Background and Rationale

The countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa, comprising what is called the MENA Region, are known to be prone to extreme levels of water scarcity. Pressures on available water resources in the MENA Region have increased during the past decades due to a number of factors, including:

  • a higher growth in population than the global average
  • a rapidly increasing urbanization
  • changes in lifestyle and food preferences
  • deteriorating water quality
  • significant variations in precipitation

Anticipated changes in climate conditions lend additional urgency to the concern about water availability and water quality in the MENA countries. Meteorological dry spells and periods of extreme drought are expected to increase, river flow is anticipated to significantly diminish, and water levels in lakes and reservoirs will likely decline substantially. Maintaining food security for several of the MENA countries will require additional irrigation water.

Alongside the environmental challenges in the region, factors such as ongoing political and socio-economic transitions or armed conflict in some MENA countries have resulted in additional stresses on water supply and have affected water and food security for the residents of the region. The MENA region is among the areas around the world where limited water supply and replenishment has been the cause of local and interstate disputes and conflicts that may continue to be a catalyst for water-related instability in the region.

Thus, the increasing water scarcity as a result of these multiple factors requires a focus on sustainable and equitable water-sharing strategies and measures that need to be negotiated and implemented before this key geopolitical resource becomes more vulnerable to unforeseen pressures and threats in the future.

Mission and Vision of the Conference

The Future Earth MENA Regional Center in close cooperation with the University of Bahrain as co-organizers of the conference aim to address pressing water challenges “in the MENA Region – with the MENA Region – for the MENA Region”.

Participants in the Bahrain conference will pursue practical, problem-solving measures regarding similar and related water issues and challenges in the MENA Region in order to find commonalities of purpose and to identify and discuss solutions that can be:

  • realistically exchanged between our countries
  • then adopted in practice in new locations, and finally
  • identify successes that can eventually be translated into policy-oriented action

To achieve this, one segment of the conference will entail a lively cycle of discussions initiated and started by a series of keynote presentations. The aim will be for us to share some of the accumulated knowledge and know-how from each of our own country’s experiences thus far, but also to address current research deficiencies and miscalculations within water management challenges in the past.

Increasing aridity is probably the main threat to the diversity and survival of Mediterranean and MENA Region land ecosystems and their services. We envision to dedicate a section of the conference to the issue of “water for the environment”, particularly in relation to competing uses (irrigation, households). To do so, we will introduce a few distinct nature-based case studies as “role models” for sustainable and ecological management and utilization of water resources in the MENA Region. Such workable and evidence-based solutions that have been implemented in practice and proven their validity in regenerating ecosystems may turn out to be “generically-applicable” as appropriate tools and low-cost techniques to be applied in other settings and contexts within the MENA Region.

Main Themes and Topics of the Conference

It is envisioned to address a number of leading themes/topics at the conference, which will follow the overall vision as outlined above. These themes comprise:

1. The multiple role of water for communities and societies in the MENA Region

This theme will cover discussions on the various user groups of water in the MENA countries (agriculture, private households, industry, tourism, urban centers) and the challenges regarding the availability and quality of water as well as possible conflicts between individual user groups. More specifically, the following groups and topics may be addressed:

    1. Water for Food, including: crop selection, new technologies for irrigation and cultivation, critical assessment of government recommendations
    2. Urban Water, including: distribution network, storm water management, wastewater treatment and recycling, urban rainwater harvesting
    3. Water in other sectors, including: private households, industry and commerce, tourism
    4. Water for the Environment, including: regenerating semi/arid land and ecosystems, vegetation recovery, soil water retention
    5. Virtual water, is an important aspect of water management in the agricultural sector, as regards the export of virtual water (i.e., water needed to grow a given product and contained in the final product that may be exported to outside the country/region).
2. Water governance and ethical principles/considerations regarding water availability and water management

Water governance and administrative aspects of water distribution and pricing represent important issues that are often ill-defined and/or poorly implemented and therefore need attention in many of the MENA countries. The distribution of available water within a country, but often even more importantly between different, neighboring countries pose a number of political and ethical issues that need to be addressed and clarified in order to avoid or reduce conflicts between different users of water. In addition, this theme may comprise discussions on the cultural/historical background of water management and distribution as well as general issues related to major socio-political issues in the MENA Region.

3. Risks to water security in light of climate and environmental changes, their impacts in the region and possible adaptation strategies

As outlined above, climate and environmental changes represent leading threats to water availability in the MENA Region in the coming decades. In addition, the continued increase in population and changes in lifestyle and demand for potable water have to be considered. This requires a careful assessment of the concrete risks and obstacles to sufficient provision of water and the specification of effective adaptation/mitigation strategies.

Discussions might also include alternative sources of (potable) water, specifically the topic of seawater desalination, in light of recent findings regarding the adverse impacts of seawater desalination on coastal ecosystems due to extensive brine release. Moreover, due to indications that Middle Eastern countries produce a higher share of brine globally, we might address how our current standards of brine management may be adjusted and how to take advantage of possible positive aspects of desalination waste that can be transformed into economic opportunities, including irrigating salt-tolerant crops inland, for fish farming (aquaculture), producing dietary supplements (spirulina), and restore products such as magnesium, plaster, calcium, potassium, chlorine, lithium, and even uranium.

4. Case studies and best practices for functioning/workable mitigation/adaptation measures in the MENA Region

The case studies, as outlined above, should represent “role models” for a sustainable and ecological management and utilization of water resources in the MENA Region. We strive to identify workable and evidence-based solutions that have been implemented by individuals with invaluable practical experience which have proven their validity on the ground. Moreover, the discussions should comprise a review of “lessons learned” as well as possible further improvements/modifications/adaptations of the methodologies presented.

Each theme will be covered by keynote lectures and a number of sessions comprising contributed presentations by the conference participants, including poster presentations.

Major Elements of the Conference

In conceiving and implementing the conference program, we will strive for a maximum degree of mutual discussions and engagement of the participants. In particular, and with regard to the “case studies or best practices” (Theme #4), we envision lively discussions of these cases in individual working groups with the presenters, that will enable a purposeful exchange between the presenters of each case study and the practitioners and researchers present.

The major elements of the conference will comprise:

  • Workshop
    The two-day Workshop “Climate Change Impacts on Water Availability and Adaptation Strategies in the MENA Region” will be held on the 5th and 6th of February, in the same venue as the conference and will have a specific and decisive focus on countries of the MENA Region. It will address water issues with a hands-on approach to envision more practical tools to deal with regional water scarcity and other water-related challenges. Its approach will be to combine key lecture sessions, to explore hands-on solutions, and to cultivate interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral learning.
    The workshop will include a highly specialized 3-hour session that introduces participants to the various components of a newly developed system within the Sustainable Development Goal framework (SDG 6 Policy Support System) that enables an efficient processing of water data and information. The objectives of this session are: (1) highlight the significance of enabling environments for successful achievement of SDG 6 at national level; (2) provide insight into the challenges of bringing limited data and information together and translating them into ‘fit-for-policy’ evidence; (3) offer SDG-PSS as an opportunity to develop and implement effective water policies in the SDG era; and engage participants in using SDG-PSS through its e-course platform.
    N.B. There will be an application and selection process for participation. Individuals interested in attending the workshop will have a Master’s or PhD degree in any field relevant to water sciences (i.e. from the human and natural sciences).  Further details regarding this Workshop will be announced in the fall.
  • Oral and Poster Presentations
  • Discussion Groups
  • Keynote Evening Lecture
  • Ongoing water-related events in Bahrain within in the UoB’s “A Year of Water” Program
Long-term Goals

With the starting point of the Bahrain Conference, the Future Earth MENA Regional Center aims to set into motion its long-term objectives in the broader MENA area. Firstly, to create stronger regional partnerships based on our personal interactions and exchange of past experiences.

Moreover, to build a framework through which we can define and tackle our own unique regional needs and requirements within the particular realities of how our countries actually function, and the internal problems of implementation that each of us will at some point encounter. From this we will hopefully all be in a better position to co-develop and co-implement projects that can push transformations across the region that make sense for us and our region’s particular needs in light of our own environmental, economic and political uncertainties.

We hope that this inaugural Future Earth regional conference will leave both a legacy of mutual recognition between our countries, that is also paralleled by significant progress in lessons and practical solutions on our first major topic – the shared challenge of water scarcity – in the MENA area.

Target Audiences

Major target groups to attend the conference include, but are not limited to:

  • Policy makers
  • Academics and researchers
  • Young researchers and Students
  • NGOs and Environmental Organizations
  • Interested colleagues from other disciplines
  • Major stakeholders