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Economics & Development | Global Arab Network
Drought problems - Arab World needs water management strategy
Global Arab Network - - Rami Alshami
Saturday, 28 November 2009 20:12
A new book shares knowledge on managing water resources in one of the driest regions on earth.

“Water in the Arab World: Management Perspectives and Innovations” deals with water-related topics as diverse as the expected impact of climate change on the Middle East and North Africa, to irrigation and desalination technology and the art of water diplomacy.

The idea is to “document the existing ‘embedded knowledge’ that has been generated by World Bank-financed projects in the Middle East in support of managing a scarce and crucial resource in the region,  says N. Vijay Jagannathan, manager of the World Bank’s water sector team for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

“We take for granted that when you turn on the tap, you get water,” he says. “Similarly, farmers in the region plan cropping patterns based on irrigation water available, and when it’s not there, it can affect crops.”

The book, co-financed by the World Bank and the Dutch government through the Bank-Netherlands Water Partnership Program, is part of a larger World Bank effort to capture knowledge gained through experience in developing countries. “Water in the Arab World” offers a comprehensive set of ideas, analysis, and reflections on managing the Middle East’s water resources more efficiently and sustainably.

In recent years, policy makers in the region have increasingly embraced the idea of “holistic” water management at both the resource and service levels. The book presents countries’ experiences around five elements of water management: supply, distribution, governance, responsibilities and engineering.

Book Captures World Bank Experience in the Region
The book’s 24 chapters cover key water management policy issues; the role of voice and choice in decision-making; the impact of water laws, regulations and other measures; experience with delegating water services to the lowest appropriate managerial level; and forward-looking studies on new water investment approaches.

One chapter looks at irrigation innovations in the Nile Delta– an effort to make water delivery more efficient and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Another examines the effectiveness of highly targeted water subsidies for the poor in Morocco. “The Moroccan government has been able to achieve reliable water supply services through targeted subsidies that do not affect the incentives of service providers to bring reliable and safe water supply to the wider community,” says Jagannathan, co-editor with Ahmed Shawky Abdel Ghany (Senior Water Resources Specialist) and Alexander Kremer (Senior Sector Economist).

Going Beyond Engineering Solutions
The introductory chapter focuses on integrated water resources management as particularly vital in the region because hydraulic infrastructure “plays such a critical economic role.”

“The countries are in either the arid or hyper-arid zone, depend on seasonal rainfall, have very few rivers—some of which carry runoff from other countries—and often rely on fragile (and sometimes nonrenewable) aquifers.

“Consequently, their economies are much more sensitive to the way that water is extracted, conveyed, and consumed than are the economies of other regions.”

Because water is scarce and has competing uses, the region needs a management strategy that goes beyond finding engineering solutions to include revisiting the water rights regime, regulatory framework and public-private partnerships, Jagannathan says in his chapter on “Bridging the Practice Gap in Water Management.”

In addition, accountability—among users of water, sector financiers and policymakers alike—needs to be “deliberately promoted” and information about water fully shared to improve water management in the region.

Climate Change a Major Driver for Improved Water Management
The book also addresses global warming is a major driver for enhanced water management and innovation, says Jagannathan. Already, climate change is posing new challenges for managing water and is altering the assumptions many countries have had for centuries, he says.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models predict that temperature and water variability will increase in several countries in the region and that water precipitation will also drop by up to 30 percent by 2050.

Recent IPCC findings confirm trends observed over the past decade in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia: that historic data on rainfall patterns no longer provide accurate projections for future precipitation.

Part of the solution for the region is to develop a package of reforms that tackles both the demand for water—such as incentives to encourage farmers to shift to crops with high water productivity—and the supply, ie. water conservation through modernized irrigation and better tracking of the water/evapotranspiration cycle, says the book.

World Bank and MENA Water Sector
The World Bank’s experience in the region, outlined in the MENA Water Brief, has included financing projects in eight countries of the region in water supply and sanitation, water resource management, irrigation and related fields. The Bank is also engaged in water sector policy dialogue on such topics as:
- Extending services to the urban poor
- Decentralization of service provision
- Expanding wastewater collection and treatment services
- Increasing rural access to water supply and sanitation
- Improving operator performance
- Managing water resources effectively
- Improving irrigation efficiency (World Bank)

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