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Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Groundwater of the MENA region

Hail, KSA - Groundwater of the MENA region
Photo 1: Hail, KSA (Source: Njdaoi , Flickr)

Groundwater is crucial for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as a reliable source of freshwater. Many countries depend on groundwater as their main source of freshwater for drinking and irrigation. However, the MENA region also suffers from the highest level of groundwater development stress in the world.[1] This invisible, yet reliable source of freshwater is under immense pressure due to overexploitation, deterioration of quality, climate change, and lack of transboundary groundwater management.

Fanack Water provides special attention to groundwater in its water files of the 21 countries of the MENA region. This piece is highlighting some of our research.

Saudi Arabia

groundwater aquifers in KSA - Groundwater of the MENA region
Map 1: Principal groundwater aquifers in KSA. @Fanack Water

Groundwater aquifers, both renewable and non-renewable, are considered to be the most vital resource for freshwater in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They supply more than 90% of the agricultural sector water needs and about 35% of urban water needs. The total amount of renewable groundwater is estimated to be 2.8 BCM/yr, while numerous studies estimate the capacity of fossil groundwater reserves to be between 259-761 BCM.

Read more in the Water country file of Saudi Arabia.

Palestine

The ‘Mountain Aquifer’ lies beneath both Palestine and Israel. It is 130 km long and some 35 km wide, fed mainly by rainwater falling over the mountains of the West Bank. Israel extracts about 80% of the Mountain Aquifer’s potential yield, restricting Palestinians to about 20% of its estimated potential.

As for Gaza, its only source of freshwater is the Coastal Aquifer, a groundwater basin that runs the length of the Gaza Strip, as well as part of the Israeli coast. The over-exploitation of the Coastal Aquifer and the absence of adequate sewage treatment facilities in the Gaza Strip have resulted in the deterioration of the water quality in Gaza.

groundwater in palestine - groundwater in the MENA
Map 2. The Mountain Aquifer and the Coastal Aquifer. @Fanack Water after UNEP, 2002.

 Algeria

ground water Algeria- groundwater in the mena
Map 3: Groundwater storage. @Fanack Water

Algeria’s groundwater resources are estimated to be 7.6 BCM. Aquifers in Algeria’s part of the Sahara meet 96% of water demand in the south of the country. The groundwater in the south is mainly fossil with very low renewability. The deeper aquifers in that area are mainly exploited by using boreholes, whereas the traditional foggara system is used for exploiting shallow aquifers. In the mountainous north of Algeria the water demand is much higher. The aquifers there are shallow and exploited by wells and springs.

Read more in the Water country file of Algeria.

groundwater algeria- groundwater in the MENA
Figure 1: The traditional water system “Foggara”. @Fanack Water

 Libya

North Sahara Basin
Map 4: North Sahara Basin. @Fanack water

Libya shares the North Sahara Basin with several of its neighbours. The basin extends over an area of more than one million km2, of which 700,000 km2 is in Algeria, 60,000 km2 in Tunisia, and 250,000 km2 in Libya. The deep aquifer, known as the Septentrional Saharan Aquifer System, contains fossil water. Over the last three decades, the aquifer has been subject to high rates of abstraction. This over-exploitation is leading to loss of the artesian condition, salinization, the drying up of outlets, and rising conflicts between the three countries.

Another important shared resource is the Nubian Sandstone Basin (Map 5). This extends over an area of more than 2.2 million km2, of which more than 760,000 km2 are in Libya, 828,000 km2 in Egypt, 376,000 km2 in Sudan and 235,000 km2 in Chad.

Nubian Sandstone Basin
Map 5: Nubian Sandstone Basin. @Fanack water

Read more in the Water country file of Libya.

[1] Gazliya Nazimudheen, Vanishing Aquifers in MENA, 2020, EcoMENA. Accessed in: 20-03-2022.