Libyan authorities and experts work towards improved management of transboundary groundwater in North-West Sahara

The North West Saharan Aquifer System (NWSAS) is one of the most important reserves of water in the North African Region, largely non-renewable in nature and shared by Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. Economic and social developments of the past decades led to a significant pressure on this resource, and today the rate of withdrawals from the aquifer exceeds multiple times the rate of its replenishment. While agriculture is the main water user in the basin, water is central to the development of all sectors. Hence, responding to water related challenges requires collective action. This means enhancing cooperation and reconciling sectoral and national perspectives around the common goals of sustainable development.

The Libyan consultation workshop – which gathered a delegation of Libyan authorities and experts from the water, energy, agriculture and environmental fields - is a key step in a broader process aimed at enhancing transboundary cooperation in the NWSAS and strengthening the capacities needed to address intersectoral issues. To this end, Mr Baruni, Director General of the Libyan Water Resources Authority, stressed the central importance of institutional as well as legal frameworks for water management and the challenges that relate to their harmonization across countries and their implementation and enforcement within the countries.

This aspiration is supported by a participatory assessment of intersectoral (“nexus”) trade-offs and synergies in managing the NWSAS, carried out by the Water Convention Secretariat serviced by UNECE, the Global Water Partnership Mediterranean (GWP-Med) and the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), in close cooperation with concerned authorities from the aquifer-sharing countries as well as with the NWSAS Consultation Mechanism.

Participants of the workshop discussed the preliminary results of a multi-sectoral analysis of the NWSAS, and proposed actions, which aim at three broad objectives which should be achieved concurrently:

  • The modernization of agriculture and the increase of its efficiency and viability, including by promoting local products and strengthening youth and women groups;
  • The preservation of groundwater resources and the rationalization of water use, including with the use of unconventional waters; and
  • The sustainable development of the energy sector, including by promoting renewable energies for water management and desalination.

Participants elaborated on packages of multi-sectoral solutions and their possible implementation at national and transboundary level. These solutions were formulated on the basis of inter- and multi-sectoral challenges affecting the basin, which were jointly identified during a previous workshop gathering stakeholders from the 3 countries. Notably, the need to invest in an integrated manner in water, agriculture, energy and environmental protection was discussed, with the ultimate goal to elaborate a coherent development strategy for the NWSAS region.

Several ways for possible improvements were prioritized:

  • The Libyan water strategy should reflect many of the solutions identified, including those related to the promotion of water efficiency measures and water saving technologies across all sectors;
  • There is an urgent need to promote adapted and diversified agricultural production systems - taking stock of previous efforts that failed to reinforce the private sector - while strengthening land security;
  • Setting up a scheme to promote solar photovoltaic technologies (PV) for multiple purposes and promote individual level PV installations could be a game changer (as of today, no specific scheme is in place for grid connected PV installations).
  • Environmental awareness is as an urgent priority for Libya, and this includes awareness of inter-sectoral issues. While such awareness might be growing at the level of households and civil society, more needs to be done from the side of policy and decision makers to come up with concrete and coherent plans of actions.

Strengthening cooperation could generate numerous benefits for the NWSAS countries. Transboundary water cooperation is a matter of security and a means of preventing transboundary tensions. Cooperation to address environmental issues is necessary to effectively act upon the impact of climate change and to prevent negative health impacts. Cooperation also has the potential to develop regional trade of agricultural goods for food security and to advance agricultural research. Regional electrical power cooperation frameworks can help ensure reliability of supply. The existing NWSAS Consultation Mechanism provides a framework for cooperation among countries at technical level. The results of the nexus assessment could be used to sketch possible paths for action towards enhanced cooperation on solutions to address priority challenges. A study of options to enhance the institutional setting for NWSAS Consultation Mechanism is underway and will enable the countries to take an informed decision in that regard. Intersectoral cooperation at the basin level. It could, for example, facilitate the exchange of information at transboundary level beyond water, to inform stakeholders of the different sectoral developments that are of relevance for the future status of groundwater.

Consultations about the nexus assessment are ongoing with Tunisia and Algeria, with the immediate next step being a consultation workshop for Tunisia on 3-4 April 2019 in Hammamet. The results will be built upon for the NWSAS basin workshop, planned for June 2019 in Tunis.

Tunisian authorities are in the process of studying and discussing the benefits and obligations of a possible accession by Tunisia to the Water Convention, which is open to all UN Member States since 2016. The Water Convention is subject to increasing interest in the Middle East and Africa regions, where several countries are in the process of accession.