Can tech advances solve arid Middle East’s water scarcity problem?

Dar Si Hmad set up CloudFisher fog-harvesters, developed by the German WaterFoundation, on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 April 2021
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Can tech advances solve arid Middle East’s water scarcity problem?

  • Overuse of natural groundwater means reserves are not replenishing fast enough to keep pace with demand
  • Science, research and education could work hand in hand to address water treatment and protection

DUBAI: Earth’s surface is 71 percent water, but the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region sees precious little of this life-giving resource.

According to the UN, it is the world’s most water-scarce region, with 17 countries considered below the water poverty line.

Matters are made worse by booming population growth, poor infrastructure and overexploitation.

Agriculture alone accounts for around 80 percent of water usage in MENA region, according to the World Bank.

This overuse means the region’s natural groundwater reserves are not replenishing fast enough to keep pace with demand.

Desalination of seawater and major dam projects have been the favored solutions, but these come with their own environmental downsides.

Now researchers are looking for new ways to protect water supplies and encourage good conservation habits among communities, farmers and industries.




Agriculture alone accounts for around 80 percent of water usage in MENA region, according to the World Bank. (Supplied)

“There are many steps to protecting this very important vital resource, without which there’s no life,” Jamila Bargach, executive director at Moroccan NGO Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture, told Arab News.

“It’s always important to remind people of the importance of water. Some of the ways are education, reminding individual consumers that they need to protect water, and encouraging scientific research to find ways of cutting back in industry and in agriculture.”

Speaking ahead of a recent pre-Expo 2020 Dubai Thematic Week session on water, Bargach said science, research and education must work hand in hand to address water treatment and protection.

In Morocco, for instance, agricultural communities have been saving water by employing fog-harvesting techniques and by recycling brackish water.




Dar Si Hmad set up CloudFisher fog-harvesters, developed by the German WaterFoundation, on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida. (Supplied)

“But one of the things that’s a barrier to water security is unfortunately the excessive use of water in industries,” said Bargach.

“Agriculture is a huge issue here, especially in the region where I’m in — the southern part of Morocco — which exports massive amounts of citrus fruit to Europe, and which creates a lot of labor, job and food security for populations here.”

That water levels in Morocco’s deep aquifers and man-made reservoirs were running low until the rains came a few months ago suggests that its water reserves are stretched to their absolute limit.

Bargach identified the demands of international trade as the culprit, whereby water is consumed for the cultivation of fruits for export by Morocco at a much faster rate than it can be replenished, creating a huge imbalance.

To address this, her NGO promotes the use of fog-harvested water. To date it has worked with 16 villages in rural Morocco to foster the technique, and is already working with eight more. The research was on display at the Expo’s Sustainability Pavilion.




First tested on Morocco’s fog-wrapped Mount Boutmezguida, the nets use no energy whatsoever and can collect over 600 liters of drinking water per day per net. (Supplied)

Dar Si Hmad is responsible for the largest functioning fog-harvesting project in the world. The CloudFisher, developed by the German Water Foundation, harvests atmospheric water vapor from the air with synthetic fabric nets.

First tested on Morocco’s fog-wrapped Mount Boutmezguida, the nets use no energy whatsoever and can collect over 600 liters of drinking water per day per net.

“There are possibilities,” Bargach said. “But the scale at which we work is very important. The larger the scale, the more the demand and the greater the possibilities of waste embedded in the system.”

As a result, scaling down usage could be one way of conserving water. Forecasts suggest water supplies would drop dramatically by 2030 and, therefore, rationing could become the new normal.

In Morocco, this has already begun. In January, the city of Agadir, along the country’s southern Atlantic coast, saw its water cut off from 10 p.m. every night to help limit consumption.




Researchers are looking for new ways to protect water supplies and encourage good conservation habits among communities, farmers and industries. (Supplied)

“This is the reality of the future that we have to live with, that water is scarce, and that scarcity is increasing,” Bargach said.

“The planet’s patterns are changing; rainfall amount and frequency are changing; and in a lot of countries in North Africa and the Middle East, we’re using mostly rain as a way of getting water.”

Shortages could have wide-reaching humanitarian consequences. Droughts destroy livelihoods, displace populations from rural areas into cities, and in the worst-case scenario, result in conflict and unrest.

For Reem Al-Hashimy, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and managing director of the Expo 2020 Dubai bid committee, water is the lifeblood of civilizations that shapes economies, cultures and religious beliefs.

“Water is at the very core of who we are, what we do, our hopes and dreams for ourselves and for our children,” she said.

“Yet today, we face a challenge familiar to countries all across the world: Soaring demand and slowing supply.”




From Chennai to Cape Town and even California, many communities are increasingly feeling the effects of shortages of, and poor access to, water. (Supplied)

She warned of a looming global water crisis, with around 1.1 billion people already lacking reliable access to water, and 2.7 billion enduring scarcity for at least one month of the year. By 2025, an estimated two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.

“This isn’t only an economic challenge but a question of justice, fairness and equity,” Al-Hashimy said. “How will we guarantee access to this life-sustaining resource we all need?”

From Chennai to Cape Town and even California, many communities are increasingly feeling the effects of shortages of, and poor access to, water. “Water futures are traded on Wall Street, such is the certainty of future scarcity,” said Al-Hashimy.

“The export of so-called blue gold is growing, with maritime experts foreseeing a world in which our oceans are traversed by supertankers laden not with oil, but with freshwater for countries lacking essential supplies.”




For Reem Al-Hashimy, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and managing director of the Expo 2020 Dubai bid committee, water is the lifeblood of civilizations that shapes economies. (AFP/File Photo)

She spoke of a shifting global economic center, with water at the core of ever-evolving civilizations.

The Indian Ocean, for instance, holds almost 20 percent of the water on the planet’s surface. Almost 2.7 billion people live in countries along its coast.

Its sea lanes carry half of the world’s container ships, a third of its bulk cargo traffic, and two-thirds of all oil shipments.

Its coastlines and ports are of increasing geostrategic significance, with countries jostling for influence and infrastructure development.

“The oceans are too vast, deep and untameable for any one nation or bloc to lay sole claim,” Al-Hashimy said. “Just as all the waterways of the world are interconnected, so are our own responsibilities toward the management and preservation of this priceless resource.”

She added: “We take seriously our shared commitment to the global responsibility for all open oceans, for that which belongs to no one and to everyone.”




The use of fog-harvested water has been implemented in 16 villages in rural Morocco to foster the technique to date, and will be utilized in eight more. (Supplied)

Protecting water is a shared responsibility, she said, impacting everything from climate to biodiversity, inclusivity, knowledge and learning, travel, connectivity, health and wellness.

“Each is distinct in its own way, yet deeply interconnected and impactful on every human life,” she said. “No matter your place in the world, communities are increasingly afflicted by such shortages.”

Seen against this background, Expo 2020 offers governments, companies and communities the opportunity to share new technologies and approaches to resolve humankind’s shared challenges, Al-Hashimy said.

“With more than 200 nations and international organizations coming together, with millions of visitors from around the world granted a once-in-a-lifetime experience that empowers their active participation in meaningful change, this is a unique opportunity for positive impact that will last for generations to come.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Five killed in Syria’s Homs after being targeted by ‘terrorist group’ -state media

Updated 7 sec ago
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Five killed in Syria’s Homs after being targeted by ‘terrorist group’ -state media

CAIRO: Five civilians were killed in Syria’s Homs countryside after being targeted by a “terrorist group,” the Syrian state news agency SANA said on Friday, citing a police source.
The victims had been gathering truffles when they were attacked, SANA reported.

Scores killed overnight in Gaza amid negotiations in Paris for truce

Updated 24 February 2024
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Scores killed overnight in Gaza amid negotiations in Paris for truce

  • UN aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, says Gazans are ‘in extreme peril while the world watches on’
  • The Paris talks come after plan for post-war Gaza by Israeli prime minister drew criticism from the US

Gaza Strip: More than 100 people were reported killed early Saturday in overnight strikes across Gaza, as Israel’s spy chief was in Paris for talks seeking to “unblock” progress toward a truce and the return of hostages held by Palestinian militants.
The Paris negotiations come after a plan for a post-war Gaza unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States and was rejected by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Friday.
They also come as fears for civilians in the territory are deepening, with the UN warning of the growing risk of famine and its main aid body for Palestinians, UNWRA, saying early Saturday that Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches on.”
AFP footage showed distraught Gazans queuing for food in the territory’s devastated north on Friday and staging a protest decrying their living conditions.
“Look, we are fighting each other over rice,” said Jabalia resident Ahmad Atef Safi. “Where are we supposed to go?“
“We have no water, no flour and we are very tired because of hunger. Our backs and eyes hurt because of fire and smoke,” fellow Jabalia resident Oum Wajdi Salha told AFP.
“We can’t stand on our feet because of hunger and lack of food.”
In a Friday night statement on social media platform X, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said: “Without adequate food and water supplies, as well as health and nutrition services, the elevated risk of famine in #Gaza is projected to increase.”
The war started after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,514 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s health ministry on Friday.
An Israeli air strike Friday destroyed the Gaza home of well-known Palestinian comedian Mahmoud Zuaiter, killing at least 23 people and injuring dozens more, the health ministry said.
The ministry announced early Saturday that at least 103 more people were killed in strikes overnight, with many others believed to be missing under rubble.
Netanyahu on Thursday night presented his war cabinet with a plan for the post-war Gaza Strip that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
The plan stipulates that, even after the war, the Israeli army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.
It also states that Israel will move ahead with a plan, already under way, to establish a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan drew criticism from the United States, with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying Friday that Washington had been “consistently clear with our Israeli counterparts” about what was needed in post-war Gaza.
“The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote... through a revitalized Palestinian Authority,” he said, adding the United States also did not “believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza.”
Asked about the plan during a visit to Argentina, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would “reserve judgment” until seeing all the details, but that Washington was against any “reoccupation” of Gaza after the war.
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan dismissed Netanyahu’s plan as unworkable.
“When it comes to the day after in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed,” Hamdan told reporters in Beirut.
Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation led by David Barnea, head of the Mossad intelligence agency, was in Paris on Saturday for a fresh push toward a deal to return the remaining hostages.
Barnea will be joined by his counterpart at the domestic Shin Bet security agency, Ronen Bar, Israeli media reported.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
Pressure has been mounting on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the hostages’ release after more than four months of war, with a group representing the captives’ families planning what it billed as a “huge rally” to coincide with the Paris talks on Saturday night to demand swifter action.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages being held by Hamas.
Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
US National Security Council spokesman Kirby had told journalists earlier that so far the discussions were “going well,” while Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz spoke of “the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress.”


Strikes kill dozens in Gaza as Israel, Hamas seek ceasefire deal

Updated 24 February 2024
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Strikes kill dozens in Gaza as Israel, Hamas seek ceasefire deal

  • The talks also come alongside deepening fears for Gaza’s civilians desperate for food
  • “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger,” said a sign held by one child

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Dozens of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been killed in the latest Israeli strikes, the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said Saturday, after Israel’s spy chief joined talks in Paris seeking to unblock negotiations on a truce.
The talks come after a plan for a post-war Gaza unveiled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States, and was rejected by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The talks also come alongside deepening fears for Gaza’s civilians desperate for food. The United Nations’ main aid body for Palestinians, UNRWA, said Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches.”
Hamas said on Saturday that Israeli forces had launched more than 70 strikes on civilian homes in Gazan cities including Deir Al-Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah over the previous 24 hours. The health ministry said at least 92 people were killed.
Israel’s military said it was “intensifying the operations” in western Khan Yunis using tanks, close-range fire and aircraft.
“The soldiers raided the residence of a senior military intelligence operative” in the area and destroyed a tunnel shaft, a military statement said.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that has ruled Gaza since 2007, said fighting was raging in the northern Gaza district of Zeitun.
In nearby Jabalia refugee camp, tempers are rising and on Friday dozens of people held an impromptu protest.
“We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger,” said a sign held by one child.
In the camp, bedraggled children waited expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available. Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.
Gaza’s health ministry said a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition.”
“The risk of famine is projected to increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza,” as well as access to water, health and other services, the charity Save the Children said.
Israel has defended its efforts to deliver aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying aid have entered Gaza since the start of the war.
The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said in a report on Friday that in Rafah, near the Egyptian border, people are reportedly stopping aid trucks to take food, a measure of their desperation.
The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest tally released on Saturday by Gaza’s health ministry.
With war still raging after more than four months, Netanyahu on Thursday unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that sees civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
The plan says that, even after the conflict, Israel’s army would have “indefinite freedom” to operate throughout Gaza to prevent any resurgence of terror activity, according to the proposals.
It also says Israel will move ahead with a plan, already underway, to establish a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
A senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, said Netanyahu “is presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed.”
The plan also drew criticism from the United States.
“The Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote... through a revitalized Palestinian Authority,” which currently has partial administrative control in the West Bank, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
He added that the United States did not “believe in a reduction of the size of Gaza.”
An Israeli delegation led by Mossad intelligence agency chief David Barnea traveled to Paris for a fresh push toward a deal to return the remaining hostages.
The United States, Egypt and Qatar have all been deeply involved in past negotiations aimed at securing a truce and prisoner-hostage exchanges.
Pressure has mounted on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the release of the hostages. A group representing their families planned what it billed as a “huge rally” to demand swifter action, coinciding with the Paris talks on Saturday night.
“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan Yablonka was captured on October 7, said at a traditional Shabbat dinner for hostage families in Tel Aviv.
White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.
A Hamas source said the new plan proposes a six-week pause in the conflict and the release of between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages being held by Hamas.
Barnea and his US counterpart from the CIA helped broker a week-long truce in November that saw the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The war has led to repeated attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden by Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen who say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
Rubymar, a British-registered cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after one such attack, is taking on water and has left a huge oil slick.


US downs three Houthi drones, strikes anti-ship missiles

Updated 24 February 2024
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US downs three Houthi drones, strikes anti-ship missiles

  • Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting shipping for months and their attacks have persisted despite repeated American and British strikes

Washington: American forces shot down three attack drones near commercial ships in the Red Sea Friday and destroyed seven anti-ship cruise missiles positioned on land, the US military said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting shipping for months and their attacks have persisted despite repeated American and British strikes aimed at degrading the rebels’ ability to threaten a vital global trade route.
Early on Friday, US forces “shot down three Houthi one-way attack (drones) near several commercial ships operating in the Red Sea. There was no damage to any ships,” the Central Command (CENTCOM) said on social media.
In a statement later in the day, CENTCOM said US forces destroyed “seven Iranian-backed Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch toward the Red Sea.”
It said those strikes , carried out between 12:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Sanaa time, were made in self-defense.
“CENTCOM forces identified these missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the US Navy ships in the region,” it said in a statement.
The day prior, American forces struck four Houthi drones as well as two anti-ship cruise missiles, CENTCOM said, adding that the weapons “were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Red Sea.”
The Houthis began attacking Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.
US and UK forces responded with strikes against the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.
Anger over Israel’s devastating campaign in Gaza — which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7 — has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.


US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

Updated 24 February 2024
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US warns of environmental disaster from cargo ship hit by Houthi rebels

  • The Belize-flagged Rubymar was damaged Sunday by a missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels
  • It was transporting 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, says Roy Khoury, the CEO of Blue Fleet CEO

WASHINGTON: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels is taking on water and has left a huge oil slick, in an environmental disaster that US Central Command said Friday could get worse.

Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in a Sunday missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury told AFP.
CENTCOM said the ship is anchored but slowly taking on water and has left an 18 mile oil slick.
“The M/V Rubymar was transporting over 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it was attacked, which could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster,” it said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
The ship’s operator said Thursday the ship could be towed to Djibouti this week.
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury had said there was “no risk for now, but always a possibility.”
The attack on the Rubymar represents the most significant damage yet to be inflicted on a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.