The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the most water scarce regions in the world. In 1950, per capita renewable water resources were 4,000 cubic metres per year. Currently, this figure is 1,100 cubic metres and by 2050 it will drop to 550 cubic metres as a result of climate change and rapid urbanization. With water and wastewater services requiring energy and energy production requiring water, the MENA region faces enormous water-energy nexus pressures in the coming decades. To reduce these pressures, water managers in the region can use a host of demand management tools to balance increased demand for water with reduced supply.
Drivers of water scarcity
Climate change is likely to decrease water security in the MENA region with increased frequency and magnitude of droughts. In addition to lack of water for economic use, droughts will decrease the availability of good quality drinking water as contaminants become more concentrated resulting in additional treatment steps required.
Meanwhile, the MENA region is one of the most rapidly urbanising regions in the world with urban populations growing at 2.1% per annum. Currently, around 62 percent of the region is urbanized. By 2030 the region will have experienced a 45 percent increase in its urban population, corresponding to more than 106 million additional urban inhabitants – leading to significant increased demand for water resources. In addition, water quality of ground and surface water supplies is threatened by urban sprawl and associated pollution degrading ecosystems.
The water-energy nexus
Water and energy are interlinked in two ways: first, water is used in the production of almost every type of energy (coal, geothermal, hydro, oil and gas, nuclear) and second, energy is a dominant cost factor in providing water and wastewater services. In the Middle East demand for energy is expected to increase by 8.3 percent through 2019 – more than three times the global average, resulting in the need to install an extra 156 gigawatts of capacity over the next five years. Over the longer term energy consumption in the MENA region is expected to rise by as much as 114 percent from 2010 to 2050.
While coal, oil and gas account for around 95% of the region’s primary energy in 2010 the region is projected to increase its share of renewable energy from 5% in 2010 to between 13 and 20% by 2050. Among the renewable energy sources available hydropower is likely to become the dominant source of low-carbon energy in the future. However, not only does hydropower consume water through evaporation from open surfaces of reservoirs but it also impacts availability of water for downstream users (agricultural, fishery, industrial, municipal etc.).
Demand management tools
To reduce water-energy nexus pressures in the MENA region, water utilities can implement demand management tools to balance demand for water with supply. Demand management is a process in which ideas, norms and innovations of water conservation are communicated across all users in a community. The purpose being to change people’s culture, attitudes and practices towards water resources and reduce water (energy) consumption levels. Demand management tools include:
Water managers can use temporary and permanent ordinances to physically reduce consumption levels. Temporary ordinances restrict certain types of water use during specified times and/or restrict the level of water use to a specified amount. Meanwhile, permanent ordinances include amendments to building codes for example the installation of water meters and water-saving devices (low-flow toilets etc.) in all newly constructed or renovated homes and offices to reduce water (and energy use).
Water managers can use subsidies to promote the installation of water efficient toilets, or encourage the installation of rainwater harvesting systems or rebates for water-efficient household appliances that use less water/energy.
The labelling of household appliances according to water efficiency is important in reducing household water consumption (and energy use) by eliminating unsustainable products from the market.
Retrofit programmes include customers having their older toilets replaced with newer efficient toilets, and the distribution of showerheads and faucet aerators (devices that when inserted into taps reduce the flow of water).
Education and awareness
Water managers can promote water conservation in schools to increase young people’s knowledge on the water cycle. Water managers can use public education such as television commercials, social media campaigns, public events and information in water bills to persuade individuals and communities to conserve water resources
To meet rising water-energy nexus pressures, water managers can implement demand management tools to change the attitudes and behaviour of people towards water and reduce consumption patterns.