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Morocco's Water Worries: Can Innovation Outrun Drought?

In an exclusive interview with Morocco World News, Azzedine El Midaoui, Director of the International Water Research Institute at UM6P, discusses the complexities and successes of Morocco’s approach to water management.


Morocco, a North African nation with a long history of water management, stands at a crossroads. The country grapples with a growing water scarcity crisis, driven by a combination of factors: climate change, population growth, and traditional water usage patterns.


With water availability per capita dropping dramatically in recent decades, Morocco is forced to adapt its water management strategies for a more sustainable future.

King Mohammed VI’s address in Abidjan at the COP15 conference on desertification and drought in 2022  emphasizes the urgency of the situation.  “Climate change is not a theoretical subject or an object of rhetorical debate,” the King declared, highlighting the reality of increasingly frequent and severe droughts.

The data paints a worrying picture.  Currently, Moroccans have access to less than 600 cubic meters of water per person annually, a significant decline from 2,000 cubic meters in 1960.

Dipping below the 1,000 cubic meter mark signifies a state of water stress. This trend suggests that drought is becoming a permanent fixture, not just a cyclical phenomenon.

The agricultural sector, which consumes a staggering 87% of Morocco’s water resources, presents a significant challenge. While practices like maintaining water-intensive green spaces and inefficient irrigation methods continue, the sector’s overall economic output in terms of water usage remains low.

Morocco World News (MWN) spoke with Azzedine El Midaoui, Director of the International Water Research Institute at UM6P, who shed light on the complexities of the situation.

While acknowledging the challenge isn’t unique, he said that Morocco faces additional hurdles due to rapid urbanization and changing agricultural practices.

The evolution of water governance in Morocco reflects a transition from supply-based management to a more demand-driven approach since the late 1980s. Initially focusing on large-scale dam construction to meet agricultural needs, the country has progressively diversified its strategies. “Morocco’s adaptability and forward-thinking policies are commendable,” El Midaoui said.

The nation’s rich legacy boasts 150 substantial dams, collectively holding over 19.6 billion cubic meters of water, alongside 140 smaller dams. Furthermore, the ongoing construction of 17 additional large-scale dams, as outlined in the 2023 Finance Act, stands as a testament to this proactive approach.

Despite these achievements, Morocco continues to face hurdles, particularly in light of climate change projections indicating increased aridity. El Midaoui stressed to MWN the need for ongoing assessment and management methodologies to ensure the sustainability of water resources, both surface and groundwater.


Morocco’s water management amid climate challenges


Against the backdrop of recurring droughts and shifting precipitation patterns, the nation is forging ahead with innovative strategies to ensure water security for its citizens.

The country is not only anticipating future challenges but also implementing adaptation measures to bolster its water supply systems and mitigate risks.

El Midaoui shed light on Morocco’s comprehensive approach, epitomized by the national plan for drinking water supply and irrigation (2020-2027), which reflects the leadership’s commitment to addressing the multifaceted impacts of climate change.

This forward-looking plan encompasses a range of measures aimed at enhancing water resilience across the country.

One key aspect of Morocco’s strategy is the development of early warning systems to forecast impending droughts.  El Midaoui noted that “collaborative efforts within the UM6P, along with partnerships with European and African counterparts, highlight Morocco’s dedication to leveraging scientific advancements in climate forecasting.”

Furthermore, the nation’s approach extends beyond prediction to proactive adaptation. Decision-making methods are being honed to navigate various future scenarios, considering the evolving dynamics of water availability and demand.

Institutions like UM6P are at the forefront of research, examining the entire water cycle and exploring innovative solutions such as desalination and wastewater reuse.

The national plan’s holistic vision encompasses not only immediate challenges but also anticipates future needs. Ambitious projects, like the construction of the world’s second-largest desalination plant in Casablanca, exemplify Morocco’s commitment to diversifying its water sources and ensuring resilience in the face of climate uncertainty.

Industry giants like the OCP (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) are also embracing sustainable water practices, transitioning towards non-conventional sources like desalination and wastewater reuse.

By 2027 OCP has firmly committed to fulfilling all its requirements in the phosphate industry, spanning from washing to chemical processes, exclusively through non-conventional water sources.

This shift entails relying primarily on desalination and wastewater reuse, marking a departure from traditional groundwater and surface water usage. The OCP already has the second largest desalination plant in Morocco for industry needs.

This change not only meets the water needs of industry, but also benefits the surrounding communities, such as Safi and El Jadida, through the sharing of water resources.

Central to Morocco’s water management ethos is a recognition of water as a fundamental pillar of food sovereignty and sustainable development. Decisions are grounded in scientific rigor, with a keen awareness of the interconnectedness between water security and national prosperity.


Morocco’s quest for sustainable governance


The challenges facing Morocco’s water management system are multifaceted, driven by exogenous factors such as dwindling precipitation patterns due to climate change and a burgeoning population that escalates the demand for potable water.

Moreover, the economy’s reliance on agriculture further amplifies the strain on water resources, painting a picture of impending pressure on the current water infrastructure.

At the heart of this discourse lies the integration of cutting-edge technological innovations into water management practices. Embracing water-efficient and eco-friendly technologies is paramount for sustainability.

Furthermore, fostering public-private partnerships emerges as a strategic avenue to stimulate innovation and tackle challenges sustainably.

While the spotlight is often on drinking water supply, El Midaoui stresses that it “represents only a fraction of Morocco’s water consumption, which hovers around 12-13%. The lion’s share, over 80%, is attributed to irrigation”.

Desalination emerges as a crucial solution, particularly for drinking water supply, albeit at a high cost. Despite the expense, ensuring access to potable water remains a non-negotiable priority.

However, the real crux lies in addressing agricultural water consumption, where energy-intensive desalination poses a significant hurdle.

“Efforts are underway to transition from conventional irrigation methods to more efficient systems like drip irrigation,” El Midaoui noted. “Morocco’s commitment to exploring and adopting advanced irrigation technologies highlights a proactive stance toward minimizing water wastage in agriculture.”

In the realm of policy, a delicate balance between incentivizing water conservation and enforcing regulations is struck. Measures ranging from regulating activities like car washing to promoting water-saving technologies exemplify the multifaceted approach adopted by Moroccan authorities.

Central to the discourse is the role of public-private partnerships (PPP), heralded as a pragmatic pathway toward sustainable water management. By leveraging the strengths of both sectors, Morocco endeavors to optimize investments and drive innovation in water infrastructure projects.

However, amidst these initiatives lies the imperative of inclusive governance. While a robust legal framework exists for water management, ensuring meaningful participation from local stakeholders remains a challenge.


Global collaboration in water research is key


In the realm of scientific exploration, there exists a realm unbound by borders or barriers—a world where knowledge flows freely, and collaboration knows no bounds.

This ethos is particularly evident in the field of water research where a multifaceted approach is not only preferred but essential in tackling the myriad challenges facing our planet’s most precious resource.

At the heart of this endeavor lies a fundamental truth; research, much “like water itself”, transcends the constraints of ideology, geography, and creed. It is a universal language spoken by scientists and researchers worldwide, driving innovation and progress in ways both profound and far-reaching.

El Midaoui emphasized the “interconnectedness” of various research domains, ranging from fundamental research to technological innovation, each playing a pivotal role in addressing the complexities of water management and climate change.

“Fundamental research lays the groundwork for understanding phenomena such as climate change and its impacts on water resources,” El Midaoui explained. “These insights are then leveraged in applied research to develop practical solutions to everyday challenges.”

Indeed, the collaborative efforts of researchers worldwide have led to significant advancements in water treatment technologies, resource management strategies, and environmental forecasting models.

El Midaoui highlighted the “indispensable role of applied research” in translating theoretical knowledge into tangible solutions, tailored to the unique needs of different regions and communities.

“Water research encompasses the entire value chain, from understanding hydrological processes to developing sustainable water treatment methods,” he remarked. “Every aspect, whether it be conventional treatment techniques or innovative recycling methods, contributes to our collective goal of ensuring water security for future generations.”

Central to the success of these research endeavors is a spirit of collaboration that transcends national boundaries. El Midaoui emphasized the importance of partnerships, both domestically and internationally, in driving meaningful progress in water research.

“Collaboration knows no borders in the academic world,” he noted. “Through collaborative initiatives with institutions and researchers globally, we can harness collective expertise and resources to address water challenges on a global scale.”

From research agreements with neighboring countries to international collaborations with leading institutions, the exchange of ideas and expertise forms the cornerstone of effective water research.

“As scientists, we are united by a common goal—to advance our understanding of the world around us and develop solutions to pressing challenges,” he remarked. “In this pursuit, collaboration is not only beneficial but essential in achieving meaningful impact.”