Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

Water Scarcity Management in the Maghreb Region

Written By

Kaltoum Belhassan

Submitted: February 2nd, 2022 Reviewed: February 17th, 2022 Published: March 27th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.103788

Drought - Impacts and Management Edited by Murat Eyvaz

From the Edited Volume

Drought - Impacts and Management [Working Title]

Associate Prof. Murat Eyvaz, Dr. Ahmed Albahnasawi, MSc. Mesut Tekbaş and M.Sc. Ercan Gürbulak

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The Maghreb region includes five countries Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. It is region of Northwest Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Maghreb consists of two defining regions, the Sahara Desert in the south and the Atlas Mountains in the north. The Maghreb has arid to semiarid climate. Many areas in the world and particularly the Maghreb countries are affected by water scarcity, as well as result of population pressures, rising in urbanization, climate change and also increasing pollution of water. This paper attempts to assess the region’s water scarcity challenges through highlighting the causes and reasons of water scarcity and its negative effects on water supply. Also, the chapter aims to discuss the vital role of sustainable water management to reduce the risk of water scarcity and this through the solutions, techniques and the best practices adopted in the region.


  • Maghreb
  • water scarcity
  • causes
  • management
  • solutions

1. Introduction

Although more than 71% of Earth is covered in water, 97.5% of the earth’s water is salt water and most of the remaining 2.5% is locked away as groundwater or in glaciers; yet with such a vast reserve of water body on Earth, humans depend on the tiny bit available as fresh water and there is a global shortage of water. According to the WHO, it is estimated that by 2025, more than half of the world population could be living in areas facing water scarcity due to formation of mega-cities and increasing world population, which is expected to reach ~9.7B by 2050, causing further stress on water globally. Although water scarcity is a universal phenomenon, this chapter is focused on the continent of Africa and more specifically the region of Northwest Africa also known as the Maghreb. The region includes Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia (Figure 1). The Maghreb countries are located in an arid to semiarid region. The climate is very diverse and varying with the season and region; generally, it is characterized by mild-wet winters and warm-dry summers. Also, the climate in the Maghreb is Saharian in the South part, oceanic in the western, and Mediterranean in the North part. Although, each country in Northwest Africa has its own individual water reserves, regional characteristics and water management history, in spite of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have several similarities. A lot of data exists on the models and projections of water scarcity and as per Water Resource Institute, a map of water scarcity is shown in Figure 2, with areas in red showing extreme stress.

Figure 1.

Map of the Maghreb-Northwest Africa [1].

Figure 2.

As comparison projected water stress in Africa in 2040, as per water resource institute [2].

The Maghreb is one of the most “water-stressed” regions because of combinations of several factors, viz. population growth, climate change and anthropogenic contamination (anthropogenic pollution on the ecosystem). Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya face demand for water that is higher than the amount of quality water available-per capita; water availability has fallen below 1000 m3 annually. These countries are all on the top 33 water-stressed countries in the world [3]. However, Mauritania is facing low to medium water stress in the region. In addition to water stress, one of the serious difficulties facing the Maghreb authorities are in the regime of water scarcity management. It is currently at a crisis level which needs a quick reaction from all stakeholders.

Instead, with the ever-increasing demand of water to satisfy human development across the world and particularly the Maghreb region, it is observed that the most people in the world could not use this essential natural resource effectively, in terms of use, conserve and repurpose, specifically for the best regional management of water resources. It is important for countries and regions to urgently tackle the critical problems presented by water scarcity, determine the root causes of it and articulate new strategies, techniques and good practices to ensure adequate water supply for the needs of growing population. This chapter aims to address the reasons for increasing water consumption and highlights the several strategic-planning water managements through the solutions, techniques and the best practices which the Maghreb region has adopted to address water scarcity.


2. Reasons for increasing water consumption

The causes of water scarcity in the Maghreb region are both natural and human-induced. The primary reasons for increasing water consumption are population grow-urbanization, climate change agriculture and pollution. In fact, the pace of growth far exceeds the pace of regulations to ensure safety, security and sustainability [4].

2.1 Urban population growth

Urban population growth across the world is one of the most influential phenomena affecting water availability. The population of the Maghreb region has increased rapidly over the course of the 20th century. Its present growth rate is among the highest in the world. Table 1 shows the population grow in different countries of the Maghreb (in 1960 and 2021). As shown, the overall population has increased in excess of 3 times, i.e., from 29 million in 1960 to 105.67 million in 2021. Algeria, by far is the most populated, with more than 44 million people (by census of 2021). Mauritania is the least populous country in the subregion and has approximately 4.82 million persons (by census of 2021), as shown in Table 1. Please note that migrator movements linked to climate disaster and regional conflict are not included in the census of population. The population growth patterns in the Maghreb show a somewhat similar trend. The world population currently is 7.875B as compared to 3.035B in 1960, an increase by 2.59 times of the population in 1960.

RankCountry1960 population2021 population
1Algeria11.06 M44.62 M
2Morocco12.33 M37.34 M
3Tunisia4.18 M11.93 M
4Libya1.45 M6.96 M
5Mauritania850.4 K4.82 M

Table 1.

Population growth in the Maghreb (5 countries); in 1960 and 2021 [5].

Uncontrolled rise in population in the Maghreb region has inordinately increased the demand for water for domestic, industrial, agricultural and municipal needs; it is certain that population growth will further impact water availability per person. The stressed areas in the Maghreb affected more by water scarcity are, also mainly those, with limited supply of water, high population, and even higher population growth rates.

Algeria—In 1960, the population of Algeria was 11.06 m and increased to 44.62 m people in 2021 (Table 1). Algeria is currently growing at a rate of 1.85% per year. Around 71.9% of the citizens in Algeria are living in the larger cities in 2020. This trend of average annual urban growth is 2.6% [6], which this has intensified pressure on water supply in cities since the 1990s. Unfortunately, only 30% of people in Algeria have access to safe water to drink [7].

Morocco—Between 1960 and 2021, the number of persons in Morocco have increased from 12.33 m to 37.34 m people (Table 1). Morocco’s population is growing at a rate of 1.2% per year. Around 67.8% of Moroccan people are living in urban areas and cities in 2020. This increase of urban population in Morocco was reported at around 2% annually in 2020 [6]. Urban population growth in Morocco has increased the demand on the water supply which leads to water shortages and will continue to present specific challenges in foreseeable future, in order to make water available to everyone.

Tunisia—There were only 4.18 m persons in 1960 for Tunisia and it becomes now 11.93 million persons (2021) (Table 1). Tunisia’s population growth rate from 2019 to 2020 is 1.06%. Around 71.1% of Tunisians people are living in urban areas in 2020. This urban growth rate in Tunisia was reported at around 1.5% annually [6]. Uncontrolled urban population growth in Tunisia remains the most critical socioeconomic problem as more supply of water will be needed to fulfill the needs of the increasing population and this will result in a shortage of water supply.

Libya—In 1960 the number of persons for Libya were around 1.4 million and reached approximately 6.96 million persons in 2021 (Table 1). The rate of growth in Libya has been increasing since 2015, in 2020, population growth rate for Libya was 1.4%. Around 88.4% of Libyan people are living in urban areas and cities in 2020. This growing trend of urbanization in Libya was reported at around 1.7% annually [6] and has increasingly affected the water reserves and has caused a depletion in the annual per capita of renewable water.

Mauritania—Between 1960 and 2021 the number of people in Mauritania increased from 850.4 K to 4.82 m people (Table 1). The birth rate in Mauritania is almost double the worldwide average, leading to an extreme annual growth rate which is currently around 2.5% per year [5]. This high rate in population growth is the foremost driver of Mauritania’s water stress, as measured in units of water per capita. Further, more than half of Mauritanians live in urban areas (53%) (2017). Urban growth rates are increasing at a rate of 4.2% annually. In 2017, more than 53% of Mauritanians live in urban areas and in 2016 the percentage of people living in urban areas increase to more than 60%. Mauritania features the second most rapid urbanization rate in Africa [8].

2.2 Economic growth

In general, growing economies need growing populations, albeit at different rates. However, if population growth exceeds growth of the economy, the standard of living goes down. Industrial development has had an important role in the economic growth, leading to increased manufacturing, which is a water intensive industry using it for processing, cooling, and disposal of waste products. However, industry not only reduces water reserves but also pollutes the sources that remain and thus reducing citizens access to safe water. An overall economic growth will intensify water demand, straining the local water supply to meet the ever-increasing need of a growing population.

Algeria—Algeria’s economy is dominated by its export trade in petroleum and natural gas. This sector accounts for around 94% of export earnings in 2019 [9]. Algeria’s gas reserves rank as the tenth biggest in the world [10]. Nevertheless, this economic growth in Algeria contributes to biodiversity loss via higher emissions and greater resource consumption such as freshwater reserves.

Morocco—The crucial economy resources in Morocco are agriculture, phosphate minerals, mining, tourism and fish. Morocco has the largest phosphate reserves in the world and ranks as the third-largest producer of phosphate. Industry and mining contribute about one-third of the annual GDP. The recent economic growth in Morocco requires increase in water demand which has imposed a height pressure over national scare water resources and leads to a decrease in the region’s biodiversity, in large part because water resources are poorly managed and water stocks are being polluted. Irrigated areas are also compromised because of water shortages and soil erosion, which would further reduce the GDP of Morocco up to 6.7B US dollars per year, as valued in 2016 [11].

Tunisia—Virtually all sectors of the economy rely on water. Tunisia has a relatively diversified economy such as agriculture, mining, tourism and manufacturing production with services contributing nearly 60% to the GDP [12]. The demand for freshwater in Tunisia is likely to increase while supplies decrease due to economic growth and an increase in human population. Drinking water demand was estimated at around 290 Mcm in 1996 and may even reach 491 Mcm in 2030. However, industrial water demand was estimated at 104 Mcm in 1996 and may rise to 203 Mcm in 2030 [13], exerting further stress on water demand.

Libya—In general, Libyan economy depended mainly on the agricultural sector before the discovery of significant oil reserves in 1959. Libya has one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, primarily due the oil and gas sector accounts. Economic growth associated with growing population are the main factors behind the rise in water consumption to satisfy increasing water demands in Libya either in agriculture (the growth of irrigated agricultural areas) or industrial uses. As Libya is already facing a critical water shortage, it is increasingly depleting its precious groundwater resources, most of which are non-renewable.

Mauritania—Mauritania’s economy is still largely based on agriculture including crops, livestock and fisheries. At present, fisheries and marine resources account for more than 12.5% of Mauritania’s GDP. This country depends also on extractive industries; iron ore, which account for almost 50% of total exports. Additionally, an expanding mining industry (rise in metal prices, gold and copper) and recently found oil reserves led Mauritania’s recent economic expansion. Despite the country’s huge reserves of resources (fish, iron, oil, gold, etc.), it counts as a lower middle-income country as more than 16.6% of the population lives below the extreme poverty line. The informal economy accounts for 40% of GDP and employs about 86% of the working-age population [8]. Rural areas in Mauritania suffer regular shortages due to the country’s periodic droughts in the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s; declining rainfall and the restricted technical and financial capacity of the Mauritanian National Rural Water Supply Agency, often force the migration of farmers to cities and cause more pressure on water reserves.

2.3 Climate change

The Maghreb countries are located in an arid to semiarid region. The climate is Saharian in the southern, oceanic in the western, and Mediterranean in the north. In the Maghreb, rising temperatures associated with climate change during the last half-century reveal a significant level of vulnerability, related, among other things, to:

  • Significant degradation of arable land;

  • Degradation of pasture and loss of livestock;

  • Degradation, even disappearance, of forests;

  • High risk of collapse of coastal dune bar;

  • Decrease of water resources.

Algeria—Democratic Republic of Algeria is the largest country in Africa. More than 80% of the country consists of the Sahara Desert. Over 34% of the population lives in rural areas and is heavily concentrated in coastal areas. Temperature rises over the last 30 years in Algeria are expected to be further amplified by reductions in rainfall which is estimated at 30% [14]. This rainfall deficit is putting more pressure on the groundwater resources to satisfy water demands and thus a decline in piezometric level of major aquifers in the north part; greater aquifers depletion which reach more than 20 m in certain parts of the region [15].

Morocco—The climate in Morocco is Mediterranean on the coasts, humid temperate at higher elevations and saharan (hot and dry) in the south-western part. Over the last 5 decades, drought events have intensified in Morocco resulting in less rainfall; with possibly, up to at least ~50%, coupled with overexploitation of groundwater resources to satisfy the water demands. The Mikkes basin is located in the North-central of Morocco with a deficit to be estimated around 76% (between the periods 1970–1979 and 1980–2000); this strong deficit cause high depletion in piezometric level (since 1980). This, in turn, has an influence on springs and River flow [16, 17, 18, 19, 20].

Tunisia is a country on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. It situated between Algeria and Libya along the Mediterranean Sea. It covers an area of 164,000 km2 and over 1300 km of coastline along its eastern and northern borders. Tunisia has a semi-arid to arid climate, it has also two distinctives Mediterranean coasts, west–east in the north, and north–south in the east. Tunisia is considered to be one of the countries most exposed to climate change in the Mediterranean; increasing temperature, less rainfall and rising sea levels. With episodic droughts coupled with floods and the salty types of rocks found within the country all are combined factors which could severely disturb agricultural practices and availability of water reserves (which are already limited). Consequently, several farms lowered their wells and pumped more water to satisfy their needs, which will further put more pressure on already stressed aquifers.

Libya is a country with around 95% of its areas are deserts [21]. The climate of Libya is a Mediterranean climate which is characterized by a cool rainy winter season and a hot dry summer. Thus, this country is susceptible to more frequency of droughts, floods, sandstorms, dust storms, and desertification. Freshwater resources of Libya are very limited and originate mainly from four aquifers—Kufra, Sirt, Morzuk, and Hamada—the last three are close to depletion. In fact, people living in this region are facing absolute scarcity of water (below 500 m3 per year) and they will face more water risks across the supply with climate variability and its effects (rising in temperature and decline in precipitations). Libya’s long periods of drought is expected to cause more threat in crops produce, particularly in areas where water supplies are already under pressure.

Mauritania is a vast Saharan country; it is located in one of the regions most affected by climate change. Mauritania is defined by very scarce and poorly documented water resources’, with an average of 2800 m3/inhabitant/year in 2014 [8]. Surface water (97% of renewable resources), where the majority of the inhabitants live in the coastal cities (Nouakchott and Nouadhi-bou) and in the Senegal River Valley which is used as a primary water source (it is far below the demand for potable water). This River remains at extreme risk of water shortage after being tormented by rising of temperature, drought for several consecutive years and the occurrence of floods and other extreme weather events. Therefore, climate change is certain to accelerate the depletion and degradation of water resources and thus to a reduction in production potential, increased livestock costs, generates more urban agglomerations and reduces grazing lands.

2.4 Agriculture

Urban population growth, increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are among the main factors affecting agriculture production. World population is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and the global agriculture production has to be increased to meet the increased food demand for this population. As well, human population growth and climate Change have multiple implications on development which shift towards more freshwater withdrawals for agriculture. Similarly, in the Maghreb, continuously growing population will be demanding for more food, more land used for crops and thus more water.

Algeria is facing really scary water shortages because its annual water supply per person is marked less than 1000 m3 per year. Agriculture in Algeria composes 25% of Algeria’s economy. It is a major user of water and is most concerned by the water scarcity. Increased population pressure, economic development, urbanization trends and drought periods are also behind more limited water reserves in Algeria, even in areas where currently rainfall is sufficient.

Morocco—Agriculture in Morocco composes around 15% of Morocco’s economy. It accounts for almost 80% of Morocco’s water annually [22]. Morocco is facing water scarcity which it is caused by the increase of water demands mainly linked the population growth and climate change. This water risk will likely be more in the near future. According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), Morocco ranked 23rd among countries most at-risk of water shortage. In fact, Innovative irrigation practices can enhance water efficiency. However, they will be too expensive for the average small farmer to afford.

Tunisia is considered as a driest country in the Maghreb region as it has very limited water reserves. It is among the countries which suffers from high water scarcity. Like in Morocco, the agriculture in Tunisia consumes 80% of natural water resources: around 76.9% of the water used for agriculture comes from groundwater and 23.1% comes from surface water [23]. Urban population growth and climate change have combined effect towards a crippling water stress in Tunisia by consuming more water, especially in irrigation sector and this led the depletion rate of Tunisian groundwater resources and also to its vulnerability.

Libya—Like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, Libya suffers also from high water scarcity as it has very limited surface water (no permanent River) which composes less than 3% of the total water demands. However, groundwater (both shallow and fossil aquifers), constitute the principal water supply in Libya [24] and it accounts approximately 98% of the total water demands [25]. In 2012, the sector of agriculture used around 85% of the water requirements [26]. In addition, in last over 40 years, the irrigated area has increased and has stressed more water availability due to the lack of rain (droughts) and increased water consumption for irrigation and industries [27].

Mauritania—Agricultural production in Mauritania is primarily subsistence-based and rainfed. Agriculture is thus very localized in the eastern and south-eastern parts of the country, and along the Senegal River. Half the population still depends on farming and raising livestock. Agriculture includes forestry, hunting, and fishing, as well as the cultivation of crops (cereals, most importantly sorghum, in addition to rice, maize, cow peas and millet) and livestock production. Smallholder farmers in Mauritania are increasingly challenged by the uncertainty and variability of weather caused by climate change; recurrent droughts in the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s.

2.5 Pollution

Anthropogenic pollution is a reality in the Maghreb and it is undermining the socioeconomic and ecological basis of life in the region. The fastest growing population, urbanization and effects of climate change are all factors influencing the anthropogenic CO2 and air pollutant emissions across the Maghreb region. Major types of pollution sources in the region include dust storms, sandstorms and gases from various industries. Air pollution and stress on agriculture play a major role in water pollution and realize high number of pollutants (pesticides, herbicides and insecticides) into water bodies and these pollutants not only harm water but also, they treat the biodiversity of the plant and animal life that depend on water to survive.

Algeria—Surface water in Algeria including Tafna, Macta, Cheliff and Seybous River basins are polluted by industrial wastewater and also by organic fertilizers (nitrate, potassium and phosphates) used in agriculture. Groundwater quality in Algeria was generally good. However, this quality has been affected by anthropogenic factors such as pesticides and fertilizers [28]. People in the North part of Algeria consumes more water than others; where the most of its groundwater is non-saline; salinity ≤1 (g/l). Nevertheless, certain coastal aquifers in Mitidja and Bas Sebaou are particularly at risk due to intrusion of salty marine water (overexploitation). In the southern Sahara, there are important aquifers, that meet ~96% of water consumption, having salinity ≤9 g/l in the Complex treatment terminal. Additionally, saline lakes with salinity ≥3 g/l are impacted as the quality of surrounding freshwater aquifers and their salinity may increase [29].

Morocco—The increase of water demands in Morocco combined with climate change have led to water deficit which have forced farmers to use wastewater in irrigation and thus affecting the water quality of many water bodies such as streams and groundwater (contamination with a large quantity of nitrogen and phosphates, due to fertilizer runoff from agriculture areas). Also, pressure on groundwater resources in Morocco has been increasing over the last decades which causes a dramatic decline in groundwater levels and degradation in its quality (seawater intrusion, nitrate pollution and natural salinity changes).

Tunisia—Generally, pollution of freshwater water in Tunisia comes from wastewater discharge, industrial waste and agricultural activities. However, Tunisia has the highest access rates to water services and sanitation in the Maghreb region. In the northern coastal region, there is relatively abundant rainfall. In the arid central reason, surface watercourses are ephemeral, flowing only for a few days or weeks a year. Nevertheless, in the South part of Tunisia, surface flows are rare and small. Groundwater is the principal source of water—both shallow renewable and deep, with often non-renewable groundwater resources. The overexploitation of shallow and deep aquifers in this country has led to water-level declines and seawater intrusion.

Libya has very limited freshwater and Libyan people rely heavily on groundwater located underneath the country’s vast deserts; about 98% of the total water use [25]. Generally, the water pollution in Libya comes from the combined impact of sewage, oil by products, and industrial effluents. The exploitation of groundwater reserves in Libya has become very crucial in the last decades, especially in coastal areas which compose the only geographic area receiving more than 100 millimeters of rainfall a year and accounts for less than 5% of Libya’s land area. In fact, the overexploitation of coastal aquifers reduces freshwater outflow to the sea, and cause a high depletion in piezometric level of these aquifers as much as 25 m below mean sea level which has led to the progressive seawater intrusion in the coastal aquifers since the 1930s [30].

Mauritania lies almost entirely within the Sahara Desert. The only perennial river in the country is the Senegal River, which forms its southern border. The region receives very low rainfall and the only the coastal zone is received significant seasonal rainfall. Several recurrent years of droughts have caused rapidly declined with people settling in rural areas and in shantytowns in cities (where access to clean water and sanitation is scarce). This climate variability put the region in water crisis “water availability” (quantity and quality) and particularly Nouakchott (Capital of Mauritania) at near-constant risk of flooding because it is below sea level and therefore prone to frequent floods caused by rising sea levels and resulting a very water-poor.


3. Impacts of water scarcity in the Maghreb

Increasing water scarcity in response to uncontrolled population growth, industrialization and climate change (rise in food demands and water needs) will further has several impacts on health, habitats and biodiversity.

3.1 Water and health

A lack of adequate sanitation, water quality and malnutrition can be responsible for transmission of many diseases in the Maghreb region which is currently home to more than 105 million individuals. Listed below are the most common diseases in the Maghreb:

  1. Diarrhea, one of the leading causes of child mortality in poverty-ridden areas. It is a symptom of a bowel infection which is linked to a lack of safe hygiene practices.

  2. Leptospira is frequent in the Maghreb region but is rarely responsible for meningitis.

  3. Viral hepatitis represents a serious public health problem in the Maghreb where the prevalence of the 5 viruses A, B, C, D, and E remains high and varies from one Maghreb country to another [31].

  4. Typhoid fever (infection caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi) is endemic in the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya). It spreads through contaminated food or water.

  5. Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is a disease caused by parasitic worms that inhabit freshwater rivers and other sources of fresh water. Schistosomiasis is considered one of the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). It spreads to humans by an intermediate host, namely, freshwater snails. The Maghreb is among the regions with high risk of Schistosomiasis. This disease is caused by lack of hygiene and people get infected during their activities such as swimming in infested water.

  6. Leishmaniasis is an infection caused by an intracellular parasite and transmitted to humans by the bite of sandflies. Maghreb is known to be one of the most endemic areas of leishmaniases where both visceral and cutaneous forms are reported [32].

  7. Malaria spreads by the bite of female mosquito. With the exception of Mauritania, the countries of the Maghreb have practically eradicated malaria, even though the maintenance phase is underway in Algeria [33].

  8. Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease and is widely spread in Africa. However, there is no risk for yellow fever in the Maghreb countries.

3.2 Impact on habitat

The Maghreb region has limited freshwater reserves. However, there are some permanent rivers that provide fresh water as resource such as Cheliff River in Algeria, Draa and Oum Er-Rbia in Morocco, Latin Bagradas in Tunisia and the Senegal River in Mauritania. As explained earlier the main factors affecting the water reserves in the Maghreb are: exponential population growth—urbanization, climate change, agriculture and pollution. These factors not only cause water risk to human but also threat ecosystems on which both local human populations and aquatics species depend on their survival. For example, when sea level rises as rapidly as it has been; it brings with it many impacts such as (1) wetland flooding in the rainy season, (2) it can cause destructive coastal erosion, (3) the infiltration of sea water in the water-tables which can lead to groundwater quality degradation, (4) the disappearance of low-lying wet lands and all the related biodiversity and (5) lost habitat for fish, birds, and plants. Aquatic ecosystems are the ultimate sinks for the contaminants because of the overuse of pesticides and fertilizers (agricultural activities) and sewage from residential and industrial areas (fecal waste, chemicals, petroleum, sediment). Therefore, water will lose its self-generating capacity and many aquatic species cannot cope with this severe contamination in such ecosystems and also changes associated with the community composition [34]. Knowing that river flow regimes play a key role in freshwater ecosystems. Nevertheless, human activities (industry and agriculture) are known to be severely affecting freshwater ecosystems by rise in temperatures and altering river flow regimes and thereby affecting the habitat conditions and, hence the biodiversity of organisms in surface waters and groundwater.

3.3 Biodiversity degradation

Habitat loss negatively influences biodiversity (which refers to the variety and abundance of different species (animals and plants)) in a particular setting and becomes unable to sustain variety of the species. The Maghreb countries face severe anthropogenic and environmental pressures driven primarily by the water demands of a human population estimated to have exceeded 105 million people in 2021. The Maghreb is an important center of diversity of fauna and flora species which is linked to its great geomorphological variability. Nevertheless, this biodiversity in the Maghreb region is undergoing a serious decline (level of ecosystems, species and populations and genetic diversity). At least six species of native freshwater fish species in the Maghreb region are extinct [35]. The warming up of the sea as a result of climate change affects marine species and ecosystems. For example, some definitively marine species might take the place of certain coastal species. Generally, rising temperatures will endanger the life cycle of some species, cause coral bleaching and the loss of breeding grounds for marine fishes and mammals. Climate change accompanied by the over-pumping has largely depleted groundwater water level in many areas in the Maghreb countries and has led to the deterioration and loss of unique water springs and wetlands with their associated biota. The intensive use of the Maghreb Rivers is projected to increase, exerting immense pressure on the ecosystem and associated impact on the biodiversity; through the disturbance of the biotopes of some species and the dwindling stocks of some populations. Also, the new irrigation schemes may further diminish water supplies in the Maghreb Rivers system and impose additional threats to the biodiversity.


4. Water scarcity management in the Maghreb

Water management is the management of water resources, including ground-, surface- and rain water, to promote efficient use and protect water resources from pollution and over-exploitation. Libya, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are currently facing extremely high-water stress (Figure 2). As water is a key driver of economic and social development, the challenge of water scarcity for the Maghreb countries has existed for a long time and hence this region is beginning to recognize the importance of an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) which is a holistic approach involving social equity, economic efficiency and environmental sustainability. Consequently, to ensure a reliable, universal and sustainable water supply, there is a need for a transformational water management system to water scarcity in the Maghreb region.

The Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity has been formulated to provide a comprehensive framework to ensure the sustainable use and preservation of scarce water resources in the Maghreb countries. The objectives of The Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity are enhancing policies, investments, governance and best practices to sustainably increase water and land productivity; providing tools for strategic planning of optimal and sustainable allocation of scarce water resources; implementing a regional collaborative strategy for a water-reform agenda. Following proposed initiatives, in addition to the initiatives mentioned above, will further address the water scarcity challenge.

4.1 Preventing water pollution

One of the greatest waters related challenges facing the countries of the Maghreb is the pollution of its freshwater resources which can cause water to become toxic to humans and the environment. A person who wishes to reduce water pollution can help by [36]:

  • The right waste in the right bins

  • Making sustainable choices regarding food and drinks

  • Water conservation

  • Disposing of household chemicals properly

  • Correct use of fertilizers and pesticides for gardens or farm

  • Use of environmentally responsible household products for laundry, household cleaning, and toiletries

  • Reducing plastic usage and recycling plastics when possible

  • Save the planet and promote awareness about environmental Issues, e.g., growing more plants to reduce drainage of chemicals into the water

  • Keeping up with the maintenance of their vehicle to ensure it is not leaking harmful substances

There are several directives legislation adopted in the Maghreb region to stop water pollution including the bathing water directive, monitoring of water and vector-borne diseases and the Drinking Water Directive.

4.1.1 The bathing water directive

The bathing water directive aims to protect human health and facilitating recreational use of natural waters and this through protecting and improving bathing water quality in freshwater and coastal water areas. The “national report on monitoring the quality of bathing water on beaches in the Morocco Kingdom” for 2021 shows that the rate of compliance of the bathing water of Moroccan beaches with microbiological water quality reached 87.06%.

4.1.2 Monitoring of water and vector-borne diseases

Many infectious diseases in the Maghreb region, especially in the aftermath of several disasters, were addressed by installing and functioning of water and sanitation facilities through many legislations which aim to save water and also save lives [37, 38, 39]. Moreover, some countries specific directives are listed below:

  • Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia have the national communication submitted to UNFCCC includes health implications of climate change mitigation policies and have also conducted a national assessment of climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation for health.

  • Algeria and Morocco countries have identified a national focal point for climate change in the Ministry of Health.

  • Algeria and Tunisia countries have implemented actions to build institutional and technical capacities to work on climate change and health and also have developed Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) system and development of early warning and response systems for climate-sensitive health risks.

  • Morocco and Tunisia countries have a national health adaptation strategy approved by relevant government body and have also the national strategy for climate change mitigation includes consideration of the health implications (health risks or co-benefits) of climate change mitigation actions.

  • Algeria is currently implementing projects or programmes on health adaptation to climate change.

  • Morocco has implemented activities to increase climate resilience of health infrastructure. The National Ministry of Health of Morocco set up basic intervention strategies for the prevention and control of leishmaniases to minimize the incidence of cutaneous leishmaniasis to 50% by 2021 and to avoid mortality related to visceral leishmaniasis [40].

  • Mauritania is developed in 2011 the National Sanitation Policy (PNA) and the National Sanitation Strategy (SNA) [8].

4.1.3 The drinking water directive

The Directive in the Maghreb region aims to protect human health from potential dangers and to ensure that drinking water is wholesome and clean. Country specific directives are provided below:

Algeria adopted a monopolistic water management since 1962 to undertake tasks of water stress. The first law instituted between 1962 and 1980 was marked by institutional weaknesses, lack of available water, and nonexistence in demand management capability. Between 1980 and 1999, the second law was manifested by uncertain institutional characteristics and inefficient water management. The third law from 2000 till today has been marked by institutional strengthening, a supply-driven approach, and inefficient water management [41].

Morocco—The main producer of drinkable water in Morocco is the national office of drinkable water (ONEP) that was created in 1972. In 2009, The authorities launched its new National Water Strategy covering the period from 2010 to 2030.This policy is based on the main following strategic objectives: (1) Management of water demand and water efficiency, (2) Management and supply development, (3) Preservation and protection of water resources, (4) Reducing vulnerability to the risks associated with water and adaptation to Climate Change, (5) Modernization of information systems and capacity building and skills and (6) Improvement of the institutional, legal and financial framework [42].

Tunisia—Tunisia’s water code was created in 1975; it is the overarching legislation covering the water sector. Despite the scarcity of water resources, Tunisia has embraced a water management initiative which permitted the development of conventional and non-conventional freshwater reserves and control of water consumption in all socio-economic sectors. In 2009, Tunisia water law reform was enacted to reflect the actual social and economic situation in the country. The Water Code remains the most appropriate instrument governing public water domain and any resulting conflicts [43].

Libya—Law No. 7 of 1982 provides protection of the environment from pollution including air, water, soil and food [44].

Mauritania—Law No. 2005-030 of February 2nd, 2005 established the principle of delegation of WSS services by local governments to autonomous professional operators, including private firms. The law also extended the mandate of the Multisector Regulatory Authority (ARE) to the water sector, to regulate service, protect consumer interests and oversee of delegation contracts. However, the implementation of this law suffered from the political and institutional instability between 2005 and 2009, and has to date only marginally replaced GOM’s engagement in service operations. Limited progress has been made in transferring service responsibilities from GOM’s national operators SNDE or ONSER to private contractors accountable to local governments and ARE [8].

4.1.4 Groundwater projects and regulations

The intensive use of natural resources in the Maghreb, in particular by the agricultural sector has put enormous pressure on freshwater management in different countries of the Maghreb. Groundwater has become one of the most fragile of water reserves to satisfy the rapid development (especially for irrigation) in the region. However, such development has become unstainable because of aquifer overexploitation and its effects (vulnerability). Therefore, the groundwater regulations aim to establish a regime which regulates the environmental quality standards and prevent any inputs pollutants into aquifers, by controlling the direct and indirect discharges of certain substances into its reserves.

Algeria—Water supply (for drinking, agriculture and industry) in Algeria is heavily depend on groundwater. People in the north of Algeria relies on coastal aquifers for irrigation which is facing over-exploitation and vulnerability of its waters. The Algerian government aspires to provide a sustainable water resource to water supply by carrying out a national water plan “The 2005 Water Law”. This program is required accurate information on aquifer hydrodynamics to plan and to set up quantitative-qualitative protection areas. The quantitative protection areas are where new wells are banned and the actual abstraction of wells can be limited or discontinued, and the qualitative protection areas are where activities generate pollution [45]. Algeria has also established five different River basin agencies since 1996, after the 1983 legal water was amended [46].

Morocco—The passing of Law 10–95 in 1995 was a major breakthrough in Moroccan water policy. It was a water strategy through River basin Agencies to rationalize water use, provide universal access to the resource, reduce disparities between cities and villages and ensure water security across the country. Also, to control well groundwater depletion caused by overexploitation, the Moroccan authority has used aquifer contracts as a tool in water management [47]. The first Morocco’s experience with aquifer contracts began in Souss-Massa region as a technical and non-binding financial assistance by the government.

Tunisia—As mentioned already that only agriculture sector in Tunisia consumes 80% of available water resources. Groundwaters constitute around 43% of irrigation water in Tunisia and mostly are overexploited over the last thirty years [48] which increase the risk of quality degradation in shallow aquifers [49], particularly in the coastal areas. In response to the aquifer degradation and overexploitation, Tunisia has adopted many regulatory and incentive instruments to manage groundwater, such as 1975 Water Law which introduced the concept of the public hydraulic domain, the preeminent act of the state for water management and planning, the protection of ecosystems and the possibility of user-based water scarcity management [43]. Nevertheless, the overall effect has been weak since the water governance still remained weak (regional and local water administrations).

Libya—Great Man-Made River, long-term and enormous project in Libya (2001) aimed to provide Libyan people with their freshwater needs by taking water from reservoirs underneath the Sahara and transporting it along the largest underground network of pipes [50].

Mauritania—Groundwater constitutes only around 3% of water resources in Mauritania. Climate change is likely cause decrease in groundwater recharge and their piezometric levels, especially in the Taoudéni-Tanezrouk and Senegal-Mauritanian basins and their respective aquifer systems. This groundwater vulnerability is getting worsen by anthropogenic pressure due to extraction and deterioration of water quality. In responses to climate change and its effects on water resources, Mauritania has adopted the framework of “the Adaptation Programme of Action on Climate Change (NAPA-RIM)”, which aims to identify priority activities that respond to immediate needs to adapt to climate change, ultimately leading to the implementation of national agriculture, livestock and ecosystem protection strategies including:

  • Improvement in the monitoring of piezometric groundwater networks and water quality

  • Improvement of water resources management

  • Establishment of a balance between the availability of water resources and water needs for irrigation and consumption for the population and livestock

  • Dissemination of water saving technologies for irrigation

4.2 Best practices and technologies

Globally and more particularly the Maghreb region, changing water availability (quantity and quality) poses complex problems and management options are not easy. As mentioned already, the changing situation comes from different factors including the continuous grow of population and climatic change. The best practices and technologies contributing to water protection in the Maghreb including improved sewage systems, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination.

4.2.1 Improved sewage systems

Currently, more than half of global population in the world are living in urban areas. In 2050, more than two-thirds of the global population will live in cities [51]. Therefore, economic development accompanied by rapid urbanization increase the use of freshwater resources and may increase also competition for water between cities and agriculture [52] and thereby produce more wastewater. Therefore, it is necessary to treat sewage before disposing it off in a water body as it can cause serious public health concern and also threat aquatic life. Improved and responsible sewage systems along with treatment of wastewater at site and at treatment facilities, are among some of the tools and techniques which help to protect and improve water quality. As such, the component wastewater reuse (for irrigation and other purposes) is emerging as an established water management practice in several water-stressed regions of the world and particularly in the Maghreb region.

Algeria—As stated earlier that water consumption in Algeria is further aggravated due to economic grow, urbanization and climate change which are all main drivers of increasing water demand in irrigation and industrial uses. The reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation (the largest consumer of water) is a priority of the state. In 2005, Algeria allowed use of treated wastewater effluent for irrigation purposes [53] and signed 5 years contract with the SUEZ Company for the management of drinking water supply and sanitation in the greater Algiers area. The contract was renewed for five years in 2011, then for two years in 2016 and finally for three years in 2018.

Morocco—Improved Sewage Systems could contribute considerably to the reduction of ‘water stress’ and ‘water scarcity’ in Morocco as part of an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach, focusing on the component wastewater reuse for irrigation and other purposes. The development of reclaimed domestic wastewater reuse projects has emerged as a potential non-conventional resource to satisfy the increasing demand for water [54]. On the reuse of treated wastewater, only 12% are currently recycled. This rate increased to 22% in 2020 and may even reach about 100% by 2030 [55]. In 2017, SUEZ are providing Morocco with several wastewater treatment plants and has completed construction and installation of the Anti-Pollution System on the East Coast of Greater Casablanca in Morocco.

Tunisia—Tunisia is a water-scarce country, and water supply security challenges are predicted to be exacerbated by climate change in the coming years [56]. Improved Sewage Systems is a great way that Tunisia practiced for several years as part of an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach to satisfy water demands for irrigation and industrial uses. In 2017, the number of operating wastewater plants in Tunisia were 119, producing a volume of dry sludge of 175,000 m3/y. Tunisia is, therefore, faced with the challenge of finding secure solutions for the recovery and/or disposal of sludge generated from wastewater [57].

Libya—Today Libya is the 20th most water-stressed country in the world. Reuse of treated wastewater was mostly designed in Libya to reduce the water scarcity especially in the irrigation sector. There are around twenty-three wastewater treatment plants distributed all over the country. Nevertheless, only ten are working and in operation [58].

Mauritania—The Mauritanian authorities recently inaugurated a new rainwater collection system as part of a sanitary sewerage network for the city of Nouakchott. This new sanitation network is built by the Chinese company CTE, which aims to enable the evacuation of rainwater and avoid the catastrophic situation that Nouakchott knows whenever there are heavy rains or floods.

4.2.2 Rainwater harvesting

Rainwater harvesting (RWH) system, also called rainwater collection system or rainwater catchment system, and is a likely viable option to increase water productivity at production system level by using rainwater stored in containers such as tanks or cellars. It has been in use since thousands of years almost anywhere and particularly in the Maghreb countries. Rainwater harvesting is an excellent practice of sustainable water management as it helps to meet the growing demand of water and managing scarce rainfall to an extent and also it reduces flood and soil erosion and may decrease drought risk.

Algeria is facing increasingly more serious water shortage problems because the water is unevenly distributed and less available and the rainfall is uncertain and irregular. Algerian are using rainwater collection from the houses roofs as a solution among other seems good in many areas such as Souk Ahras city.

Morocco—The system, developed and installed by Morocco based NGO Dar Si Hmad, is now the world’s largest operational fog-water harvesting system which involves around 600 square meters of mesh netting, seven storage reservoirs, six solar panels and more than 10,000 meters of piping. Fog harvesting is an innovative solution to persistent water stress where fog is abundant. It utilizes a specialized mesh to catches the droplets from the fog and gravity pulls the water down into containers, which slowly fills up to conserve a good water reserve [59].

Tunisia—Water harvesting has been practiced successfully in Tunisia and particularly in southeast part to minimize water deficiency. This country encourages new strategy which is promoting water harvesting techniques (surface runoff water harvesting, floodwater harvesting and spreading irrigation) and sustainable farming practices.

Libya faces very severe water scarcity. Rain water harvesting systems is a way for water conservation in the region; its techniques have been increasingly used to get and collect rainwater, storage and prevention dams, cisterns, contour lines and lunar basins.

Mauritania is an arid country in the Maghreb region which is affected by recurrent climate-related shocks, like the drought that threatens agricultural activities and dries up the water table. Rainwater harvesting (RWH) has proved to be a viable alternative water in the Mauritanian capital (Nouakchott) as it enables the evacuation of rainwater and thus fight against floods.

4.2.3 Seawater desalination

Limited natural water resources, the continued population growth and climate change in the Maghreb region are the primary drivers of water stress. Seawater Desalination is an artificial process of removing dissolved salts from seawater and changing seawater into usable water for human consumption, irrigation, industrial applications, and various other purposes. However, this process produces a highly concentrated brine, which must be properly disposed. This waste product can damage ecosystems if it is not well managed.

Algeria—Desalination of seawater is needed in Algeria to resolve the water issues. Different methods of solar desalination have been practiced such as solar distillation. Combination of reverse osmosis technology and improved water infrastructure has proven to be an effective solution for Algerian cities. Also, the government strategy for drinking water supply is to increase the country’s installed desalination capacity. The Tahlyat Myah Magtaa desalination Plant was built in 2011 in Oran city (Algeria’s second-largest city) and providing water potable for more than five million [60]. The new seawater desalination plant is being built in Corso, a coastal town 25 km east of the capital Algiers.

Morocco—In order to sustain water needs in Morocco, the government decided to implement a seawater desalination plant in most water-scarce areas (Southern Moroccan) such as Boujdour (MED MVC 250 m3/d and SWRO 800 m3/d) and Laayoune (SWRO 7000 m3/d) [61].

Tunisia—Water is scarce in Tunisia especially in central and southern areas. Water desalination plant may alleviate chronic water scarcity in Tunisia’s southern region. The four major desalination plants which produce nearly four percent of the country’s total water resource are: Kerkennah (1983) with 3300 m3/day; Gabes (1995) with 22,510 m3/day; and two stations in Jerba-Zarzis (1999) with 12,000 m3/day. Additionally, there are 60 smaller plants in industries services [62]. The plants use reverse osmosis, a process that uses a partially permeable membrane to separate ions, unwanted molecules and larger particles from drinking water.

Libya is a largely desert country which has very limited water resources and suffers from growing water scarcity (urbanization and climate change). Seawater desalination can provide a climate-independent source of drinking water. Desalination technology has been used in Libya since the early 1960s and it is continuously developed during the last 30 years. There are currently 21 operating desalination plants, with a total desalination capacity of 525.680 m3/d [63].

Mauritania—Water deficits and their associated shortages are serious problems. Thus, the installation of sea water desalination systems is a greatest water technique to help alleviate the shortage of fresh water resources in Mauritania in particular and thus participate in the economic and social development of the Maghreb countries as a whole. In 2018, seawater desalination project designed a 1000 m3/day in Mauritania’s largest fishing port in Nouadhibou for industrial and domestic use [64].

4.2.4 Recharging aquifers/groundwater

Groundwater is an important source of supply for basic human needs and development across countries of the Maghreb. In many parts of the region, groundwater is the only reliable source of water. As pressures on groundwater resources increase with growing population, economic growth and climate change, there is a need to more practices sources of water supply. Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) is one of these good practices.

Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) also called artificial recharge (AR) is the enhancement of natural groundwater supplies with excess surface water or reclaimed wastewater. It is a process by which excess runoff is directed into the ground accomplished by augmenting the natural infiltration to replenish an aquifer, using man-made conveyances such as infiltration basins, field flooding, infiltration galleries or injection wells [36]. MAR cases are concentrated in highly populated regions of the Maghreb. Table 2 shows the different MAR cases implanted in the countries of the Maghreb and its different MAR types. The highest number of MAR cases is in Tunisia and lowest one is in Morocco. The most common MAR type in the Maghreb is the surface spreading/infiltration method which is the most practiced in Tunisia (Table 2).

CountrySurface spreading/infiltrationOpen well, shaft and borehole injectionIn-channel modification

Table 2.

Major MAR types in the Maghreb [65].

Generally, the principal purpose of the MAR schemes is to ensure water supply. The first application of MAR in the Maghreb was started in 1965 (Tunisia) and rise considerably in the 1990s [65].


5. Conclusions

The Maghreb region is facing increasing water scarcity amplified by inefficient water use and overexploitation of water resources (rate grow of population, economic development and climate change considerations). There is evidence that surface water is diminishing and that ground water levels are lowering rapidly. Consequently, variation in water availability either (1) quantitative; the annual volume of water per person in many areas of the Maghreb which is less than 1000 m3 or (2) qualitative; water pollution has many impacts on Human Health, destruction of habitat and loss of biodiversity. Hence the countries of the Maghreb have tried to overcome water stress and scarcity through: First, preventing water pollution by improving water policy and strategy (monitoring of water and vector-borne diseases). Second, best practices and technologies including improve sewage system, rainwater harvesting, and desalinization, among others. Henceforth, managing water scarcity in the Maghreb region should be proactive rather than being reactive.


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Written By

Kaltoum Belhassan

Submitted: February 2nd, 2022 Reviewed: February 17th, 2022 Published: March 27th, 2022