Water & Energy Efficiency: Driving Forces of North Africa’s Green Economy

Today, water is deeply embedded in all aspects of the green economy. According to the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the green economy is currently gaining prominence as an approach conducive to sustainable and inclusive economic growth. It has the ability to boost productivity and the efficient use of natural resources, while reducing pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases. However, water scarcity is a major threat to economic growth and stability in North Africa. The region is very vulnerable to climate change and is highly prone to water scarcity. According to FAO figures, fresh water resources in North Africa are among the lowest in the world: they have decreased by 2/3 during last 40 years and are expected to fall over 50 percent by 2050. Looking on the bright side, a recent report by CDP Worldwide (CDP) states that better water management can help reduce energy use and the associated emissions. Consequently, adaptation of water resources management to climate change is the cornerstone of the region’s sustainable development and economic growth.

Water scarcity in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco & Tunisia

The whole North African region is losing water at a dramatic pace. Algeria’s per capita water availability is less than 300 cubic meters per year, which is well below the threshold for the U.N. definition of water poverty, according to a report by Stratfor. There is water in the sparsely populated central and southern parts of the country, but it is primarily groundwater — and it is at risk. Not only are the aquifers beneath Algeria’s desert very slow to recharge, the non-renewable water drawn from them is sometimes called fossil water because it has sat undisturbed in the aquifers for millennia. Algerian groundwater withdrawals are roughly double the annual recharge rate. Algiers’ water management strategy focuses on making the most of existing water resources through redistribution, increased storage capacity and enhanced desalination capacity. However, Stratfor analysts believe that for a country with some of the lowest water prices in the region, Algeria relies heavily on expensive water management solutions. Without government investment, the availability and quality of Algeria’s water supply will continue to decline.

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By the same token, Egypt faces severe threats to its water security. The UN predicts that Egypt could be water scarce by 2025. Hossam El Moghazy, the minister of water resources and irrigation, said in March 2015 that Egypt had entered an era of water poverty, with an annual shortfall of some 23bn cu meters. According to Future Directions International, the Nile supplies 97 percent of Egypt’s water needs. Given its low rainfall and limited access to groundwater aquifers, the country has no viable alternative water supplies.

“Algiers’ water management strategy focuses on making the most of existing water resources through redistribution, increased storage capacity and enhanced desalination capacity”

Morocco is also a water-scarce country confronted with dwindling groundwater reserves and a strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture, according to USAID. Only 15 percent of total agricultural land is irrigated, resulting in inefficient water use and management. Many rural communities rely on a single water source to sustain families and livelihoods. The lack of a functioning sanitation network and wastewater treatment system causes already scarce water resources to become contaminated and unsuitable for multipurpose use.

Similarly, many Tunisians are living below the water poverty line following a 28 percent drop in rainwater over the previous year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture Water Resources and Fisheries. The Ministry has warned that water reserves were set to fall by a further 25 percent. As a matter of fact, Tunisia will most likely experience acute water poverty by 2040, as stated by a 2015 report by the World Resources Institute. Tunisia stands to lose anywhere up to 80 percent of all its natural water resources by the same year.

Water & energy in the green economy

As part of the shift toward a green economy, North Africa has great potential to improve water and energy efficiency. However, greater efforts are needed to guarantee sustainable development. A recent report by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) gathers the views of industrialists on the issue of the green economy. The report was based on the results of a survey conducted by the ECA Subregional Office for North Africa of 200 enterprises operating in different sectors, in four countries of North Africa (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia). The enterprises surveyed cite, among the main environmental challenges that they face, the sound use of energy, the reduction and reuse of waste, the treatment and recycling of wastewater and the prevention of pollution. Sound water use and renewable energy development were deemed to be only medium-level priorities, because of the inadequate pricing of water (which does not encourage economy in its use) and the limited access to renewable energy technologies.

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Nonetheless, significant steps forward have been made. ECA states that the countries of North Africa are gradually shifting to a development path designed to reconfigure their current economic growth. As per the ECA report, all four countries under consideration have introduced reforms in environmental governance and reoriented their sectoral policies, in particular in the strategic domains of energy, waste management, water and sanitation, agriculture, aquaculture and industry.

“… in terms of energy efficiency, Tunisia is ranked first among the Arab countries, followed by Morocco (in third place), Algeria (in seventh place) and Egypt (in ninth place)”

To illustrate, in terms of energy efficiency, Tunisia is ranked first among the Arab countries, followed by Morocco (in third place), Algeria (in seventh place) and Egypt (in ninth place), according to the Arabic Future Energy Index (AFEX). In terms of water management, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in Egypt is now taking the necessary steps to prepare the National Water Resources Plan – NWRP (2017 – 2037), in order to reach the most appropriate ways and means to secure Egypt’s water resources in the future in terms of quantity and quality, according to an EU report. Outlining the best water management policies from an economic, social and environmental perspective, the Plan’s pillars include securing new additional water resources, such as deep groundwater in the Western Desert and Sinai, harvesting of floods and rain water and the use of non-conventional water resources, and desalination of sea water. As for Tunisia, the government has announced a USD89.3 million emergency mobile desalination program to alleviate water shortages following poor rainfall in 2015 and 2016 which led to water rationing and protests from disgruntled citizens, according to a recent report by Global Water Intelligence.

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Still, ECA believes that greater efforts are needed to ensure the implementation of environmental regulations, to raise awareness among stakeholders, to mobilize support (through incentives, efficient funding systems, advisory services, training and skills development), and to revitalize moribund national innovation systems (hampered by the lack of funding, poor coordination of efforts and insufficient collaboration between universities, research centers and enterprises).

Dana Hani
Content Editor & Researcher
CPH World Media