Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

More work needed on efficient water use

Written by Michel Neumuller on Wednesday, October 24th 2012 à 18:00 | Read 655 times

Plan Bleu investigates the main criteria for efficient water use. With supply low and demand on the rise, we need to avoid conflicts of usage as much as we can by justifying demand and focusing on reuse.

Agriculture is the main user of water in the southern Mediterranean (photo MN)
Agriculture is the main user of water in the southern Mediterranean (photo MN)

Against a background of global warming and an increasing population in the southern Mediterranean, water demand management (WDM) is the "best solution for progress in water policies in the Mediterranean", the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development said in 1997.

Given the cost of hydraulic equipment, it is actually more like the only solution. Supply management has run its course. A combination of 14 studies and their final summary provides the same conclusion to Plan Bleu for the Mediterranean. Plan Bleu investigates the main criteria for efficient water use.

Since 2005, the organisation has identified a raft of savings just by targeting leaks and other waste from the network. Estimated potential savings are nearly a quarter of water demand across all Mediterranean countries in 2005 - i.e. 56 billion m3 out of a total demand of 220 billion m3. These savings would be 67 billion m3 by 2025, mainly in the southern Mediterranean.

Agriculture uses most of the water

Supply management has run its course (photo MN)
Supply management has run its course (photo MN)
"This must be considered as extra added value rather than a restriction," says Mohamed Blinda, who oversees these studies for Plan Bleu in his capacity as project executive.

Urban water use in the Maghreb region is on the rise and increasingly there are rates encouraging sensible use, but agriculture still represents 80% of the total demand on average. Accordingly, that is where "leaks must be reduced as much as possible", says Mr Blinda, who claims that there have already been "encouraging results" since 2005. "In fact," he continues, "at least three southern Mediterranean countries have already met the target SET by Plan Bleu to increase water savings by 25%." This target was initially SET for 2020.

In Morocco, the government has worked hard to implement rates that encourage people to save water. "In Rabat and Casablanca, for example," explains Mr Blinda, "demand has fallen sufficiently to stop investing in new equipment."

In Algeria, where water demand has quadrupled since the start of the 1970s, the Plan Bleu study describes a "maximum water capacity that will be reached before 2050". Household demand has increased sharply, while agricultural demand has fallen. There is a danger of conflict of usage in a country that invests 2.6% of its GDP in the water sector and created a special water resources ministry in 2005.

Yields must be increased from the same volume of water (photo MN)
Yields must be increased from the same volume of water (photo MN)

Getting better agricultural yields from the same volume of water

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the country is focusing on demand management for its forthcoming National Water Plan. Wastewater must increasingly be considered as a resource. Pilot agricultural reuse programmes have been initiated for wastewater from purification plants, more specifically for 912 hectares of orchard near Tlemcen and 89 hectares at Boumerdès.

But Mr Blinda says more needs to be done: "Certain Mediterranean countries have a really good opportunity to separate growth in total water demand from population and GDP growth, provided there is a simultaneous 'vertical expansion' of agriculture, i.e. raise production by increasing yields per m3 used and per hectare cultivated."

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