SYNOPSIS OF THE PROBLEM
In the recent future, undiversified and dissimilar economic growth across the MENA region will become an even greater threat to the already scarce water resources. After decades of economic stagnation after 1980 (less than 0.5 per cent annually over the period from 1980 to 2004), many Arab countries witnessed an extraordinary growth period since the early 2000s (Arab Human Development Report 2009). The financial crisis and global recession of 2008]09 had less adverse effects on MENA countries than other developing countries. Soon after the disruption of economic activities due to the current political turbulence, the regionfs economies are poised to continue growing at a high pace (Global Economic Prospects 2011).
In addition to the economic strain on water resources, climate change and demographic drivers are expected to intensify the scarcity problem (World Bank Report: Making the Most of Scarcity 2007 and 2009). Indeed, all these factors combined already led to the MENA region entering a stage of water poverty that is the worst in the world in terms of renewable water resources availability per capita (Joint Arab Economic Report 2001).
Today more than ever, the choice of the right economic development paradigm to be adopted by Arab countries for the next growth years will decide on their ability to manage the water scarcity problem. Current economic models are failing not only people, but also nature. Poverty and unemployment remains high and environmental degradation and resource depletion are increasing.
The idea of a Green Economy that includes economic growth, social inclusion and environmental sustainability holds a unique promise of change in the MENA region. The 2011 Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on Green Economy in the Arab world lays the argument why Arab governments should want to invest in the green economy future. It advocates for ewin]winf situation of inclusive economic growth with no adverse effects on the environment as the basic idea behind Green Economy.
Under a Green Growth development perspective, which current water policies should be reexamined in the MENA region? In this context, the second Amman]Cologne Symposium was held on the 23th of January 2012 under the patronage and participation of HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, President of El Hassan Science City & the Royal Scientific Society, and with the participation of more than 100 scientists and representatives from key organizations of the water, environment and economic
In our message, we emphasize the reciprocity of economic growth and the use of water resources. We believe that economic growth and reducing the current water stress in the region are two compatible goals. The required enabling policy environment is represented by 10 Green Growth Choices for sustainable water use. The Green Growth Choices we offer a new perspective on, and an addition to, policy solutions of the past.
THE RECIPROCITY OF GROWTH AND WATER RESOURCES IN THE MENA REGION
Growth Risks to Water Resources
Economic growth and demand patterns:
Economic growth in the past resulted in increases in life expectancy, income and urbanization. The changes in life]styles, coupled with population growth and low water prices, led to a huge surge in water consumption. Clearly, demand patterns vary within and between countries depending on living standards and variations in economic development. On the whole, however, water demand has risen greatly because of increased prosperity. It now constitutes the most urgent policy problem to be addressed as some Arab countries (GCC) exhibit consumption rates of over 750 liters per day, among the highest worldwide.
Growth models and their water intensity:
Arab countries have not yet managed to diversify their economies. Out of the 19 Arab League countries, 14 are producers of oil and gas. The huge oil sector (oil and gas production, processing and refining) contributes between 30 to 60% of the GDP of those countries (Arab Joint Economic Report 2005). This fossil]driven growth model is not only carbon]intensive, but also water]intensive, compared to renewable energies such as solar or wind. Groundwater and desalination are used in some countries in oil production and refining, further depleting scarce resources and further limiting the availability of freshwater for other demands.
Water Resources Risks to Growth
Physical scarcity and its economic cost:
The economic cost of increasing physical scarcity hinders growth. Although, adequate marginal cost valuation is still missing in many MENA countries, the prices of water will inevitably increase as supply cost continues to climb up. Abstractions from groundwater systems will become even more energy]intense. Water treatment will be required as water quality varies due to salinity and other pollutants. Alternative water sources such as desalination are costly both in terms of energy and environmental cost; while harvesting and reuse will require further investments.
Transboundary water conflicts:
As water scarcity increases, the potential for violent interior and transboundary conflict is real. The surface water resources include four major transboundary river sheds: the Euphrates and Tigris, the Orontes River, the Jordan River and the Nile River. The water dependency ratio of some Arab countries is extremely high with countries like Egypt, Syria and Jordan relying almost exclusively on transboundary water resources originating outside of their borders. Even more so, much of the groundwater resource in the MENA region is transboundary. Water conflicts erupting will come with a significant economic and human cost to the region. Although some cooperation frameworks are already in place, distrust lingers and adequate benefit]sharing mechanisms are yet to be worked out.
10 GREEN GROWTH CHOICES FOR WATER RESOURCES IN THE MENA REGION
1. Pursue a responsible (tayebah) development path: A responsible development puts
people and nature, and not the economy, in the center of development efforts. It implies
environmental rights and local participation in ensuring resource availability and efficient use.
2. Set the priorities right: Green growth strategies should be preceded by an extensive
diagnostics in order to set the right priorities. In regard to water, this means reconsidering the dominant role of agriculture and altering wasteful farming patterns.
3. Link water to energy and food: Sectoral water policies must establish linkages to the
other sectors of energy and food. The water]energy]food nexus implies that water and
energy intensities should always be considered in all three sectors. The use of renewable energies like solar in future water supply development projects (desalination) is indispensible.
4. Abolish barriers to private innovations: Instead of entirely relying on the government, the private sector has a vital role to play in solving the technical side of the water challenge. For this to work, private sector innovations should be encouraged through targeted subsidies, public private partnerships and encouraging partnerships between public research organization and private start]ups.
5. Set the right standards for water sector technologies, management and use practices: Economic regulation needs to be complemented by setting the right standards to ensure the use of efficient technologies, increase the performance of decentralized management and curb illegal water abstractions.
6. Invest in lowcost water harvesting technologies: Equal investments should be directed to low]cost water harvesting technologies instead of only focusing on controversial desalination projects to meet the current water demand. Small water harvesting technologies induce learning and behavioral change in consumption.
7. Preempt conflicts and promote benefitsharing: Conflict prevention starts long before tensions arise. By building trust and making benefit]sharing ideas feasible, water conflicts seem less likely. Transboundary cooperation on environmental issues cements the gains from any national green development path.
8. Set the right eculturalf value of water: Beside its economic cost, water has a special
traditional and religious value in the desert culture of the Arab world. Beside economic valuation policies, we need to think of programs and initiatives to raise awareness
regarding the cultural value of water, the need for conservation, and its role in preserving natural capital.
9. Change the behavior from the bottomup: Behavioral change starts by involving and
empowering grass]root civil societal organizations to promote change of heart on the farm and household level. This empowers policymakers to enact policies for conservation and sustainability.
10. Educate Arab experts and communicators: Alongside well]trained technical experts, the Arab world also needs effective communicators and environmental activists to lobby policymakers and educate people. Environmental higher education should balance these needs and include social competences and communication trainings in their curricula.