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Why is Wastewater Reuse Important for MENA Countries?

wastewater reuse
Photo 1: Wastewater pollution in Egypt. (Source: Faris knight, Wikipedia)

Most of the MENA region is characterized as arid or semi-arid. The region ran out of renewable fresh water decades ago, in the sense that it has been unable to meet its food requirements from the freshwater resources available within its boundaries.[1] The MENA region has 6% of the global population but only 1% of freshwater resources.[2] The countries in the region depend on seasonal rainfall and a small number of rivers, some of which carry run-off from other countries, and often rely on fragile, and sometimes non-renewable, aquifers. Consequently, their economies are much more sensitive to the way that water is extracted, conveyed and consumed than the economies of other regions.[3] At the same time, the continuous over-pumping of groundwater lowers the water table, increases the groundwater salinity levels, deteriorates the groundwater quality and causes ecological degradation.[4]

Consequently, there is a need for new non-conventional water resources, such as water desalination, wastewater and rain harvesting, to meet the increasing demand. Wastewater reuse is gaining increasing attention for groundwater recharge and irrigation, since agriculture is the dominant water user in the region.[5] Based on human consumption of fresh water in water-stressed countries, such as in the MENA region, the estimated amount of wastewater produced per capita ranges from 30-90m3 annually.[6] Moreover, the volume of wastewater from different sources has increased with population growth, urbanization, improved living conditions and economic development, and is expected to continue increasing in the future.[7]

Availability of water in the MENA region

Most MENA countries will have annual renewable water resources of less than 1,000m3/capita by the year 2025 (Fig. 1), according to estimates and projections of country-based populations and annual renewable water resources. Currently, only three countries (Iraq, Iran and Lebanon) have annual renewable water resources of more than 1,000m3/capita. Several countries, such as Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, have annual renewable water resources of less than 100m3/capita. Moreover, 14 of the 20 MENA countries were classified as having a water deficit in 2010.[8]

The findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[9] for the MENA region predicted declining precipitation (−10% to −25%), declining run-off (−10% to −40%) and increasing evaporation (+5% to +20%). In addition, there are no opportunities to develop additional water resources. Moreover, higher temperatures will lead to greater evaporation from surface water storage reservoirs and losses in soil moisture; higher evapotranspiration rates in vegetated areas, leading to decreased run-off and groundwater recharge rates; and increased crop water requirements in agriculture.[10]

  • 2013-2017
  • 2003-2007
  • 1988-1992

Figure 1. Annual renewable water resources in MENA countries (10^9m3/capita/yr).[11]

Water use in the MENA region

Agriculture is the dominant water user in most MENA countries. On average, 86% of the water withdrawn for different water user sectors is used in crop production. The water use for household and industrial activities is 8% and 6% respectively.[12]

The economies of most MENA countries depend on agriculture, although tourism and oil production are also important in several countries. Therefore, there are large differences in water use in the agricultural, domestic and industrial sectors. For example, Bahrain uses 29% of its total renewable water for agriculture. Other countries that use relatively less water than the MENA average in agriculture are Israel (58%), Qatar (59%), Lebanon (60%) and Jordan (65%). Iran (92%), Egypt (86%) and Iraq (79%) use the most water for agriculture.[13]

  • Agricultural
  • Industrial
  • Municipal

Figure 2. Water consumption (109 m3/yr) by sector in MENA countries[14]

Wastewater treatment in the MENA region

The volume of wastewater generated annually by the domestic and industrial sectors in the MENA region is 13.2 billion cubic metres (BCM), of which 5.7BCM (43.2%) is treated (Fig. 3).[15] The annual volume of untreated wastewater discharged in MENA countries is 7.5BCM (around 57% of the total wastewater produced in the region).[16]

Nearly 83% of treated wastewater is used in agriculture, whereas most of the partially-treated, diluted or untreated wastewater is used by urban and peri-urban farmers to grow crops.[18] Table 1 shows the sewerage rate and treatment level in urban and rural areas in several MENA countries. The countries also use different wastewater treatment options. For example, all the wastewater collected in Bahrain is treated by activated sludge and tertiary treatment processes, whereas less than 10% of the wastewater collected in Iran, Lebanon, Morocco and Libya undergoes treatment.[19]

Figure 3. Volume of wastewater produced, disposed of or used for irrigation in the MENA region.[17]

Country % of households connected to sewerage system (Urban)% of households connected to sewerage system (Rural)% of households connected to sewerage system (Overall)Treatment rate (% of collected wastewater by volume)Treatment rate (Est. % of wastewater by volumeReuse efficiency (% of treated wastewater by volume)
Algeria9250774640NA
BahrainNANA77734916-20
Egypt741842575224
Iran395.3307821NA
Iraq393.3283017NA
Israel99.59598NA9099
Jordan67456985376
KuwaitNANA>99NA7863
LebanonNANA66812350
Libya5454542413100
Morocco862.85320186
Oman531744342766
Palestine671254NANANA
QatarNANA781007850
Saudi Arabia44737936940
Syria964572NA4078
Tunisia798.954776820
UAE936387NA8725
Yemen420.41266840

Table 1: Sewage coverage in urban and rural areas, and wastewater reuse in MENA.[20]

Benefits of wastewater reuse for MENA countries

There are many benefits of wastewater reuse. The environmental benefits include reducing the pollution of water resources and sensitive receiving bodies, and controlling saline water intrusion through groundwater recharge. Wastewater reuse also presents economic value by providing significant additional amounts of water and contributing to the conservation of freshwater resources. Additionally, it provides nutrient-rich water for irrigation and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Other socio-economic benefits include additional employment and products for export. Since mineral and organic trace substances and pathogens in wastewater represent a risk to public health, Wastewater reuse eliminate this risk by adequately treating the watsewater for the intended reuse.[21]

[1] Allan, J.A. (2001). The Middle East water question: hydropolitics and the global economy. Tauris & Co. Ltd, London.
[2] Bahadir, M.E. (2016). ‘Wastewater Reuse in Middle East Countries – A Review of Prospects and Challenges’. Fresenius Environmental Bulletin, 25(5): 1284-1304.
[3] Jagannathan, N.V., Mohamed, A.S., Kremer, A. (2009). Water in the Arab World: management perspectives and
innovations. The World Bank, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, Washington.
[4] Bahadir, M.E. (2016). ‘Wastewater Reuse in Middle East Countries – A Review of Prospects and Challenges’. Fresenius Environmental Bulletin, 25(5): 1284-1304.
[5] Bahri, A. (2008) ‘Water reuse in Middle Eastern and North African countries’. In: Jimenez, B., Asano, T. (eds), Water reuse: an international survey of current practice, issues and needs. IWA, London, pp. 27-47.
[6] Qadir, M., Sharma, B.R., Bruggeman, A., Choukr-Allah, R., Karajeh, F. (2007). ‘Non-conventional water resources and opportunities for water augmentation to achieve food security in water scarce countries’. Agricultural Water Management, 87: 2-22.
[7] Qadir, M., Bahri, A., Sato, T., al-Karadsheh, E., (2009). ‘Wastewater production, treatment and irrigation in Middle East and North Africa’. Irrigation Drainage Systems, 24(37), combined 1-2.
[8] Jeuland, M. (2015). Challenges to wastewater reuse in the Middle East and North Africa.
[9] IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) (2007). Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
[10] Trenberth, K.E., Dai, A., Rasmussen, R.M., Parsons, D.B. (2003). ‘The changing character of precipitation’. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 84: 1205-1217. Available at: www.researchgate.net/publication/235640653_The_Changing_Character_of_Precipitation
[11] Aquastat, accessed in March 2017. Available at: www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/water_res/index.stm.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Qadir, M., Bahri, A., Sato, T., al-Karadsheh, E., (2009). ‘Wastewater production, treatment and irrigation in Middle East and North Africa’. Irrigation Drainage Systems, 24(37), combined 1-2.
[14] Aquastat, accessed in March 2017. Available at: www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/water_res/index.stm
[15] US Environmental Protection Agency (2004). ‘Guidelines for water reuse’. EPA/625/R-04/108. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington.
[16] QIrrigation Drainage Systems, 24(37), combined 1-2.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Jeuland, M. (2015). Challenges to wastewater reuse in the Middle East and North Africa.
[21] adir, M., Bahri, A., Sato, T., al-Karadsheh, E., (2009). ‘Wastewater production, treatment and irrigation in Middle East and North Africa’.