Netherlands Embassy in Cairo, Egypt

Sustainable Water Solutions for the MENA Region

1. Introduction

The days of accessible water in the MENA region have long gone. Demand for fresh water is rapidly increasing, and in many places the situation is aggravated by extreme dry spells. Overall water scarcity emerges. Easily attainable water resources such as groundwater aquifers and rivers are drying up due to excessive water extraction. As Kuwaiti Minister of Finance Mustafa al-Shamali says, “water is one of the economic ministers’ top concerns for the region." Additionally, Prince Bin Talal of Jordan argues “When disparities in water endowment between neighbors are considered, especially in arid and semi-arid zones of the world, water becomes not only a limiting factor to life and growth but also a potential source of threat to regional stability."

Over-extraction of water resources and drought periods augment each other. When a river runs dry there is no recharge of groundwater, causing the groundwater levels to drop. At the same time, water users such as water supply companies, industry and farmers can no longer take in river water and switch over to the withdrawal of groundwater. As a consequence, the groundwater levels are further lowered.  Alongside the effects of drought, these extremely low groundwater levels can cause extra drawing down of surface water levels in rivers and lakes.

Due to high-energy costs, the potential of desalination in meeting a burgeoning water demand is limited. As a result, attention is directed towards sustainable exploitation of deeper groundwater aquifers, more efficient water use, and towards more water re-use: areas in which Dutch Water Sector expertise has excelled.

Long-term water management policies

Worldwide, the Netherlands is a renowned authority on flood prevention and land reclamation. Its unique flood defence system comprising of many dykes, canals and pumping stations, ensures protection for a country lying one-third below sea level. 

 A novel, global innovation in water governance is the implementation of a long-term adaptive water management policy: the Delta programme. It addresses the influences of climate change, rising sea levels, and extremes in rainfall and droughts. The programme provides an outline of flood protection measures to accommodate the country’s needs for the next 100 years.

Countries such as Egypt, Bangladesh and Vietnam are studying this example of water governance and are now in the process of developing their own delta programme. The relevant national and local governments are assisted by Dutch Water Sector experts.


World's highest water quality standards

Additionally, the Dutch Water Sector holds a long established tradition in developing new and sustainable solutions in the field of water supply. Monitoring groundwater is an ingrained practise: not necessarily with regard to water scarcity but mainly due to salt-water intrusion from the sea. 

The Netherlands depends heavily on its rivers for its supply of drinking water.  For many decades these rivers were heavily polluted. Highly innovative water treatment technologies were developed matching the most stringent water quality standards worldwide.


Special solutions

The Dutch Water Sector offers a wide range of sustainable water solutions, specifically for:

Water for all – sustainable water supply

More crop per drop – sustainable water use for agriculture

Enabling Delta Life – sustainable water management in densely populated river deltas


2. Sustainable use of water resources

Fresh water supply in arid areas largely depends on available groundwater, river water and rainwater. To achieve sustainable water management, it is important to prevent these water resources from depletion. Therefore, knowing how much water is available, and how much water is recharged to retain minimum water levels is essential.

Dutch research institutes such as Deltares have developed highly advanced hydrological models to map and monitor a variety of water resources including rainfall. These models are often in 3D. Advanced satellite and ITC-technology make it possible to monitor local changes in available water quantities online.

Below are examples of water resource projects by Dutch water companies and institutes in the MENA region.

Reduction water stress, Oum Er Rbiaa river basin, Morocco

Wageningen University’s research institute, Alterra, has been involved in an international project to develop a new irrigation scheme for farmers in the Oum Er Rbiaa river basin, 200 km south of Casablanca. The farmers pumped up more groundwater than was recharged with precipitation of rainwater. As a result, groundwater levels were lowered, prompting farmers to exploit the captive aquifer with enquiries about its sustainability.

Alterra Wageningen UR applied hydrological models to determine water quantities in the whole river basin revealing that high losses of irrigation water were the main problem. In the follow-up phase of the project, Alterra applied a remote sensing algorithm that delivered accurate estimations of actual evapotranspiration.

An agro-hydrological model was used to demonstrate the effects of implementing less water consuming irrigation techniques, and cropping patterns changed.


More information: Alterra Wageningen UR, the Netherlands

Long term national water resources plan, Egypt

In 2005, Egypt was the first country in the MENA region to have an integrated national water resources plan in accordance with the agreements made at the World Summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002.

Water for the future – the National Water Resources Plan 2017– gave a detailed description of all water resources in Egypt.  A water balance, based on the inventory of expected supply and demand, revealed constrains in Egypt's water system that could be expected in 2017 if no new action was taken.

Land and water research institute Deltares in Delft led a consortium of Dutch companies that supported the Egyptian ministry of water resources and irrigation in the preparation of this plan. Deltares'  modeling and planning tools were used to assess the solidity of the measures given various development scenarios.


More information: Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands

Increase of groundwater recharge, Sana river basin, Yemen

Within a few years, extensive irrigation and the growth of the city of Sana, led to a rapid increase in groundwater consumption. It is estimated that the extraction exceeds the groundwater recharge by a factor of four.

For the Dutch based network organization 3R this was the reason to support the Sana’a Basin Water Management Project in 2010 and introduce its '3R Bebuffered' concept.

The Dutch network, including the consultancy firm Acacia Water, made an assessment of potential water harvesting systems. It proved that with 84%, a cascade check dam had the best recharge efficiency potential. Once accomplished in two tributary rivers, farmers observed a remarkable improvement in water availability in the open wells near the riverbed, and a decline in the water level of tube wells.

The 3R network is initiated for the worldwide promotion of buffering rainwater with all possible technologies. The general concept '3R Bebuffered' is based on recharge, retain and reuse, within the framework of integrated water resource management.



More information: Acacia Water, Gouda, the Netherlands &

3. Smart water supply

Drinking water in the Netherlands is supplied by 10 state-owned companies. Nationwide drinking water is not chlorinated. This is unique in the world. When distributed, drinking water is absolutely bacteria-free. The distribution network is well maintained and distances are kept as short as possible, thus preventing bacterial growth in the network.

The exceptional good status of the distribution network limits leakage water to only 6%, one of the lowest scores worldwide.

Municipal wastewater treatment plants are operated by local water authorities: water boards.  The Waste Water Treatment Plant effluent complies with the strict standards of the European Union. In some cases the effluent is re-used by the industry or in agriculture.

The high water quality standards challenge research institutes at Delft Technical University, KWR Watercycle research and Wetsus to constantly develop new innovative water technologies that are less costly, use less resources and have a smaller ecological footprint.

Below are examples of water supply projects by Dutch water companies in the MENA region.

Growth oriented water supply network, Al Sharqiyah, Oman

The engineering firm Arcadis provided consultancy and management services for the construction of a new water distribution network for Oman’s Public Authority for Electricity and Water (PAEW). The network brings clean water directly to the taps of hundreds of thousands of residents in the Al Sharqiyah region.

The water conveyance system has been designed to support the region’s growing population, and the development of a future planned shipping port in the region that will further bolster Oman’s economic growth.

The project eliminates the need to truck water from filling station outposts to residents, reducing PAEW’s carbon footprint as well as noise and traffic pollution.



More information:  Arcadis, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Upgrade Al Zawrah desalination plant, Ajman, United Arab Emirates

Pentair X-Flow supplied its Seaflex ultrafiltration (UF) membranes to the Al Zawrah seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant in Ajman, United Arab Emirates. The desalination plant is operated by Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA).

The Seaflex membranes were installed for the pre-treatment of seawater. By preconditioning the water, the reverse osmosis membranes last longer and use less energy. The membranes have a capacity of 4,500 m3 per hour.

For FEWA, it was the first time to implement UF technology as a pre-treatment step.


More information:  Pentair X-Flow, Enschede, the Netherlands

Advanced trenching technology for water pipe line, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

A.Hak International used two new tunnel boring machines to construct a 400 kilometres of pipeline to supply drinking water from a new coastal desalination plant to the inland capital of Riyadh. The construction of the desalination plant and the pipeline is the largest hydraulic project ever in Saudi Arabia.

The city of Riyadh, which lies 700 metres above sea level, needs to be supplied with more drinking water. It currently consumes 270 litres per day per head of population, most of which comes from the sea. Added to this will be another 200 litres or so per day once all the pipelines, desalination plants, pumping stations and the power station are completed.

The tunnel boring machines are able to drill up to 250 meters through hard rock at a diameter of 2.2 meters.


More information: A. Hak International, Tricht, the Netherlands


4. More crop per drop

Dutch farmers have a constant drive to optimize their productivity for which yield management is an important tool. Management aims at using less water, less pesticides and less fertilizers. At the same time, however, it also aims at producing more crop.

A very successful measure in the Netherlands in achieving these goals has been the introduction of GPS highly precision technology. Satellite guided equipment inform the farmer exactly where to irrigate and the quantity of water needed.

World population is expected to grow significantly, so will the demand for food. Fresh water may be one of the limiting factors in the production of more food. In such cases it is important to use available water more effectively.



Key elements for the Dutch water sector are:

- Development of new irrigation systems using GPS and remote sensing

- Development of a zero waste-water emission greenhouse



Below are examples of water agricultural projects by Dutch companies in the MENA region.

Water saving irrigation, Agri yield management, Egypt

By growing strawberries, grapes and potatoes on three Egyptian farms, the Dutch consortium, Dacom, Soil Company, and WaterWatch demonstrated that natural water resources can be used optimally and maintain sustainability.

Maps of the fields were compiled to indicate 10 different soil parameters that influence the irrigation management, such as water retention, organic matter and particle size. Remote sensing with satellite images was used to detect in-field differences in biomass and crop water use. In each farm, soil moisture stations were installed to measure water content on different depths in and below the root zone.

As a result, and without negative effect on yield or quality, the amount of water used for strawberries was reduced from 834 mm to 431 mm (-48%).


Read more: Dacom, Emmen, the Netherlands

Monitoring effects of drip irrigation, Tunisia

WaterWatch supported a study by the Tunisian government on the effects of a national water saving programme. Major investments had been made in drip irrigation, in sprinkler irrigation, and in improved surface irrigation. The government wanted to find out the effectiveness of the investments.

WaterWatch collected remote sensing images and analyzed the images on specific indicators using certain algorithms. The analyses showed that, despite the investments, the agricultural water consumption in Tunisia had increased 26% between 2001 and 2006. The irrigated crops showed an increase of 11%.

The mapping technology of WaterWatch is now used by the company e-Leaf, a spin-off that operates globally to supply geospatial data for the agricultural sector. Governments, agencies, organisations and individual farmers can subscribe to receive irrigation related data, which is refreshed either daily or weekly, for a certain defined farm field or local area.



More information: WaterWatch/eLeaf, Eindhoven, the Netherlands &

Let's beat desertification, Waterboxx, Jordan

Irrigation with groundwater to grow crops and trees doesn’t make sense to Pieter Hoff of Groasis. Most of the water is lost to evaporation and he believes it is easier to capture water from the atmosphere. To prove his point, he developed the Waterboxx: a round box that captures both rainwater and condensation. The water is collected in the chamber underneath the cover, and prevents the water from evaporating.

In Jordan a number of farmers use the Groasis Waterboxx . In some cases the farmers reduced their irrigation from 20 litres of water every 10 days, to only 10 litres of water in 90 days.

Pieter Hoff launched an initiative to combat desertification with his Waterboxx. The box has proven very effective for growing trees in very arid areas in, for instance, Iraq, Spain, Morocco, Kenya, Dubai, USA and Oman.



Read more: Groasis, Steenbergen, the Netherlands

5. Coastal zone management & land reclamation

Building dykes and restoring areas of land is an age-old tradition in the Netherlands. The country is situated in the delta of three large European rivers. Throughout the centuries, the Dutch water sector has achieved highly developed expertise in civil engineering issues typical for a river delta. These include: flood protection, soil subsidence, salt intrusion, below sea level drainage, dredging harbours, and navigational canals.

Not surprisingly, the two biggest dredging companies in the world, Van Oord and Boskalis are both Dutch. Especially in the Middle East region both companies have been involved in many land reclamation projects, such as the Palm Islands off the coast of Dubai.


Below are examples of marine projects by Dutch companies in the MENA region.

New island of Jumana, Dubai

Dredging company Van Oord has been contracted to build the Jumana Island, which will lie 500 metres off the coast of Dubai. The island will be used for urban development. A total of more than 8 million cubic metres of sand need to be dredged and deposited, and some 3 million tons of stone will be placed.

The project involves dredging of sand from the sea-bed, reclaiming the island as well as reclamation of the beaches. Construction of groynes, revetments, soil compaction of the new island and the reclamation of sand bodies to facilitate the construction of a bridge also form part of the project.

Van Oord has been working virtually non-stop in Dubai since 2001. The most prestigious projects include the construction of the islands Palm Jumeirah, The World and Palm Deira, and the harbour development in Mina Zeyahi.


More information: Van Oord, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

New beachfront The Wave Muscat, Oman

In multiple phases, dredging company Boskalis built The Wave Muscat, a new beachfront residential area and marina bay in Oman.

The Wave, Muscat is the first freehold tourism and residential development in the Sultanate of Oman. The project stretches along 7 kilometres of beachfront land overlooking the Gulf of Oman and covers an area of 2.5 million square metres. It is located in Muscat, Oman's capital city, about 5 kilometres (3.1 miles) from Muscat’s Seeb International Airport.

The project comprised reclamation of a platform and stockpile, and the excavation of a marina basin and quay wall trenches for the development of a freehold residential area and hotels. For the reclamation and excavation works, Boskalis used trailer suction hopper dredgers (TSHD’s) and backhoe dredgers (BHD’s). A total amount of 3,5 million m3 sand was needed for the reclamation of the platform and the stockpiles.



More information: Boskalis, Papendrecht, the Netherlands

World's deepest dry dock on reclaimed island, Qatar

Engineering firm Royal HaskoningDHV specified and supervised the groundwork for the construction of the world's deepest dry docks on the Nakilat Shipyard. The shipyard is located in the Port of Ras Laffan, a reclaimed island 8 km off the coast of Qatar.

The largest dry dock measures 400m by 80m with a depth of 17.6m, and wet berths totalling 2.5 km in length. The shipyard's 'onshore' work also includes seven major industrial workshops, a shipbuilding hall, offices and amenities. The shipyard also includes three multi-story buildings, all designed by Royal HaskoningDHV.



More information: Royal HaskoningDHV, Amersfoort, the Netherlands



A number of renowned, specialized water institutes are located in the Netherlands:

Education: UNESCO-IHE (Water Governance), Delft Technical University (Civil Engineering), Wageningen University (Land & Water Management), Utrecht University (Quantitative Water Management), Twente University (Water Footprint) and Wetsus (Water Technology)

Applied Research: Deltares (Complex Coastal/Delta River Systems & Aquifers), KWR Watercycle Research Institute (Drinking Water & Water Reuse), TNO Built Environment (Desalination/Groundwater) and Wetsus (Water Technology).





The above review of all activities by the Dutch water sector in the Arab region has been complied by the Netherlands Water Partnership in February 2013.