With the aim of discussing the way forward for using the untapped potential of wastewater and drainage water in the MENA region, FAO-SNE, IWMI-MENA, WHO, ICBA and IME organized a series of Webinars, in collaboration with many distinguished scientists, leaders and influencers in the field of wastewater reuse (WWR).
The series of Webinars entitled “Unlocking the Potential of Treated Wastewater and Drainage Water for Agricultural Development” is based on the same-titled project managed by FAO- SNE, which partners with IWMI’s ReWater MENA project. This series is currently on its sixth successful edition, where hundreds of people from all around the world attend, share their ideas on the subject and gradually become more aware about the current status of WWR in various countries in the region.
The main focus of this series is to tackle the use of wastewater for agricultural purposes since irrigation has, by far, the highest share of our precious fresh water, consuming over 80% in the MENA region. During the six webinars conducted, interesting presentations were given by key note speakers not only from organizing entities but also from AWC, Santec, ICID, University of California and Oxford which gave the webinars versatility as well as richness of topics and ideas.
The series fulfills the need of improved regional cooperation between countries in the field of non-conventional water reuse for agricultural development, and exchanging knowledge and information on the safe use of treated wastewater and drainage water in agriculture. It also focuses on policy dialogue for strategies and initiatives, promoting non-conventional water reuse in the region. All the previously mentioned objectives help in turning the potential of non-conventional water resources into opportunities for sustainable agricultural development in the region.
Several hundreds of stakeholders have indeed attended and enjoyed the series and many have actively participated as well. The beneficiaries mainly consisted of national multidisciplinary teams, including policymakers and stakeholders from ministries of agriculture, water, environment and health. Attendees also included research institutes, development sectors, civil societies, and private sector entities all of which are involved and interested in the non-conventional water sector and the potential that it holds for arid and semi-arid countries in the MENA region.
The mastermind of this series of webinars; Dr. Faycel Chenini, along with the partners was determined to discuss the topic of wastewater reuse (WWR) from all possible angles. The first webinar, with more than 154 participants from 57 different countries, discussed the state of the art of treated wastewater (TWW) in North Africa, Middle East and Gulf counties, where Dr. Nisreen El Lahham, Regional Project Manager of ReWater MENA project at IWMI, captivated the audience with a presentation introducing the project as one of the most prominent projects in the region aiming at mainstreaming WWR and addressing the relevant challenges, in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Dr. Faycel Chenini also presented FAO-SNE project; Unlocking the Potential of Treated Wastewater and Drainage Water for Agricultural Development.
As mentioned by Dr. Chenini, the concept of WWR is not new to the world of agriculture since it was one of the first sanctuaries for semi-arid countries on a global level. Thus, in order to mainstream the use of treated wastewater for irrigation, we must first discuss the successful cases already implemented and running. Accordingly, during the second Webinar, the stage was opened for several distinguished key note speakers to voice about best practices in the field from all around the world. Dr. Redouane Choukrallah, a well-known senior expert in the field, gave a presentation covering several cases that are considered role models in the area and are also used as a source for best practices.
The third webinar had by far the most heated debates during the panel session. The panelists were distinguished experts in the fields of water and wastewater especially in arid areas such as the MENA region. The panelists list included: Dr. Amgad Elmahdi, Head of MENA Region office at IWMI, Dr. Mohamed Al-Hamdi, Senior Land and Water Officer (FAO-RNE), Dr. Rola Al-Emam, Technical Officer and Occupational Health and Waste Management at WHO, CEHA and EMR and finally Dr. Kamel Amer, Director of Middle Regional Office (AOAD). This epic webinar also hosted a session given by the keynote speaker Dr. Safwat Abdel Dayem, Senior Water Expert in the Arab Water Council (AWC).
One of the main points deliberated through the panel session was that non-conventional water resources are usually not part of national water policies for addressing water scarcity in the countries of the region. Hence, there are no clear national strategies and action plans to consider non-conventional water resources as part of the national water resources and integrated water resources management. This webinar discussed methodologies of preparing governments to control the whole process within a broader policy framework of a national water resources plan.
The fifth webinar entitled “Performing Agricultural Production with Non-Conventional Water” focused on the new holistic approach to perform wastewater reuse for agricultural development. Thus, the presenters used the platform offered by the webinar to communicate the opportunities, challenges and recommendations for the development of the agricultural sector. Discussing Agriculture products from wastewater irrigated crops would be lacking if the health and safety aspects were not included in the conversation. Accordingly, Dr. Philippe Verger, Advisor for Food Safety at the WHO, EMRO and CEHA gave a presentation that shed the light upon food safety perspectives of treated wastewater reuse in agriculture. Within the same context of non-conventional water resources, utilizing brackish water for sustainable agriculture was also discussed as an alternative resource to scarce fresh water resources.
In order to guarantee the sustainability of safe use of treated wastewater, the sixth webinar centralized around the cost-benefit analysis of such projects. During the presentations, experts from Pakistan, Tunisia and France discussed the detailed cash flows and financial aspect of ongoing and successful projects that triumphed and managed to contribute to agricultural development. This intensive discussion gave the opportunity for the speakers to interact and debate methodologies as well as their effectiveness on the ground. In addition, they addressed the policy dimension and how it differs from one country to the other which could hinder the projects from obtaining their maximum potential. The discussion also gave the audience the chance to have a look at the cost benefit analysis, lifecycle analysis and revenue streams of implemented projects in the region. Additionally, it opened their eyes on the economic framework of different projects and how it is managed throughout the projects’ lifetime. Lastly, the webinar gave the attendees an idea about the current status of such projects in each country and the policy amendments as well as recommendations required to achieve better support.
Unlocking the Potential of Treated Wastewater and Drainage Water for Agricultural Development webinar series has granted the opportunity for various stakeholders to voice out their experience as well as lessons learned. It has also allowed experts in the field to discuss the challenges that they have been through while implementing treated wastewater reuse projects in their respective countries. FAO and IWMI will continue to seek more improved collaboration on achieving safer and more cost-effective solutions to water scarcity in the arid region. They are also determined to streamline irrigation and agricultural practices through the efficient usage of treated wastewater.