Discussion groups hold topical discussions at WATER SUM event on final day of World Water Week
World Water Week, an annual focal point for global water issues held in Stockholm on August 26-31, 2017, provided the backdrop for MENA Water World Café 2017, an event organised within the WATER SUM project. In the context of this year’s World Water Week theme, “Water and Waste: Reduce and Reuse”, the World Café event was part of MENA Focus Day, and brought together leaders representing central and local governments, regional bodies, NGOs, academia and businesses from the MENA region.
The event kicked off on August 31 with a brief plenary session, during which participants were divided into three working groups according to the following discussion topics:
- Group 1 — “Rethink before use”, focusing on water governance and management that considers wastewater as a resource to be reused and recycled for irrigation and domestic use;
- Group 2 — “Climate change and the water-waste cycle”, with a special focus on water extremes and their impacts; and
- Group 3 — “Water quality management”, focusing on reduction from urban and rural areas.
Working groups rotated at intervals of 25-20-15 minutes, while facilitators remained in their respective areas and later contributing to the summarised outcomes. Background documents and issue papers had been distributed beforehand to guide the working group discussions.
The working group facilitators summarised their discussions as follows:
The biggest barrier to achieving higher levels of wastewater reuse within the MENA region is the absence of sewers and advanced wastewater treatment facilities. The attitudes of farmers towards the use of wastewater depend on multiple factors, such as religious beliefs, traditions and the availability of fresh water, but awareness raising and education are effective tools in overcoming various obstacles and objections. There is also large potential for alternative, non-agricultural uses, such as the irrigation of green urban areas, forests, wetlands, and recharge of ground water. However, all these approaches require careful implementation to limit any direct or indirect health risks. Reuse of treated wastewater is already common practice in most MENA countries, and mutual sharing of good practices can contribute to enhanced utilisation rates.
According to the participants, extreme weather events, including floods and droughts, are increasing in frequency and intensity. These extremes will amplify the existing vulnerabilities of operation of water supply, storm drainage and sewerage systems infrastructures. Also, the functioning and performance of wastewater treatment plans will be adversely impacted. Health and agricultural systems in urban centres will be negatively impacted by these extremes, especially the coastal cities and those located in lowland areas. Therefore, there is an urgent need to prioritise, develop and implement measures to cope with these impacts on water and wastewater systems. Adaptation policies should consider the new risks from extremes. Various adaptation measures were suggested during the discussion, such as water harvesting, wastewater reuse, water demand measures and desalinisation.
Due to the deterioration of water quality in the region, one of the main challenges agreed by all the participants is the improvement of wastewater treatment installations and systems in rural and urban areas, taking into account the different levels and sources of pollution (industrial, domestic etc.). It was remarked that there is a need for law reinforcement, and that all government levels need to engage in dialogue and ensure that legislation already in place is used appropriately. In the recommendations debate, it was clear that more investment is needed to decentralise laboratories for water quality analysis. Capacity building was considered an important aspect to be developed at all levels, and it was argued that cooperation between all stakeholders and real involvement in water quality analysis is a key to reaching future SDG 6 achievements.