Daily Management Review

Why fast-industrializing Morocco must address the issue of water scarcity


Despite entering a sustainable growth period, Morocco is still confronted with securing its development, namely through environmental protection, capacity to harness natural resources and reliable water access. With its available resources, Morocco may be in the best position on the continent to lead the way on development sustainability.

Morocco isn’t in the process of extracting itself out of poverty anymore, that was done a long time ago. Its economy has grown so much, and so persistently, that it is now hot on the heels of giant neighbor Algeria and catching up fast. “The government projects to achieve a growth rate of 3.2% in 2019 and to contain inflation to less than 2% [...] the government will work to ensure the stability of financial balances by keeping the deficit at 3.3% [...] These are all indicators that illustrate the soundness of the national economy, but they must be consolidated by restoring the citizen's confidence through quality social benefits and ensuring decent employment, a stable and reasonable incomesaid minister of Economy and Finance, Mohamed Benchaâboun, in October. Although the services sector has been developed, Morocco is still very much an industrial country, with agriculture, the mining industry and the textile industry at its heart. Welxhin Zha adds : “The textile industry contributes 15 percent to Morocco's gross national product and its importance will continue to increase in the coming years.” Tourism is also a promising lead for Morocco’s economic development. Like many developing countries, handfuls of development policies are simultaneously launched, in the hope that one or two will succeed, in a very heuristic approach. But all the keys to development will take root in the same parameter.
Whatever the next Moroccan industrial powerhouse, it will require water, because water is a prerequisite for just about everything else: urban development, industrial applications, agricultural independence, environmental balance, etc. None of it can be achieved without steady access to clean and safe water. The Siwi report argues that “Better access to clean water, sanitation services and water management creates tremendous opportunity for the poor and is a progressive strategy for economic growth [...] investing in water management and services is absolutely essential for the eradication of poverty and is a necessary condition for enabling sustained economic growth.”. Morocco is exposed to water scarcity and drastically varying climates according to the regions - going from lush coastlines to arid and barren areas inland.
Just like the rest of the continent, Morocco isn’t low on water, but simply encounters greater difficulties in accessing it. In his essay, The centrality of water resources to the realization of Sustainable Development Goals, scholar Frank Mugagga writes : “Africa is endowed with vast water resources including but not limited to lakes, rivers, swamps and underground aquifers. However, the way of life in Africa does not reflect this kind of wealth owing majorly to degradation and underutilization of these water resources [...] African states should therefore increase their commitment to water conservation and management as this will significantly decide Africa's future development paths”. Despite a healthier alternative under their feet, the lack of necessary groundwater equipment brings populations to keep resorting to surface water and keeps populations and industries away from areas where groundwater is plentiful, but surface water is scarce. But that may soon change, thanks to technological innovation.
Graphene, the recently-discovered carbon-based material which made headlines a few years ago, could finally make desalination an affordable solution, and therefore open new opportunities for Morocco to develop its inland regions. Currently, Morocco uses the “reverse osmosis” method to desalinate and will presumably use the new material graphene in the next generations. Dr Juan Cuenca, chief of natural resources department at IMIDA, says : “Reverse osmosis is the principal method used in Morocco to produce desalinated water. According to the data studied, 66.397m3/day (77.70%) are produced by RO systems.”
The treatment of industrial wastewater is also an essential field of application of this water management issue. Several alternatives can be applied such as these mobile units produced by Veolia Water Technologies Africa, which enable on-premise water treatment to be deployed on individual industrial sites. “This allows wide-scale environmental sustainability in a more flexible way than modifying water-treatment networks”, the CEO Patrick Couzinet points out. But the French multinational is also capable of deploying large-scale operations through its local subsidiaries like Amendis. In a 2015 study for the UN-Water Annual International conference, Mohamed Taki showed that Veolia’s facilities were responsible for the water treatment for a total population of more than 3.5 million people.
Morocco’s sources of water have long been known, and tally up to four: rainwater, streams and rivers, groundwater and seawater. Each one has perks and setbacks and can be more or less suitable according to the region. Rainwater recuperation devices have long been available, and are a dime a dozen, but are only appropriate in the more humid areas of Morocco. Desalinated seawater is in unlimited supply but is pretty much confined to coastal areas and devours energy - not optimal for Morocco, which is trying to increase its energy output and reduce its consumption. Stream water is also sensitive to location, and often contaminated in downstream countries like Morocco. Finally, groundwater used to be the dream solution, but economically inaccessible. But with Morocco’s increased wealth, and the development of technological innovations, groundwater may be the key to the Moroccan development padlock.
Morocco has already imposed itself as a regional leader on the continent with the quality of its industrialization. Just as Japan made itself into the workshop of Europe in the post-war era, European economies deeply rely on Morocco and its industrialization. With a moderate effort to make water accessible everywhere in the country, Morocco is securing its development, its economic position, and showing a powerful example to all of Africa, and the world.