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Water Reclamation in North Africa


Dr Tom Arnot


Tuesday 15 December at 5.15pm (Festive refreshments will be available from 4.45pm).


Room 3.15, Chancellors' Building, University of Bath (Location and maps)


The Middle East and North African region (MENA) has a population of about 430 million people. In 2014 it received an annual average rainfall of about 75 mm, compared to 1300 mm in the UK. On top of this the region is mainly arid, very arid or hyper-arid and so evaporation due to high temperatures is a significant challenge. Climate change is driving the desert area north, so the relatively fertile and highly populated areas around the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean are also under threat. On top of this the region is politically unstable, with the Arab Spring being a recent sea change, but conflicts in countries like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel / Palestine are not new… Prompted by the ISIL attack in Paris, Prince Charles has recently asserted that climate change is the root cause of the instability in the MENA region. Whether you support his suggestion or not, access to water, or the lack of it, is frequently cited as a fundamental contributory factor in these unhappy conflicts.

So the water challenge in the MENA region is a significant source of concern, as it threatens basic human survival, the capacity to produce food and energy, and it may be playing a fundamental role in stimulating instability. Climate change forecasts coupled with demographic projections indicate that the population of the MENA region will reach 700 million by 2050, and that consequently water availability will fall by about 40%. There is no question that this will make conditions in the MENA region significantly worse. This talk describes some of the outcomes of an EU FP7 funded research project which trialled pilot scale membrane bioreactor technology for the reclamation of water from municipal sewage. The treated water was intended for use in the unrestricted irrigation of ground crops for human consumption. Analysis of the performance of the technology in process terms is coupled with evaluation of both energy consumption and treated water quality. The results of irrigation trials for crop production with the reclaimed water are presented, and cost comparisons are made with full sized waste water treatment systems. About 90-95% of the water in the municipal sewage could be reclaimed for successful use in crop irrigation, at an energy and economic cost which is acceptable. We believe that this is the first time that this opportunity has been successfully demonstrated in the MENA region.