Water stress in Morocco. How to react to an emergency

If salt water is abundant on the blue planet, the situation is diametrically opposite when it comes to fresh water. The studies differing significantly, we can estimate the stock of fresh water available at 3%, of which less than 1% is accessible to humans. Added to this is the fact that the distribution of this fresh water remains extremely inequitable: 85% of the world’s population lives in arid zones, dominated by an almost structural drought and a cruel lack of fresh water.

In 2016, Unesco already claimed that more than 700 million people suffered from the non-availability and non-access to drinking water. Which, in turn, led to deaths, 5 per minute, on a global scale, a consequence of this situation. We are also witnessing a tightening between supply and demand, tending towards a worrying imbalance: the United Nations Organization affirms that in 2040, the world demand for water will exceed 40% of global production.

An extremely critical situation in Morocco

Morocco is considered by the UN to be in a state of water stress. The organization justifies this observation by an annual volume of barely 500 cubic meters of fresh water per inhabitant. During the 1960s, this volume was 5 times higher. The World Bank refers to a situation of “structural water stress”. Hydrologists estimate that fifty cities are threatened by thirst, the rural world and the south of the country being particularly exposed. At this rate, by 2050, Morocco will lose more than 80% of its freshwater resources, something truly worrying. The Kingdom is not an isolated case in the region. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Gulf are also experiencing increased water stress.

Read also | Water stress. Morocco risks the worst

According to the Ministry of Equipment and Water, the water shortage is explained on the one hand by the gradual drops, of around 2 to 3 meters annually, in the levels of the water table, but also by this hard observation: the overall volumes of water stored in reservoirs have been halved between 2018 and today, reaching a level of barely 4.7 billion cubic meters in the summer of 2022. By way of illustration , the Al-Massira dam, one of the largest dams in the country, located 140 kilometers from the city of Casablanca, has almost dried up. We should also note the high volatility of the potential for freshwater production on a national scale, which obviously depends on the annual intensity of precipitation. According to specialists, the potential volume would vary between 5 and 48 billion cubic meters.

Agriculture, the base of the Moroccan economy, very water-intensive

Agriculture is a key sector for the kingdom and accounts for 14% of the national GDP and Moroccan exports of fruits and vegetables are doing well, even beating records in 2022. The problem (is undeniably inherent in the water consumption of the sector : 80% of the country’s fresh water goes to the agricultural sector. Morocco has even tripled its irrigated areas in order to cultivate and produce in arid and semi-arid areas, particularly in the south of the country. In addition, the Kingdom has developed drip irrigation techniques, which are extremely “water-intensive”, aiming to supply water to its mainly fruit-growing arboriculture. This agricultural policy, which is certainly effective but water-intensive, is obviously structurally out of step with the current water situation, characterized by the drying up of reserves and the fall in groundwater levels.The government must therefore intervene, for example, by rationalizing the use of water within this sector which, it should be remembered, is strongly correlated with the critical situation of a shortage of blue gold across the country.

What is the Executive’s reaction to this violent water crisis?

Morocco has been engaged for sixty years in a water storage policy through the massive construction of dams. There are 120, more exactly. This policy, first initiated by the late Hassan II, aimed to cover the water needs of the population and to irrigate one billion hectares by the year 2000. It was achieved and the Kingdom thus experienced agricultural decades. prosperous allowing it to export massively, in particular towards the European Union.

Read also | Water restriction. Here are the 7 recommendations of the Ministry of the Interior to walis and governors in the face of water stress

Since the 1990s, Morocco has also been carrying out a policy aimed at enabling the rural world to have access to drinking water. The access rate has improved considerably and in a few decades, it converges towards 100% (97% to be exact). Nevertheless, the rural world remains very weakened by the current drought that the kingdom is going through. Despite all these efforts, the average filling rate of the dams is only 28%, a consequence of the drought linked to the economic situation and the climate crisis. To deal with the urgency and gravity of the moment, the executive, aware of the insufficiency of stored water, opted for a policy of austerity and a massive reduction in water consumption, by rationing in a significative way. Thus, it is now prohibited:

– Watering green spaces

-To take without authorization in the wells

-To wash the cars

In addition, the government has given the green light to drill new wells, and the construction of around twenty seawater desalination stations is also planned for 2030. A national water plan has been put in place by the authorities, the latter providing for the purification of waste water.

Desalination of seawater, the only long-term solution?

The use of seawater desalination is increasingly frequent, particularly in the Gulf countries, which are highly exposed to water stress and the shortage of fresh water. Desalination processes and technologies include the reverse osmosis method, electrodialysis, distillation, the origins of which date back several millennia, and the freezing of seawater. Water desalination techniques of the sea seem increasingly inevitable with the looming global water crisis. But the other side of the coin is that the ecological impacts of these processes are often very harmful and the related costs are particularly energy-intensive, especially when fossil fuels are used.

Read also | Abderrahim El Hafidi: “The problem of drinking water is the water resource rather than the production capacity”

Given the tightening and imbalance of freshwater supply and demand, as well as the abundance of saltwater, seawater desalination appears to be a sustainable and effective long-term solution, especially in countries suffering from severe water stress. However, other solutions exist that are more ecological and less harmful to the planet, such as what the innovative Tunisian start-up Kumulus offers, which transforms ambient air into drinking water. Kumulus reproduces the phenomenon of morning dew, and thanks to this promising technology, the startup manages to produce several tens of liters of drinking water per day and per machine. The project was tested in Tunisia, in a school located in El Bayadha, a village near the Algerian border.

Water stress: what forecasts for the years and decades to come?

The progressive scarcity of water will very probably lead in the coming decades to massive exoduses from arid zones to those less affected by shortages. In addition, wars cannot be ruled out because of the vital nature of blue gold. As for speculation on water, it is growing more and more, mainly in the United States and Australia, (where) investors identify and anticipate opportunities for medium to long-term gains. This water crisis of global warming and human overconsumption, due to global demographic dynamics, although unbalanced and concentrated in certain countries, will increasingly increase inequalities of access to water. Inter-country dependencies vis-à-vis this vital resource will emerge, which will represent a danger for future water importers.

As for Africa, whose carbon emissions are very low compared to other continents, it is suffering from an acute drought due in part to global warming for which countries with high CO2 emissions are responsible. An international solidarity system, based on intercontinental emission differentials, must imperatively see the light of day, in order to compensate for the damage caused by carbon overemission from high-emitting countries to low-emitting countries.

Read also | UM6P and CMGP.CAS launch “Aqua-Index”, an index to preserve water resources

Finally, the recommendations and recommendations of competent international bodies, such as the IPCC and appearing in their published annual reports, must be taken very seriously, even applied to the letter. The risk of the progressive financialization of water is indeed present, if it were to be normalized one day, it would simply be a) disaster because water subject to markets will connote ipso facto with strongly bullish orientations due to the unbalanced trend between supply and demand on a global scale. This will induce a sharp rise in thirst and related deaths globally and particularly in poor countries.

By Sharaf Louhmadi

Charaf Louhmadi is a financial engineer at Natixis France, author of the book “Fragments of the history of financial crises” and speaker at the Léonard de Vinci pole, as well as at IMT Atlantique. He publishes economic and financial chronicles for the Spanish and Portuguese press..

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