Scientific challenges posted by the water-energy-food nexus in the Mediterranean

Rafael Rodríguez-Clemente
2015 Watch Letter n°34   unpublished
The EU strategy for international cooperation in research and innovation (European Commission, 2014), targets an early identification of cooperation initiatives at an appropriate scale and scope, as well as initiatives to develop a post-2015 agenda including Sustainable Development Goals. Regarding the EU-Mediterranean Partners Countries cooperation agenda, several initiatives are being promoted to this end, notably those regarding the challenges of securing affordable food, managing scarce
more » ... managing scarce water resources and promoting the use of renewable energies. These actions are included in the INCo.Net Project MEDSPRING and the ERA.Net MED, both coordinated by CIHEAM-Bari, which also include an intellectual support to the setting of a permanent instrument of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in research and innovation based in Article 185 of the Treaties, the PRIMA initiative which is at this moment under impact evaluation. The water-Energy-Food NEXUS describes the complex and inter-related nature of our global resources systems. It is about balancing different resource user goals and interests, while maintaining the integrity of ecosystems (FAO, 2011). The NEXUS approach is a scientific, technical and political question. The scientific approach to the NEXUS is yet an open question about how an integrated approach to the challenges identified within the NEXUS could be addressed from a heuristic scientific point of view. FAO has identified three working areas as part of a broader process of stakeholder dialogue addressing the NEXUS: a) Data and analysis; b) Scenario development; c) Response options. These are complemented by a continuous process of stakeholder dialogues. Facts and Social and Economic Challenges About one billion people live in the EU and in the neighboring countries. Of this total roughly half live in the EU-27; slightly less than 30% live in the countries of the South and East Mediterranean (SEMCs), including Turkey. Some 40 per cent of the population in the Southern Mediterranean area lives in rural areas, and the population of the SEMCs will increase by some 25 % to 370 million in the next 20 years; in the EU-27, the population will increase only very slowly, by less than 2% over the entire period. In the EU-27, the population in the age group from 15 to 64 will fall by 6.5%, from about 330 million in 2010 to 310 in 2030. This decline contrasts with an increase in the comparable age group in the SEMCs by more than 31%; the total in this cohort will increase from 195 million to 250 million over the period. A consequence is that about 55 million more people will be looking for work (European Commission, 2011) . Much of the Mediterranean basin is arid and as the climate changes it becomes still drier; water resources are scarce and reducing. Rates of water use in the SEMCs often exceed the capabilities of the natural water resources, and it is worsened by the difficulties to monitor individual withdrawals of underground waters (FAO, 2015) . The 'water exploitation index' measures this stress. If the index is below 25 %, water exploitation is negligible, and above 75 % water resources are overexploited. Countries such as Libya, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Malta have a Water Exploitation Index (WEI) (Fig. of 2003) of 100%, Tunisia has an WEI of 60%, Algeria of 55% and Morocco of 45%. From a total World water withdrawal of 3752 Km 3 , Northern Africa extracts 202 Km 3 and the Middle East 276 Km 3 , where only 5 and 7 % are used by the industry. The regional fresh water availability is respectively 0.1% and 1.1% of the total world resources. The rapid increase in population and in urbanization over the past 40 years has stimulated high growth in demand for energy, water and food. Much of the net growth in the global population by 2050, estimated in 9 to 10 billion people, will occur in cities of developing countries, so reinforcing the urban demand for these resources (FAO and WWF, 2015). Water and energy are closely linked: water use for energy generation represented 15 percent of world water withdrawals in 2010, and can compete with food production (FAO 2015). Renewable energy and especially solar energy has great potential to improve security and new industrial development as the region has impressive resources of renewable energy. The German aerospace Centre (DLR) has estimated that, by using less than 0.3 % of the entire desert area of the MENA region, enough electricity and desalinated seawater can be produced to meet their own growing demands along with 100 GW of export to Europe by 2050.
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