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Water alert
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 04 - 2019

Ministers of agriculture and irrigation and water met in Cairo for the first time last week to discuss water scarcity in the region.
The meeting took place at the Arab League in Cairo on the last day of the Land and Water Days conference held by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) from 31 March to 4 April.
The Middle East and North Africa have suffered more than any other region from water scarcity and desertification. The problems are complicated by climate change, Graziano da Silva, FAO director general, said during the meeting.
According to Da Silva, the meeting was basically to stress the need for better governance of water resources and to raise awareness that the region must quickly deal with the issue of water scarcity.
Egypt uses more than 80 per cent of its water for growing crops, animals and aquaculture, he said.
But he added that Egypt was misusing its main source of water, the River Nile, as it is still using the “old ways in irrigation, mainly the inundation method which wastes a lot of water”.
Using drip Irrigation can save a lot of water, Da Silva said, stressing “we need to use modern technologies.”
As most Arab countries exist in dry or semi-dry areas, “we are in need of policies, plans, programmes and mechanisms to reuse water efficiently. This will lead to producing more agriculture products,” Fouad Al-Sojwaney, Oman's minister of agriculture and fisheries, said.
The Middle East and North Africa region is home to six per cent of the world's population but only two per cent of the world's renewable water supply, according to the World Bank.
Al-Sojwaney explained that Oman succeeded in adopting new policies for rationalising the use of water in addition to using treated water which helped in increasing agriculture products by around 10 per cent annually. On average, water availability is 1,200 cubic metres, six times less than the worldwide average of 7,000 cubic metres.
Al-Sojwaney stressed that support is most needed for countries that can become the Arab world's food basket because they have the lands and water resources.
Water management is not just a national issue but regional because water resources are most of the time trans-boundary, explained Vincent Castel, sector manager of agriculture and human development at the African Development Bank.
It was very important in the face of climate change to try to share experiences and find common solutions to common problems, Castel told Al-Ahram Weekly. Including ministers of environment and education in such meetings is, therefore, crucial.
Castle is optimistic. “I have seen over the last 15 years a strong change in the policy of environment. More and more countries are going towards treating the full water cycle.” He said these kinds of meetings between ministers of water and ministers of agriculture talking together are what needed to find common solutions.
He said conserving water is a three-step process: increasing water mobilisation, increasing efficiency of water distribution to limit losses and improving sanitation, Castle told the Weekly.
As we improve sanitation, water can be treated and returned into the water cycle, he stressed.
Behaviour starts with the right level of education at an early age, Castel said. Moreover, to design ground solutions, engineers need be on board. “They know the realities, the local practices, and are in a position to adapt what is being basically conceived externally to the Near East North Africa region.”


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