By Reem Abdellatif
CAIRO: The world’s water deficit will grow to 200 billion cubic meters (BCM) per year by 2050, and may cost Egypt $11 billion annually, a World Bank official said.
“Closing this deficit will be a significant challenge, costing the world $104 billion per year, while costing Egypt alone $11 billion per year,” Bekele Debele, the World Bank’s representative from Washington DC, told a delegation of participants and ministers of water and energy from Yemen, Egypt and Algeria on Tuesday.
World Bank officials at a Cairo conference discussed the future of renewable energy and desalination and urged government officials to focus on the water scarcity issue, which could eventually evolve into a crisis.
Underlining the severity of water scarcity in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), the World Bank presented research and case studies to energy officials from the participating nations.
“People already understand that water is scarce, we must now start looking for other solutions while it is technically feasible. It is important for people start focusing on utilizing the water that is already available,” Debele told Daily News Egypt.
In Egypt’s case, Tarek Kotb, head of planning at the ministry of water resources and irrigation, pointed out that the Arab world’s most populous country has already made “considerable” adjustments.
He stressed the need for officials to start paying more attention to the pending issue and start investing in alternative sources.
Bank officials also urged global leaders and investors to make genuine efforts towards finding solutions for the “severe” problem of water scarcity.
“All countries in MENA have access to sea water, so desalination is an option,” said Debele.
“Desalination is already a solution in parts of MENA and it is a thriving business,” he added, which may help alleviate water scarcity issues.
However, according to Mohab Hallouda, the World Bank’s energy specialist in Egypt, governments must provide the institutional fiscal and legal framework in order to facilitate available solutions.
Financing desalination to produce good quality water has proven to be costly. But as Debele pointed out, spending more now will save the public more time, energy and worries in the future.
Ignoring the problem will only exacerbate the situation and increase the costs of fossil fuels as well as the desalination process itself.
“The cost of doing nothing is even higher because desalination will increasingly become the option,” said Debele. “This will increase costs of the process which can grow to $300 billion to $400 billion per year.”
Meanwhile, Debele said, human would be leaving an even higher carbon footprint.
By discussing case studies of desalination and renewable energy projects in Egypt’s Red Sea destination, Marsa Alam, Franz Trieb, researcher at the German Institute of Technical Thermodynamics, showed that similar projects may be a success.
Officials discussed projects in Al-Moka, Yemen, which have proven to be efficient.
Concentrated Solar Power
The idea of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) can provide an alternative, green energy solution to the highly intricate, yet necessary desalination process.
“CSP may be expensive but donors can provide low-cost financing for CSP to take off in MENA,” said Hallouda. “MENA is a prime location for CSP already with exceptional solar potential, and it is a European export market.”
Regrettably, despite a “grid-friendly” outline in MENA, promising investments, and cost-reduction possibilities, CSP is not reaching its full potential, according to Hallouda.
Although the World Bank’s multi-billion dollar Clear Technology Fund for climate change has already established some project pipelines in Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia since 2009, the region’s renewable energy industry is still not at its full capacity.
The fund, worth about $4.5 billion previously, allocated $750 million for developments projects in MENA.
“If you look at today, conventional energy is very expensive. A few years ago, crude oil was selling at about $30 or $40 dollars a barrel, now it is at $100 and more,” Debele told DNE.
According to Debele, if this trend continues, the public will have to pay the price either way.
When asked by DNE how the public can secure better services while maintaining the prices, Debele said that cutting government subsidies on these amenities is the solution.
“This world of subsidies is what made life difficult for the poor in the first place,” he said.
“You can’t hold the government responsible for providing quality service if you are paying less. If we invest now in alternative sources, we will actually save more on the long-term and enjoy better quality.”