The MENA region's farmers and governments are very aware of water and the potential constraints of encountering seasonal and systemic water shortages. Irrigated farming is a deeply entrenched social phenomenon because it is the sole livelihood provider for many communities. Irrigated farming, as a result, is disproportionately prominent in national water allocation policy discourse. In the non-oil economies of the region, irrigated farming is still the basis of the livelihood of the largest employed sector. Secure livelihood is pivotal for rural societies. Traditional irrigated livelihood is integral to a range of powerful ideas that tend to reinforce the notion that irrigated farming is worthy, essential and even holy. Farmers do Allah's and God's work. Unfortunately irrigated farming brings the lowest economic returns to water of any productive combination of factor inputs.

The water predicament of the MENA economies is globally significant. Their experience in coping with progressively more serious water scarcity -demographically driven - in the second half of the 20th century provides an important parable. The experience is especially relevant to economies in arid regions where communities depend on irrigated farming. Water scarcity across the MENA region has been exceptional by global standards. The challenges facing some of the MENA economies are unprecedented at least in modern history.

In order to develop a comparative analysis - within the region and with other regions facing similar problems - it is tempting to identify a typology of the economies of the MENA region based on endowments:

1. Environmental endowments:

• rich renewable groundwater endowments vs. poor renewable groundwater endowments in general (with the exception of Morocco there are only poor groundwater-endowed economies in relation to demographic circumstances in the region);

• rich fossil water endowments vs. little or no fossil water endowments (Libya and Saudi Arabia vs the other economies);

• other renewable water endowments (at the surface and in soil profiles) vs. very limited other water endowments (Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon vs. the other economies).

2. Non-water endowments and circumstances:

• economies with large numbers of water-challenged water users living at high elevations - all dependent on scarce groundwater - vs. economies with water users living at low elevations (part of Syria, Jordan and Yemen vs. the other economies);

• rich economies with poor water resources (e.g. oil-enriched), diversified economies and responsive political systems vs. poor natural resources, non-reforming political systems and limited economic developmental capacity (Algeria, Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman vs. the other economies; Syria, Egypt and Yemen have limited - but important in the short term - oil resources).

The economies of the region do not fit neatly into two or three categories according to groundwater endowments. A typology based on political economy outcomes rather than groundwater endowments provides much greater analytical insights, i.e. a typology based on what political economies have done with their water endowment rather than how they are endowed. Environmental determinism has everywhere been discredited. Recent MENA groundwater management experience confirms that analyses based on water resource determinism must be avoided.

There is very strong evidence in the region that poor water endowments, especially poor groundwater endowments, do not determine approaches to utilizing and managing them. Israel is worse off in its water endowment than a number of its neighbours (see Table 4.2). It has no oil resources either. But it has

Table 4.2. Data on the Nubian sandstone aquifer systems (NSAS) of northern Africa. (From CEDARE/IFAD Programme for the development of a regional strategy for the utilization of the Nubian sandstone aquifer. Cited in Bakhbakhi, 2002.)

Nubian system Palaeozoic and Mesozoic sandstone aquifers

Total Recove-freshwater rable Post-Nubian in ground-Miocene aquifers storage water

Present extraction from NSAS



Nubian from system NSAS

Area Volume Area Volume ('000 ('000 ('000 ('000 ('000

Area Volume Area Volume ('000 ('000 ('000 ('000 ('000



1 55










1 37














1 ,630


















1 69




1 .607


aAssuming a storability of 104 for the confined part of the aquifers and 7% effective porosity for the unconfined part.

bAssuming a maximum allowed water level decline of 100 m in the unconfined aquifer areas and 200 m in the confined aquifer areas.

aAssuming a storability of 104 for the confined part of the aquifers and 7% effective porosity for the unconfined part.

bAssuming a maximum allowed water level decline of 100 m in the unconfined aquifer areas and 200 m in the confined aquifer areas.

combined scarce renewable groundwater and some other renewable waters with its other endowments to develop a diverse and effective economy - albeit in very controversial asymmetric local power relations. (Allan, 2001; Selby, 2005).

The MENA region is also a very useful groundwater management laboratory, which confirms that water problems are only partly solved. It is evident from the levels of food imports of all the economies of the region that in almost all cases the region's problems are not even basically solved in the water sector. There are two ways of approaching the need for more water. Both encounter thresholds where they can contribute no further. The first threshold of water insufficiency is reached when supply management measures cannot deliver more solutions. The second threshold is reached when the increased efficiency associated with demand management proves to be insufficient to achieve or maintain self-sufficiency. At this point, the deficit has to be addressed in the political economy rather than in the water sector.

All the economies of the MENA region are solving their current water shortage problems outside the water sector. Table 4.1 indicates the extent to which the individual economies were solving their water deficit problems and avoiding international conflict over water by resorting to imports of water-intensive commodities (Allan, 2002, 2003). Their future water problems will also be solved outside the water sector in international trade. The MENA economies can pay for imports through the development of their own political economies. The capacity to pay for imports is politically determined. Politics determines whether an economy diversifies and strengthens. Groundwater endowment is a minor factor in relation to the bigger water picture. But in some economies in the region groundwater has provided a crucial and timely resource to support rural economies as families move to earn their livelihood in the cities.

With this evidence that a version of water security can be achieved despite poor groundwater endowments, a political economy analysis will be adopted. The strength or weakness of the individual MENA economies are expressions of their political, including institutional, capacity to combine water endowments effectively with other environmental capital, and with human, social and financial capitals.

On the basis of the current political economy outcomes - reflecting the ability of water users and governments to manage scarce groundwater endowments with different levels of effectiveness - we can identify the following typology.

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