Water reuse is increasingly recognized as one of the key solutions to address water scarcity in MENA. To transition to a more and safer water reuse practices in the region, countries are increasingly interested in strengthening their capacities in the field. The International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), through the Mediterranean Agronomic Institutes of Zaragoza (IAMZ) and Bari (IAMB), together with partners, has recently organized an advanced course on “Wastewater Reuse in Agriculture“, targeting specialists in water and irrigation management in the Mediterranean area.
The course aims to integrate the key elements and technologies involved in the reuse of wastewater for agriculture to enhance the capacity of professionals working in this field. It focused on the adoption of evidence-based solutions of reuse of treated wastewater at watershed and farm levels considering its environmental and health impacts on farmers and end-users, according to the principle of integrated water resources management and the circular economy approach.
It took place at IAMZ and was given by 19 specialists from the co-organizing institutions, research centers, universities and firms in different countries, who lectured on the course, all top experts in their fields of expertise. They shared their knowledge and expertise and answered questions posed by over 50 professionals working in the water sectors of 16 countries in and around the Mediterranean (Albania, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen).
Javier Mateo-Sagasta, Senior Researcher at IWMI and ReWater MENA Project Leader was one of the professional lecturers, who presented the status, prospects and challenges of water reuse in MENA region. Mateo-Sagasta explained that, water scarcity is aggravating in MENA region because of accelerated urbanization, population growth, climate change, migration and pollution. The use of non-conventional water resources such as treated wastewater is increasingly acknowledged as part of the solution to close the water supply-demand gap.
He continued, wastewater is a precious and valuable resource that may provide additional amounts of water and contributes to the conservation of freshwater resources. Additionally, it provides useful nutrients that can be used as fertilizers that improve the physiochemical properties of soil and enhance its productivity. If pathogens or dangerous chemicals are removed, water reuse can have benefits for all.
The volume of municipal wastewater generated annually in the MENA region is around 19 km3, of which about 10-20% is treated and directly reused. But not all wastewater that is not directly reused is wasted; part of it is discharged to rivers and productively reused downstream. The key is to assess if this is done safely and mitigate risks if not. It is also a key to quantify how much wastewater is actually lost in the sea, evaporated on land or after discharged to rivers, and study the feasibility of recovering these wasted resources, as mentioned by Mateo-Sagasta.
ReWater MENA project which is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and led by International Water Management Institute (IWMI), works in addressing these challenges which include cultural barriers, institutional fragmentation, inappropriate regulations and lack of financial models for cost recovery. The project aims to address the constraints that currently limit opportunities to upscale and accelerate the expansion of wastewater reuse in the MENA region and identifying validated reuse models with potential for replication and with opportunities for cross-learning in the region, Mateo-Sagasta said.
The course was a unique and great opportunity to network with professionals from all over the world and share practical experience on the development and implementation of wastewater reuse projects to enhance the capacity of professionals working in this field. It aimed to harmonize action criteria among the participating countries by training their senior managers, so as to enable the whole Mediterranean area faced with the common challenge of scarce conventional water resources to apply similar water reuse approaches considering the importance of these irrigation practices in environmental, agronomic and social terms.
The Online Course took place between 17 and 25 May 2021, with institutional support from International Water Management Institute (IWMI), The ReWater MENA project, International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the Regional Office for Middle East and North Africa of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Action Plan for the Water Strategy of the 5+5 Dialogue.