Water security is a major challenge in marginal environments such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region that receives 1.3 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. In particular, sustainable agricultural development in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is constrained by the lack of renewable water resources. For example, Saudi Arabia has the highest annual renewable water resources (2.4bn cu.m.) followed by Oman (1.79bn cu.m.) and the United Arab Emirates (1.29bn cu.m.). On average, more than 80 percent of the renewable water is used for agriculture. However, agricultural production primarily depends on groundwater resources because surface water quantities are sufficient to meet only high crop water demands. The annual groundwater withdrawal in GCC countries is estimated at 16.5bn cu.m. compared to the average annual recharge of 4.8bn cu.m. As a result, groundwater resources are fast depleting with serious implications of increased energy use for groundwater extraction and deteriorating water quality. The increasing gap between fresh water supply and demand along with the projected effects of climate change have put enormous pressure on agriculture to reduce its share of freshwater use and look for alternative sources to meet the requirements.
The use of industrial or municipal wastewater (treated and untreated) in agriculture is becoming a routine practice in many (semi-) arid countries of the world. Wastewater and its nutrient content can be used extensively for irrigation and other ecosystem services, cutting on groundwater and fresh water consumption. Wastewater also offers environmental and socio-economic benefits such as reduction in effluent disposal problems, supply of nutrients as fertilizer and improvement in crop production during the dry season. Its reuse can deliver positive benefits (save fresh water, save fertilizer, prevent pollution) to the farming community, society, and municipalities. Despite these advantages, wastewater applicability for irrigation depends on the physical, chemical and microbiological quality of wastewater because continuous use of wastewater may cause serious health problems for humans and animals as a result of excessive dietary accumulation of heavy metals. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to understand the effects of treated wastewater (TWW) reuse for irrigation though continuous investigations to evaluate the effects on crops, grasses, soil and the environment.
With the aim of addressing water scarcity issues of the MENA region, ICBA is exploring innovative solutions and technologies for safe reuse of wastewater in agriculture to ensure future food, nutrition and water security in marginal environments. Sharing information on best practices and lessons learned for a proper use of TWW is vital for the water-scarce MENA region. With that in mind, ICBA is creating a regional online platform that facilitates sharing results, information, lessons learned, and best practices on wastewater reuse in the MENA region.