Egypt’s Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Hani Sewilam highlighted the significant water challenge faced by the Middle East and North Africa region.
The population in this region has increased from 100 million in 1960 to over 450 million in 2018, and it is projected to reach over 720 million by 2050.
This came during his speech at the “International Association for Water Desalination” summit in Spain, themed “Water and Climate Change.” Sewilam expressed that nearly two-thirds of the region’s population live in water-stressed areas. Moreover, the region only possesses 1% of the world’s renewable fresh water, making it the most water-stressed region globally. Out of the 17 countries in the region, 14 are affected by water stress, including the top six countries.
In Egypt, limited water resources and population growth have led to a per capita water share that has approached the water scarcity line. To address this, the minister mentioned major projects focused on reusing agricultural wastewater and importing agricultural products from abroad.
Sewilam emphasized the importance of relying on water desalination for food production, considering that the agricultural sector is the largest consumer of water resources. He also highlighted the need to shift towards intensive food production using the same unit of water. When discussing water desalination, he stressed the significance of the energy factor, as it represents a significant portion of the desalination process cost. Therefore, he encouraged the use of renewable energy to make water desalination economically viable, particularly in Egypt and the Middle East, which have favorable conditions for renewable energy production due to abundant sunlight and wind.
The minister also underscored the necessity of further studies on Fertilizer Drawn Forward Osmosis technology, which utilizes a high osmotic pressure solution of fertilizers to extract water from saline sources through a semi-permeable membrane.
Furthermore, Sewilam emphasized the importance of using desalinated water with the highest economic efficiency by adopting the principle of “producing a higher quantity of food using less water and energy.” This involves utilizing desalinated water in fish farming and then using the same water for agriculture with advanced techniques like aquaponics to achieve higher crop productivity per unit of water. Additionally, highly saline water resulting from the desalination process can be used in the cultivation of brine shrimp (Artemia) and algae that tolerate high salinity levels, rather than disposing of it in seas or injecting it into underground reservoirs, which can cause environmental damage.
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