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Irrigation

Game-changing water solutions for the Middle East and North Africa

Claudia W. Sadoff's picture
Women collecting water in  Al-Minsalah district, Haddjah province, Yemen. Photo: ECHO/T. Deherman
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has become a hotspot of unsustainable water use, with more than half of current water withdrawals in some countries exceeding the amount naturally available. This could have serious long-term consequences for the region’s growth and stability. Solutions for narrowing the gap between the supply of and demand for water are an urgent priority.
 
As the Fourth Arab Water Forum gets underway next week in Cairo, Egypt, much is at stake in the region’s water management. Armed conflict and massive numbers of refugees have put tremendous additional stress on land and water resources in MENA as well as on infrastructure in communities receiving the refugees. In Jordan alone, according to the country’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation, climate change and the refugee crisis have reduced water availability per person to 140 cubic meters, far below the globally recognized threshold of 500 cubic meters for severe water scarcity.
 
These recent developments compound the impact of decades of rapid population growth, urbanization and agricultural intensification. A recent World Bank report notes that more than 60% of the region’s population is concentrated in places affected by high or very high surface water stress, compared to a global average of about 35%. The report further warns that climate-related water scarcity is expected to cause economic losses estimated at 6-14% of GDP by 2050 – the highest in the world.
 
As governments search for solutions, two trends in particular could present game-changing opportunities to bolster water security. As captured in two recent reports by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the viability of these solutions will depend on how governments and societies respond to them.

Managing water better is central to attaining our development goals

Jonas Jägermeyr's picture
Rainwater harvesting for drip irrigation, Lake Victoria, Tanzania.
Photo credit: Wisions.net
Everybody depends on it; there is no substitute for it if we run out; in some places, it’s more valuable than oil. Freshwater is at the very core of human development: it is inextricably linked to food security, economic growth, and poverty reduction.

At face value, water use for food production today largely occurs at the expense of ecosystems, which is the number one reason for their rapid degradation. Already, a quarter of the world’s major rivers no longer reach the ocean.

According to a new study published by Nature Communications, about 40% of global irrigation water is used unsustainably and violates life-supporting environmental flows of rivers. To achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, these water volumes need to be re-allocated to the ecosystem, which puts a heavy strain on current agricultural water use: food production would drop by at least 10% on half of all irrigated land, with losses of 20-30% at the country level, especially in Central and South Asia.

In Mozambique, World Bank helps rehabilitate a vital infrastructure, ensuring all-season irrigation and transport

Rafael Saute's picture
Farmers harvest tomatoes which are placed in boxes for sale at markets further away. Photo Gustavo Mahoque/World Bank


The first time I visited Chokwe district in the province of Gaza, which is located some 230 km from the capital city of Maputo, tales of agriculture riches popped into my head. For years, the official narrative has labelled Chokwe district the nation’s food basket. “Well, at least for the southern part of the country,” I thought out loud, somewhat unconvinced while driving there. That was before I laid eyes on the gigantic, and arguably the largest, gravity-irrigated system ever built in the country, covering 37,000 hectares of fertile land downstream the majestic Limpopo River. There, I witnessed the harvesting of tomatoes, and other vegetables, and the overall upbeat mood among farmers, traders, and residents of the rich valley.

Private sector, meet irrigation: Planning better ways to feed the future

Cledan Mandri-Perrott's picture

Headlines about climate change often focus on food scarcity, but the problems facing the irrigation sector – which is critical to our ability to feed the future – are usually too complex to make it into the news. For stakeholders in the sector, however, the challenges are all too clear.  Growing investment needs in irrigation have highlighted what’s wrong with the system’s status quo, such as:

Mwomboshi Dam: Ushering in a new era of farming in Zambia

Ina-Marlene Ruthenberg's picture
Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu cuts the ribbon to mark the construction of the new Mwomboshi Dam, projected to be the largest dam in the country’s history.
Photo credit: Royd Sibajene


Amid pomp, traditional dance and splendor, in rural Chisamba, central Province, the President of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, cut an elaborate ribbon donned in Zambian colors of red, black, green and orange to lay a foundation stone to mark the construction of the Mwomboshi Dam. The dam construction is funded by the World Bank under the Irrigation Development and Support Project (ISDP) with the amount of $37 million. Not only did I attend this significant ground-breaking ceremony as a representative of the World Bank Group (WBG), but I also took the opportunity to say a Bemba agriculture idiom I have been taught by my colleagues at the office.

Six stories show renewable energy underpins a climate-friendly future

Andy Shuai Liu's picture

Also available in: Arabic | French | Spanish


In 2015 the world saw great momentum for climate action, culminating in a historic agreement in December to cut carbon emissions and contain global warming. It was also a year of continued transformation for the energy sector. For the first time in history, a global sustainable development goal was adopted solely for energy, aiming for: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
 
To turn this objective into reality while mitigating climate change impacts, more countries are upping their game and going further with solar, wind, geothermal and other sources of renewable energy. As we usher in 2016, these stories from around the world present a flavor of how they are leading the charge toward a climate-friendly future.  
 
 World Bank Group

1: Morocco is rising to be a “solar superpower.” On the edge of the Sahara desert, the Middle East’s top energy-importing country is building one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants. When fully operational, the Noor-Ouarzazate power complex will produce enough energy for more than one million Moroccans and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels by 2.5 million tons of oil.

Will the Sun God answer poor farmers' prayers or make things worse?

Amit Jain's picture
A paddy farmer with his umbrella on a rainy day in West Bengal, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank
Farmer in West Bengal, India. Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank)

If God appeared in the dream of a paddy farmer in India’s West Bengal and said, “You have made me happy with your hard work, make any three wishes and they will be granted,” the farmer will say “I want rain, rain, rain.”

That thought kept playing over and over in my mind, after interacting with farmers in the paddy fields of the Siliguri and Jalpaiguri districts of West Bengal. Located in India’s northeast, the area is famous for its scenic beauty, tea plantations and paddy fields. While the region’s fertile soil makes it ideal for a variety of crops, it is almost entirely dependent on rainfall for irrigation, like anywhere else in the world.

To reduce their dependence on the monsoons, India’s farmers have taken 12 million electricity connections and 9 million diesel pump sets with which they pump up groundwater for irrigation.

Although agriculture’s share of India’s economy is declining—it contributes to less than 15% of India’s GDP—it still employs 50% of the country’s workforce. Not surprisingly, perhaps, up to 20% of all the electricity used in India is for agriculture, mostly for irrigation. In some states, this can account for as much as 30-50% of all the electricity used in the state.

There are many states where power for agricultural purposes is highly subsidized, and this, combined with an unreliable supply of electricity, often causes farmers to leave their pumps on all the time. This wastes both electricity and water, with too much energy being used and too much groundwater being extracted, often way more water than needed. 

Since more than half of India’s cultivated land is yet to be irrigated, a business-as-usual scenario will lead to a huge rise in India’s energy needs for agriculture alone.

But there is an alternative—solar energy.

With decreasing solar modules prices (70% in the last 4 years), solar pumps are fast becoming a viable financial solution for irrigation.

However, there are several questions about the use of solar pumps that need to be answered:

Won’t solar pumps only make farmers more lax about using energy resources and wasting groundwater?

Solar energy brings smiles to healthy babies and happy farmers

Amit Jain's picture
A solar irrigation pump in Siliguri Region, West Bengal, India. (Photo by Amit Jain / World Bank)

Last month, I met an obstetrician in India and in the course of conversation, asked her how many babies she had delivered.
 
“After ten thousand babies, I stopped counting,” she said.
 
Naturally, I was curious to know if anything scared her when she’s delivering a child. Her answer: “I pray that there is electricity for sterilized water and other equipment during the process.”
 
The obstetrician is also the project director for part of a World Bank health project in Nagaland—a remote Northeastern state in India. She is an ardent advocate for the expansion and promotion of solar energy in the primary health care sector because she, like many of her colleagues, believes that more solar energy in the health sector can spur a revolution by boosting the standard and reliability of health delivery services in the country.
 
When I joined the World Bank four months ago as a renewable energy specialist, I had always considered solar in the context of electricity for homes and businesses. But working with other sectors and exploring solar interventions in increasing crop productivity, safe drinking water and child delivery in health centers has shown me the massive potential solar energy has to help other areas of development as well. There is a clear business case for why solar is fast becoming a mainstream technology for providing power even in non-energy sectors like agriculture and water.
 
Until recently, the biggest hurdle in adopting solar power was the high upfront cost (more than $3 per watt before 2010) and lack of project financing for solar projects.
 
But much of that has changed. In the last four years, solar module prices have fallen more than 70% (less than $1 a watt), and per unit cost of solar power (kwh) has fallen from 30 cents per unit in 2010 to less than 8 cents per unit not only in India but also in Brazil, Chile, UAE and other countries.

The case for solar water pumps

Richard Colback's picture


The cost of solar technology has come down, way down, making it is a viable way to expand access to energy for hundreds of millions of people living in energy poverty. For farmers in developing countries, the growing availability of solar water pumps offers a viable alternative to system dependent on fossil fuel or grid electricity. While relatively limited, experience in several countries shows how solar irrigation pumps can make farmers more resilient against the erratic shifts in rainfall patterns caused by climate change or the unreliable supply and high costs of fossil fuels needed to operate water pumps. Experience also suggests a number of creative ways that potential water resource trade-offs can be addressed.

Why it’s time to elevate groundwater

Jacob Burke's picture

Groundwater stored in the earth’s crust underpins all our lives – the ultimate source of freshwater for billions has become victim of over-extraction and the ultimate sink for pollutants.
 
For too long, not enough has been done to regulate the use of this precious, on-demand resource and manage disposal of waste. If rates of groundwater depletion have tripled in the past 3 decades, then the rate at which pollutants have accumulated in shallow aquifers can only have equaled or exceeded that rate.
 
The lack of care given to groundwater is placing a huge tax on the poor who have no access to clean piped water supply and depend on groundwater for their health and livelihoods. Self-supply, through the use of wells, from polluted aquifers in urban and rural areas is widespread, but un-reported. The impacts are all too apparent in the densely populated urban slums and rural communities that often live just centimeters above polluted soil and rock. Out-migration of poor farmers who are no longer able to access deepening groundwater tables has been a feature in arid and semi-arid regions, but intensive agriculture is also leaving behind a legacy of nitrates and pesticides which imprint aquifers for decades.


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