Wednesday, 30 January 2019 11:35

Water and sanitation experts convene in Abu Dhabi to address water scarcity in the Arab States region

Expert Group Meeting (EGM) marks the first step towards a regional Utility Capacity Building Action Plan

At present, there are an estimated 841 million people (15% of Earth's population) living in arid and semiarid regions, 524 million of whom are in semiarid regions. Water scarcity caused by drought has a direct effect on public health, availability of food and, ultimately, public safety. Simple measures to cope with this challenge include demand management, energy efficiency, and consumer education.

Urban water utilities are facing an increasing need to improve the management of water resources and associated infrastructure in water scarce cities. Diversifying sources of water supply will become increasingly important whether through the construction of new storage facilities, the appropriate and sustainable extraction of groundwater, water trading or conservation, or the use of recycled or desalinated water. In addition, water and energy demand are deeply linked. Water utilities managers must pay attention to the risks and interdependencies that these twin challenges present.

According to a recent study of the World Bank[1]:

“The Middle East and North Africa is a global hotspot of unsustainable water use, especially of groundwater. In some countries, more than half of current water withdrawals exceed what is naturally available; 82% of wastewater is not recycled, presenting a massive opportunity to meet water demands; The region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6–14 percent of GDP by 2050; Total water productivity in the Middle East and North Africa is only about half the world’s average; Despite its scarcity, the region has the world’s lowest water tariffs and the highest proportion of GDP (2 percent) spent on public water subsidies; Flood and drought risks are increasing and are likely to harm the poor disproportionately; Some 60 percent of surface water resources in the region are transboundary, and all countries share at least one aquifer, highlighting the importance of cooperative management of shared water resources.”

GWOPA organized an EGM on Arab water and sanitation utilities in water scarce cities on the 17th January during the Abu Dhabi World Future Energy Summit, with the support of the Department of Energy of Abu Dhabi. The meeting was opened by Mr. Carlos Gascó, Executive Director of Energy and Water Policy, Department of Energy, Abu Dhabi, and by Mrs. Christine Musisi, Director of External Relations Division, UN-Habitat. 

EGM Abu DhabiThe EGM gathered representatives of regional organizations such as the Arab Water Council, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Arab Countries Water Utilities Association  (ACWUA) , and representatives from utilities and relevant national ministries, together with regional knowledge institutions and independent experts, from Abu Dhabi, Bahrein, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco. 

With this EGM, GWOPA initiated a regional consultation on the main challenges that utilities are facing and a regional mapping of utilities’ good practices and resource institutions such as universities, training centers and regional capacity programmes. 

The objective is to develop a Utility Capacity Building Action Plan which will bring together potential mentor utilities for WOPs and regional stakeholders which could provide other types of capacity building activities. Leading up to the 2nd EGM in 2020 at WFES, GWOPA will broaden the consultation, finalize the mapping of needs and sources in terms of capacity building, knowledge and good practices. Stakeholders will be invited to contribute to the drafting of the Action Plan which will be finalized at the 2nd EGM and presented to a donors’ round table during the 2020 World Urban Forum (WUF10).

GWOPA hopes that this process will see the mainstreaming of WOPs as one of the preferred capacity building options for utilities in the region.


[1]“World Bank. 2018. Beyond Scarcity : Water Security in the Middle East and North Africa. MENA Development Report;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/27659 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”

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