Algeria's scorched earth leaves state searching for answers

Algeria's scorched earth leaves public searching for answers
02 August, 2023

North Africa has experienced droughts for decades but now has reached a critical point where governments are looking for immediate solutions.

Drought has been intensified by climate change and the scarcity of water resources due to the region's dry and arid climate — the available water supply cannot keep up with the increasing demand due to overpopulation and a lack of water reserves, and as a result, water shortages have threatened the area’s food security.

North Africa is already the largest wheat importer and is expecting to see a rise in imports due to the high probability of crop failure.

"Due to the lack of water reserves, the country is opting for desalination. It is the process of removing salt and other dissolved minerals from seawater to obtain potable water. The Algerian government has allocated more than $2.2 billion to build desalination plants"

Algeria is attempting to overcome the ongoing water crisis in the region and provide fresh water to its citizens. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has even performed several rain request prayers.

While their prayers were eventually answered, the rainfall caused serious damage to the country’s infrastructure and has since displaced more than 100 families. The rainfall was a short relief but is not substantial.

Due to the lack of water reserves, the country is opting for desalination. It is the process of removing salt and other dissolved minerals from seawater to obtain potable water. The Algerian government has allocated more than $2.2 billion to build desalination plants. These fast-track projects are expected to produce enough potable water to match the current yearly consumption of 3.6 billion cubic metres.

The desalination projects started running in 2021, and the production reached 3.4 billion cubic metres by 2022. Moreover, 19 plants will start operating in 2024 to increase the water capacity from 17% to 42% in the Boumerdès province. In June 2023, Mostanagem’s governor visited the sites of future desalination plants with an estimated production of 300,000 cubic metres of daily potable water.

Algeria also relies on external help to increase production. During his latest visit to Russia, Minister of Energy and Mining Mohamed Arkab revealed that Algeria is collaborating with Russian companies to overcome the water crisis.

The Minister also received an offer from the Norwegian company MWP to provide floating desalination plants. It will supply temporary water to Algerians until most plants are operational.

According to MWP, the project is an easy, fast and economical alternative compared to the traditional on-ground desalination process. Due to the abundance of projects, the Minister of Education Kamel Baddari announced the integration of desalination courses in the curriculum of universities starting this academic year.

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Many start-ups have come up with innovative solutions to provide fresh water. For instance, KUMULUS Water is a start-up that transforms the humidity of air into water, producing up to 30 litres of clean drinking water per day. It is being tested at an Algerian school in El Bayadha.

On the other hand, RaïTech is a smart irrigation system by AITECH that reduces consumption by 50% and increases production by up to 10%. Since crops are compromised due to harsh weather conditions and water scarcity, efforts have been made to find alternatives in the agriculture sector.

University students are testing a new method of watering strawberries with seawater through a catalyst, and so far, the results are promising. Similarly, the University of El Oued is collaborating with CPH hydraulique to conduct research and testing. They are working on improving the productivity of red watermelon crops in dry regions by using salt water and the equipment delta water that is provided by CPH hydraulique.

Algeria is utilising water in all of its forms. Other than treating seawater for agriculture, wastewater is another method for irrigation.

According to ONA, 16 treatment plants for wastewater are in the early stages of production. The end goal is to increase the yearly quantity of wastewater recycled by 140 million cubic metres. Boumerdès is also operating a sanitation plan for irrigation that filters used water instead of letting it go to the valleys.

Another strategy to tackle water scarcity is to minimise waste during water transportation. The piping system is very wasteful in Algeria and up to 50% of water gets leaked due to lack of maintenance. The government is also working on regular maintenance to avoid non-revenue water. For instance, SEAAL is fixing pipes and stopping leaks in order to save water in Boudouaou.

The country also participates in many trade shows to share knowledge about water solutions among professionals. In June, they hosted 'Siee-pollutec', the biggest water and environment exhibition in Africa. It is a trade show where experts exchange innovative solutions for water management and showcase their inventions.

Additionally, Algeria has partnered with Italy to improve its agriculture and efficient use of water. The country will be participating in 'Agrilevante', an Italian trade exhibition this October to meet Italian and international companies.

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In an effort to improve tourism, the government has taken proactive measures to provide tourists with clean water. The province of Aïn Témouchent is being supplied with drinking water tanks during the high season. 

On the other hand, a $238 million project is also being executed in southwest Algeria to supply the area with underground water through 26 drills that are 550 metres deep. This strategy will boost the tourism sector and provide a daily water supply of around 80,000 cubic metres.

Overall, Algeria seems to be working hard to ensure that water demand is met across all sectors and geographical areas. The government is fast-tracking water-related projects to meet the demand and companies are coming up with many innovative solutions.

Many alternatives are being considered such as seawater, wastewater or even humidity of air in the hopes of handling the drought. Hopefully, Algeria will be able to adapt to this crisis just like the Gulf countries did. 

Chanel Tohme is a Lebanese engineering student. She is an environmentalist with an interest in providing accessible and green energy to MENA. She dedicates herself to bridging the educational gap in Lebanon and promoting environmental practices