Water, Water Everywhere, nor any drop to drink*

Author ········· Ali Suleiman
Infographic ·····Ibraheem Youssef
Published ······ Issue 08, 2013

Section ·······  Current Affairs

Published in Kalimat, Issue 08 (buy this issue)

It is very easy to take for granted the most basic necessity of life: water. This becomes a big problem, given that the world will face water shortages in the near future, and the Arab world will have its own set of challenges. Limited water supplies have pitted countries against each other for control; however the shortages have the potential to provide for innovative projects and policies that could remedy this issue.


Conflict over water is not just speculation; the Nile is a case in point. In 2010, tensions rose as Egypt and Sudan warned Ethiopia against building a series of dams on the Blue Nile, upstream of the Nile. More than 85 per cent of the Nile’s water flows through Ethiopia, enough to alarm Egypt and Sudan, who receive 90 per cent of the river’s water supply to feed industries and large populations. Wikileaks reveals that the then-Mubarak government considered military action with Sudan to sabotage Ethiopia’s project. This issue traces back to a 1929 British colonial-era accord and a 1959 agreement that grants Egypt and Sudan virtually full control of Nile waters. The Nile Basin Initiative, launched in 1999, seeks a new and fair water-sharing scheme. This is only a microcosm of the conflicts that stem from limited water supplies in the region. Water shortage integrated with climate change and a growing population—for the Arab world alone, estimated to reach 500 million by 2030—will also lead to food shortages, resulting in social unrest and instability.


It is ironic that Arab states face water scarcity, considering that most Arab countries have access to, or border, a water supply. Water shortages have provided a great opportunity for exploiting seawater desalination projects, something most states are currently implementing. While the world average desalination capacity is 0.07 bcm, the Arab state average is at 0.16 bcm, with Saudi Arabia alone processing more than 1 bcm of seawater in a year. Although desalination plants demand vast amounts of energy, current regional plans promoting renewable energies, especially solar, can provide clean alternatives in meeting water demand.


As with energy, states’ first action in resolving water shortages is to find new sources, which is good, but not enough to find a sustainable solution. Water sustainability must also lower consumption. Thankfully, nearly every Arab government has some type of water efficiency promotion and awareness programme. 

Water sustainability could take two forms: reduced consumption of renewable and non-renewable water resources, and water withdrawal from non-conventional sources (e.g., treated wastewater). Djibouti demonstrates this potential by its implementation of a successful programme in tackling water shortages through decentralisation of water management to local authorities. Furthermore the government collaborates with non-governmental organisations on education programmes. Djibouti will also begin sourcing water from a wind energy-powered desalination plant to supply the city of Balbala, where increased water demand has quenched the local aquifer. This project, at €46M, is predominantly funded by the European Commission.

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*Title is from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Ali Suleiman is a graduate from the University of Waterloo’s Civil Engineering programmein Canada, and holds a Certificate of Advanced Project Management from the University of Toronto. Of Palestinian and Turkish origin, he is fluent in both Arabic and Turkish. He has worked in project management and construction in Canada, Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Ali was the Project Coordinator of the University of Waterloo Sustainability Project from 2007-2010, has provided workshops on sustainable business practices for the Youth Employment Services, and is an avid supporter of green design and development. He currently works with an engineering firm in Jordan.
Ibraheem Youssef is obsessed with obsession. He takes that trait and allows it to manifest in his various creations. From Design to Type, Drawing to Calligraphy Ibraheem always seeks out new Creative challenges.