BY: Eng. PMP Hassan Aboelnga, Vice Chair of Middle East Water Forum and H.E Dr. Hazim Elnaser, Chairman of Middle East Water Forum
The West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region covers 10% of the world’s area and are home to 6% of the world’s population (507.6 million people) but receive less than 2% of the world’s renewable water supply. 63% of the region population lives in urban areas and 37% lives in rural areas. Water resources in the Arab region are being depleted by rapid population growth, the accompanying demands of urbanization, and irrigated agriculture. Moreover, climate change, bringing greater climate variability and more frequent and severe droughts and floods, will exacerbate the already precarious situation created by chronic water scarcity.
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El-Gabal El-Asfar wastewater treatment plant in Egypt
The Arab region is considered one of the world’s poorest regions in terms of water availability and globally, is most likely to suffer from water crises. The water crisis threatens the WANA’s stability as well as its human development and sustainable development. Over the next decade, freshwater per resources per capita are estimated to keep declining steadily unless a fundamental shift occurs.
In the face of the COVID-19 crisis coupled with increasing demands and conflicts in the region, wastewater must be sees as a reliable alternative source of water, by shifting the paradigm of wastewater management from ‘treatment and disposal’ to ‘reuse, recycle and resource recovery’. In this sense, wastewater must be seen as a solution to the water crisis in the region.
Only 38% of the WANA population (192 million people) use safely managed sanitation services and there are great disparities in services between urban and rural areas. 80 percent of wastewater is discharged directly into the natural environment without being used.
Sanitation may not be the first thing you think of when considering sustainable development in WANA. If you really think about it though, proper sanitation has a huge impact on the lives of millions of people in the region. Lack of proper sanitation contributes to a lot of economic stress that are not immediately evident. Improving sanitation could have a large positive economic impact in WANA region. Yet, the inadequate supply of water and sanitation is costing the WANA region around US$21 billion per year in economic losses
we are still solving new problems with old solutions and our experience turns to be our worst enemy. We are still investing in linear systems “big pipes in and big pipes out” transfer model, which aimed to protect public health and avoid nuisance impacts using large-scale technological solutions for narrowly defined service problems, we are working is silos, our policies are set without aligning national objectives with the required resources, we still counting on public funds that are insufficient and poorly targeted, the new sources of finance for water and sanitation is constrained by regulatory, institutional and high-risk profiles of many investments: deals are small or risky and creditworthiness of public utilities is weak, and our ambitious strategies for sanitation are developed with little consideration for how or by whom they will be implemented, nor how they will be financed.
the status quo is not enough anymore to deliver sanitation targets by 2030. A new paradigm is therefore needed that turns this approach on its head and ask the Arab community to change the way we manage and finance water and sanitation. It is not only about money; solving wicked sanitation problems requires creativity and innovation to turn risks into opportunities, providing fit for purpose solutions, and changing the financing mechanisms of water, providing strong governmental leadership and accountability, as well as recognizing the role of communities, acknowledging multiple knowledge cultures, and accepting the inevitability of uncertainty.
• Coherence and Capacity Development
Policy coherence is considered to be an important tool for the establishment of 'transformative sanitation development and incentivise the transition from the very clunky centralised approach into decentralised systems with the circular economy approach to strengthen the implementing of integrated water resources management. Lack of a supportive and coherent framework for water reuse are the major barriers, preventing a wider spread of this practice in many countries. Water and sanitation are still being treated as two separate systems, while they are both part of one system: the water cycle. This means breaking out of institutional and policy silos to fully realise the benefits of synergistic actions, identifying unintended negative consequences of policies, and effectively managing unavoidable trade-offs. The SDG6, however, does not provide guidance on how to ensure an integrated and coherent implementation approach to the sanitation goal as part of the whole water cycle and also among other SDGs.
"Regional knowledge exchange and local capacity development in water reuse are essential to improve technical, planning and management capacities in the region"
• Adaptive Solutions
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sanitation services. Adaptative solutions of technical, policy measures and technology are critical for bridging the sanitation gap. Fit for purpose sanitation system is based mainly on the question of the purpose and nature of the system whether onsite sanitation, centralised, decentralised or hybrid sanitation systems or non-sewer system.
"Reuse does not depend on treatment, but treatment depends on the purpose of reuse. Fit-for-purpose means matching a water quality for an appropriate reuse"
• Regulations and Institutional Framework
Regulations and Institutional frameworks for reuse should define clear and precise consent procedures, standards and responsibilities, together with enforcement mechanisms. It should also address the competent institution’s responsibilities. Commonly the laws and regulations governing water reuse are not detailed enough about reusing treated wastewater. Sectoral water legislation is often outdated. Even where adequate legislation is in place, monitoring and enforcement have proved to be a major barrier.
• Raising Awareness and cross sector collaboration
Community engagement and cross sector collaboration are essential to achieve the sanitation security. wastewater reuse suffers from perception, cultural and religious barriers in many countries. For instance, many countries in WANA region still worried that the rules of the faith or “fatwa” – an authoritative religious ruling –preventing them from reusing wastewater.
"Social acceptance through a huge educational campaign and community engagement, is mandatory to raise awareness about the need to use wastewater to meet the increasing water demand."
Changing paradigm for risks to opportunities in sanitation relies on changing our mindset toward wastewater. WANA countries discharge the wastewater into watercourses as they lack the financial means and knowledge of technology leading to economic benefits of having proper sanitation system and wastewater reuse. We really have to change our perceptions and the way we look at wastewater as a precious resource. Wastewater has water that can help us to meet the water demand, it has nutrients that we need to use it as fertilizers for food production, it has organic material that can be used for energy production to support energy security
"Investing and expanding in water reuse for beneficial purposes including irrigation, industrial uses, and drinking water augmentation--can significantly increase the WANA region's available water resources."
• Technology and innovations
WANA countries cannot afford expensive, complex to operate wastewater treatment processes and should use appropriate technology processes. Appropriate technologies mean simple processes of proven technology, of low investment and O&M costs, simple to operate and with capacity to yield any required quality
"wastewater resource recovery technologies can change the face of the scarcity of resources and change the perceptions about wastewater- the untapped resource - from risk to opportunity"
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