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)
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

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)
  • 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


Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
Updated 56 min 5 sec ago

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz

Coalition: Nearly 200 Houthis killed in airstrikes on Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz
  • The coalition said 29 military vehicles were destroyed during operations over the last 24 hours

RIYADH: More than 190 Houthis were killed in airstrikes on the Yemeni provinces of Marib, Al-Bayda, and Taiz, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy said on Thursday.

The coalition said 29 military vehicles were also destroyed during the operations over the last 24 hours.

On Wednesday, dozens of Houthis were killed in Marib province as government troops rolled into a new area in Abedia district for the first time in months, adding to the latest military gains in the province, a local military official told Arab News.


FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace
Updated 27 January 2022

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace

FSO Safer tanker disaster could leave Suez Canal unpassable: Greenpeace
  • It would also have ‘catastrophic’ environmental, humanitarian consequences for millions
  • Iran-backed Houthi militia has repeatedly refused UN pleas for access to secure tanker

LONDON: Environmental activist group Greenpeace has warned of “catastrophic” humanitarian and environmental consequences if the FSO Safer tanker, currently under the control of the Iran-backed Houthi militia off the Yemeni coast, is not drained of its oil.

An oil spill or explosion from the tanker could also block the Suez Canal, costing the world nearly $10 billion per day, Greenpeace said at a press conference attended by Arab News on Thursday.

The tanker was abandoned in the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast in 2017. It holds 1.1 million barrels of oil, or around 140,000 tons, which Greenpeace said could spill into the sea “at any moment” or spread as a result of an explosion on board.

The vessel’s firefighting system is also inoperative, meaning a fire on the ship could spread vast quantities of pollution into the air if the crude ignites.

Paul Horsman, who leads Greenpeace International’s Safer Response Team, said: “Unless action is taken to make the tanker secure, there’s a real danger of a major oil spill, or possibly worse, an explosion.”

Either outcome would be “severe and long-lasting. In a worst-case scenario, the oil could drift to neighboring countries, to Djibouti, to Eritrea and Saudi Arabia,” he added.

“It could potentially disrupt shipping routes in the Suez Canal, it could impact any future tourism. If the Suez Canal is unable to function because ships can’t get out of the Red Sea, we all remember what happened when the Ever Given was blocked there — it was estimated that trade through the Suez Canal lost about $9 billion per day during that time.”

The Houthis have repeatedly refused international access to secure the FSO Safer despite multiple pleas by the UN.

According to a report released on Thursday by Greenpeace on the risks posed by the tanker, a spill would have a devastating humanitarian impact on millions of Yemenis. Perhaps most notably, access to clean water would be drastically curtailed.

“The desalination plants on Yemen’s coast at Hudaydah, Salif and Aden could be affected and that, combined with disrupted fuel supply, could disrupt the drinking water supply for up to 10 million people,” said the report.

“Yemeni fisheries (as well as those of neighboring countries) could be completely closed by an oil spill. These fisheries support 1.7 million people and closures would be necessary to ensure that no contaminated commercial fish enter the human food chain … the most serious risks are to the livelihoods of the fishing communities.”

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, is already facing a humanitarian crisis following years of conflict sparked by the Houthis seizing the capital from the internationally recognized government.

While a spill or explosion appears imminent, Greenpeace stressed that action could be taken immediately to avert a disaster.

Horsman said a barrier could immediately be placed around the ship that would mitigate some of the immediate harm caused by the imminent spill.

He added that the technology exists to transfer the oil on board — still technically owned by the internationally recognized government — into another vessel. The problem, he said, is a “lack of political will” to solve the issue.


Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
Updated 27 January 2022

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian

Autopsy says violence caused death of detained Palestinian
  • Palestinian witnesses say Asaad was roughed up before being bound and blindfolded
  • The Israeli military has said he was detained after resisting an inspection and later released, implying he was alive

JERUSALEM: An autopsy has found that a 78-year-old Palestinian man who was pronounced dead shortly after being detained by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank died of a heart attack caused by “external violence.”
The autopsy, undertaken by three Palestinian doctors, confirmed that Omar Asaad, who has US citizenship, suffered from underlying health conditions. But it also found bruises on his head, redness on his wrists from being bound, and bleeding in his eyelids from being tightly blindfolded.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, concluded that the cause of death was a “sudden cessation of the heart muscle caused by psychological tension due to the external violence he was exposed to.”
Asaad was detained while returning home from a social gathering at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 12 by Israeli soldiers who had set up a flying checkpoint in his home village of Jiljiliya. It’s a common occurrence in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinian witnesses say Asaad was roughed up before being bound and blindfolded, and then taken to an abandoned apartment complex nearby. Other Palestinians who were detained in the same building later that night said they didn’t realize he was there until after the soldiers left, when they found him unconscious, lying face down on the ground, and called an ambulance.
The Israeli military has said he was detained after resisting an inspection and later released, implying he was alive. It’s unclear when exactly he died. Initial reports said he was 80 years old.
The unit that detained Asaad, Netzah Yehuda, or “Judea Forever,” is a special unit for ultra-Orthodox Jewish soldiers. It was formed with the aim of integrating a segment of the population that does not normally do military service. But Israeli media have reported problems in the unit stemming from the hard-line ideology of many of the soldiers.
Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, an Israeli military spokesman, said the incident remains under investigation and that “actions will be taken if wrongdoing is found.”
The State Department has said it is in touch with the Israeli government to seek “clarification” about the incident and that it supports a “thorough investigation.” US officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the autopsy.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said Asaad’s detention was “bizarre.”
“This is a very small, quiet village,” said Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the group. “There was no reason at all to take an 80-year-old and to drag him and handcuff him. I have no idea why they did it.”
Israel says it thoroughly investigates incidents in which Palestinians are killed by Israeli troops. But rights groups say those investigations rarely lead to indictments or convictions, and that in many cases the army does not interview key witnesses or retrieve evidence.
Sadot said the fact that the military is still investigating more than two weeks after the incident, even with the added pressure of American scrutiny, indicates that any eventual conclusion will be another “whitewash.”
“I don’t know, but from our experience, it will lead to nothing,” she said.


Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib

Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib
Updated 27 January 2022

Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib

Seven civilians killed in Houthi missile attack on Marib
  • The Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani condemned the attack through a series of tweets
  • Al-Eryani called for an international stance against the Houthis

DUBAI: The Houthi militia killed seven civilians, including a woman, and wounded 36 others in a missile attack on a neighborhood in Yemen’s Marib, Al-Arabiya TV reported.

The Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani condemned the attack through a series of tweets. He said the massacre was a war crime and an act of revenge after the recent defeats and losses the Houthis suffered.

“We condemn and denounce in the strongest terms the horrific massacre committed by the terrorist Iranian-backed Houthi militia, targeting the densely populated Al-Matar neighborhood and the displaced people in Marib with an Iranian-made ballistic missile,” the minister said. 

Al-Eryani called for an international stance against the Houthis, and called on the international community, the United Nations, human rights organizations, and US envoys to issue a clear and explicit condemnation of the militia’s crime.

Dozens of Houthis were killed on Wednesday in the central province of Marib as government troops rolled into a new area in Abedia district for the first time in months, adding to the latest military gains in the province, a local military official told Arab News from Marib.

A day after seizing control of strategic mountainous locations in neighboring Hareb, Yemen’s army and the Giants Brigades seized control of Al-Jafara in the district of Abedia, south of Marib, and besieged Um Resh military base in Juba district, also south of Marib, after heavy fighting with the Houthis who are coming under attack from government troops and intense airstrikes from the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen.


Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
Updated 27 January 2022

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination

Coronavirus-ravaged Iran finds brief respite with mass vaccination
  • Hospitals preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull
  • More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated

TEHRAN: As much of the world sees vaccination slowing and infections soaring with the spread of omicron, Iran has found a rare, if fleeting, respite from the anxiety and trauma of the pandemic.
After successive virus waves pummeled the country for nearly two years, belated mass vaccination under a new, hard-line president has, for a brief moment, left the stricken nation with a feeling of apparent safety.
Now, the specter of an omicron-fueled surge looms large. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as infections tick upward after a months-long lull. But so far, the variant has not battered the Islamic Republic as it has many Western countries where most adults got jabs a year ago.
Drastic infection surges among the inoculated from the United States to Russia have revealed the vaccine’s declining defenses against infection even as its protection against hospitalization and death remains strong. Meanwhile, Iranians have received doses more recently and are feeling off the hook with their immunity still robust.
“A large number of people already have contracted the virus and huge vaccination has taken place in recent months,” health official Moayed Alavian said in an attempt to explain the sharp drop in infections easing the burden on Iran’s overwhelmed health system.
The virus has killed over 132,000 people by Iran’s official count — the highest national toll in the Middle East.
Iran’s recently elected president, conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has made it a mission to expedite imports of foreign-made COVID-19 vaccines. With hard-liners in control of all branches of government, the new administration is fast fulfilling a task that had been vexed by power struggles during former President Hassan Rouhani’s term.
The contrast is not lost on ordinary Iranians.
“I do not know what happened,” said Reza Ghasemi, a Tehran taxi driver. “Suddenly vaccination happened in a widespread and quick way after Raisi came to office.”
“By the way,” he added, “I am thankful.”
But skeptics question the presidents’ starkly different pandemic responses, criticizing the human cost of the country’s factional rivalries.
“We delayed vaccination because of political issues,” reformist lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian bluntly said last September.
Now under Raisi, Iran is riding high on its successes against COVID-19. Cases have fallen to about 7,000 a day from some 40,000 just months before. The death toll plummeted to 20 a day this month from peaks of over 700. His administration has provided 180 million vaccines since taking the reins in August.
More than 88 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines have been fully vaccinated. Iran has administered booster shoots to 20 percent of its population. Last week the government announced it would make vaccines available to children under 18.