BackgroundDuring the last decades, the sustainability and management of water resources have drawn international attention due to freshwater limitations as well as low rainfall. These challenges are aggravated by the impacts of climate change, increasing world population, and growing energy along with water use, expressing more severe food insecurity and scarcity, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions where water shortage is severe and conventional resources are limited and for some part non-renewable. Therefore, efficient and sustainable management of water resources is of utmost importance. Moreover, the production and reuse of unconventional water resources have become an alternative for the unsustainable water resources. For example, treated wastewater and desalinated seawater have attracted international attention for irrigation, introducing them as avenues to mitigate these challenges and satisfy water demand. Water is a challenge for development in the MENA region countries more than any other regions. To overcome such a challenge, the MENA region countries are investing in water infrastructures, water storage and irrigation systems. Furthermore, the MENA area is a global leader in the utilization of non-conventional water technologies, including desalination and wastewater re-use. The MENA region consumes more water than their renewable resources can support. More than half of the water is withdrawn because agriculture does not meet the crop water requirements due to inefficient irrigation systems (FAO). Between 2005 and 2050, it is predicted that the world's food production will need to increase by almost 70% (FAO) and developing countries must double their food production. The emphasis will need to be on increasing agricultural and water productivity with effective and optimal use of available resources because more food production will need to come from the same finite amount of land and water resources. Adopting suitable agricultural water governance and improving resilience to climate change effects are primordial. Some actions are important such as better agricultural techniques, improving water productivity and expanding the area irrigated, rehabilitating and modernizing the irrigation systems that are already in place, reforming institutional structures, promoting demand water management and water saving within the agricultural sector are necessary. In this regard, resilient agriculture will play a significant role in satisfying rising demand in the face of more competitive and unstable markets and rising (frequencies and intensities) extreme events brought on by climate change. Furthermore, good management of conventional and non-conventional water resources, together with applying innovative technologies could increase efficiency on safe water production and reuse for irrigation application, especially those systems that are equipped with smart irrigation technologies that possess the ability to control the water flow, quantity and supply nutrients to plants.
THE 1st MIDDLE EAST REGIONAL CONFERENCE ON IRRIGATION AND DRAINAGE
- The International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) organizes regional conferences at four regions of the world: African Region, European Region, Asian Region, and Pan- American Region. Accordingly, the 1st Middle East Regional Conference on Irrigation and Drainage will be hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during 26-28 February 2023 in Riyadh, and organized by Saudi Irrigation Organization (SIO) and Saudi Committee of Irrigation and Drainage (SACID) in partnership with ICID.
- The 1st Middle East Regional Conference on Irrigation “MERCID” will focus on the main topic of “Irrigation Sector and Sustainable Development” in conditions of aridity and water scarcity and within framework of renewable and non-renewable water resources, and production and reuse of non-conventional water resources such as treated wastewater. It will be an opportunity to highlight several key lessons that can be applied in the irrigation sector worldwide: (i) the trends in irrigation development and management, the ongoing and planned programs in the countries and regions and the requested capacity building to fulfill the targets, (ii) techniques and technologies are also discussed in addition to treated wastewater (several views from efficient to safe reuse) reuse, drainage and soil fertility and plant impacts, desalination for irrigation and learned lessons, water harvesting and dams operation for irrigation, (iii) and finally practical added value of technologies such as Data collection and organization for Decision Support Systems and artificial intelligence applied to irrigation.
- The Kingdom Saudi Arabia (KSA) is hosting the Conference. The country is within Western Asia, bordered by the Red Sea to the West , Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait to the north; the Arabian Gulf, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to the east; Oman to the southeast; and Yemen to the south (fig 1). Its capital and largest city is Riyadh. The country is home to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam.
- The country has a tropical and subtropical desert climate, with most regions experiencing high temperatures and arid conditions due to dry winds. Average summer temperatures are around 45 °C (113 °F), but can be as high as 54 °C (129 °F) at its most extreme. In the winter the temperature rarely drops below 0 °C (32 °F) with the exception of mostly the northern regions of the country where annual snowfall, in particular in the mountainous regions of Tabuk province, is not uncommon. The annual rainfall is low not exceeding 150 mm in most parts of the Kingdom, except the Southern regions where an average of 300 mm (12 in) of rainfall occurs. The average elevation of the country is 665 meters above sea level, with its highest mountain peak, standing at 3,002 meters.
- The Kingdom has limited non-renewable groundwater resources with low aquifer replenishment rates, due to the arid climatic conditions. Water requirements in the Kingdom (which were estimated in 2015 at about 24.8 billion cubic meters) is witnessing a steady annual increase of 7%. The agricultural sector is the largest consumer of water in the Kingdom, accounting for 84% of the total demand (National water Strategy).
- In view of the high dependence on non-renewable groundwater ( up to 90% of the total demand), targets were set to raise on farm irrigation efficiency up 75% in 2030, in addition to enforcing an ambitious reduction in the quantity of non-renewable groundwater use by 2030 (National water Strategy).
- Saudi Arabia has increased access to clean water and improved sanitation services, particularly in rural areas. The government has improved the water and wastewater infrastructure, increasing the population’s access to drinking water, reducing water waste and improving water use efficiency. The government has taken steps to address water scarcity through various initiatives, such as water desalination, reuse of treated wastewater, development of renewable groundwater, harvesting of rain water and implementation of efficient irrigation systems.
- The government has invested in upgrading wastewater treatment facilities and improving the management of wastewater to reduce the impact of wastewater on public health and the environment and provide ample volumes of tertiary treated water, which can be repurposed for a range of applications including agriculture, industry, and urban activities, in compliance with established standards and guidelines. By 2030, the total produced treated wastewater is envisaged to reach 10.3 million m3/day. Accordingly, an ambitious target is set to raise treated sewage water reuse from 22.55 % in 2022, to 80% of the total quantity produced by the year 2030 (National water Strategy).
- Significant reforms are made in the irrigation sector including restructuring of the Saudi irrigation Organization to lead, manage and develop the irrigation sector in the Kingdom, phasing out intensive water consuming crops, such as wheat, alfalfa and fodder, application of modern irrigation methods and practices, tariff reforms and incentive programs.
- Surface water resources in Saudi Arabia are limited and mainly concentrated in the southwestern region of the country, where rainfall is relatively high. The country has a few major wadis or riverbeds, such as the Wadi Hanifah, which have been developed for agricultural and recreational purposes. However, most of these wadis are seasonal and dry up during the summer months, leaving the country with very limited surface water resources.
- Efforts to increase water availability and storage capacity have led to the implementation of over 550 water dams, with a combined storage capacity of approximately 2.6 billion cubic meters. Additionally, the "Agricultural Terraces Rehabilitation and Rainwater Harvesting Techniques Implementation in Southwestern Saudi Arabia" initiative has been established as part of Vision 2030, further bolstering water conservation strategies. In addition to several innovative solutions, including the use of desalinated seawater and treated wastewater for irrigation and other purposes, strict water conservation measures, such as the regulation of water consumption and the promotion of water-saving technologies.