management in the water-stressed Arab countries has failed to deliver water security. Acquiring water supplies while neglecting use and allocation efficiency has led to unsustainable water practices.

The very extensive recommendations include such proposals as:

  • Mechanisms should be established to allow effective and meaningful participation of all relevant stakeholders (such as water user associations) in formulating, implementing and monitoring water governance policies and strategies.
  • Several approaches can be introduced, such as decentralization and the transfer of responsibility and authority to local user groups, and legal frameworks can be formulated to expand public-private partnership capacity. Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia offer successful examples of public-private partnerships.
  • A major shift in water policies is required, emphasizing conservation and demand management to secure long-term water supplies while meeting strict criteria for socio-economic, financial and environmental sustainability and public health requirements.
  • Linking water economy and policies with other economic sectors.
  • Arranging for cooperative management and governance of shared and transboundary water resources between all riparian countries.
  • Establishing monitoring, feedback and assessment mechanisms for water policies and decision-making at all levels (forming and implementing). These mechanisms should involve the various stakeholders, researchers and media. This includes making water related data and updated statistics available, developing performance indicators and monitoring them, and integrating incentives in performance and efficiency indicators.
  • Each country should adapt indicators and data to its own priorities, but a regional monitoring system could contribute to better understanding common problems and promoting cooperative solutions.
  • Legislative enforcement in the water sector should be conducted through the judicial system and, more important, through building public support and stakeholder involvement; publicizing success stories and developing better economic incentives such as fees and subsidies; and education, information dissemination and technical assistance. This also includes developing competent inspection capacities, credible monitoring, accredited and standardized measuring systems and certified reporting systems.
  • Raising public awareness through education, training programmes, interactive initiatives and media, among other means. Major themes can include sustainability, use efficiency and participation and common responsibility. Long-term awareness programmes should be tailored to specific local contexts. • Building partnerships with beneficiaries and the private sector, thus encouraging participation in modern, timely and well-monitored and metered water delivery services.
  • Expanding water services to vulnerable communities and encouraging local initiatives in building and managing such services.
  • Increasing irrigation efficiency from its current average levels of about 50 per cent to 70–80 per cent to increase irrigated areas by about 50 per cent and significantly reduce the Arab region’s water deficit and food imports.
  • Increasing Arab cooperation in areas of water, food and energy trade. Establishing a common Arab market could be one step in this direction.
  • Reforming the energy sector, raising awareness of water’s importance in energy-related decisions and establishing coordination and cooperation schemes between the energy and water sectors.
  • Establishing energy-water balance in desalination. • Researching and developing efficient, reliable and scalable renewable energies, desalination and water treatment technologies that better meet the region’s demands.
  • Studying climate change and investigating possible measures to limit its effects or adapt to them.
  • Setting legal instruments to identify and regulate water rights, regulate water allocation among and within sectors and regulate permit systems for drilling wells.
  • Investing in transfer and localization of water-related technologies and knowledge. This includes researching and testing nonconventional water resources (desalination, treated wastewater, rainwater harvesting, cloud seeding and irrigation drainage water), especially at low scales and for domestic uses.

There is a lot in this report for Canadian companies that have technologies, services, and experience relevant to the water needs of Arab countries. The full 168 page report is available at http://www.undp.org/content/dam/rbas/doc/Energy%20and%20Environment/Arab_Water_Gov_Report/Arab_Water_Gov_Report_Full_Final_Nov_27.pdf

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