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Where to Find More Water: Eight Unconventional Resources to Tap



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By Manzoor Qadir & Vladimir Smakhtin

As climate change worsens, and with populations rising worldwide, water shortages are a top threat to human development and security. One in four people on Earth face shortages of water for drinking, sanitation, agriculture and economic development. Water scarcity is expected to intensify in regions like the Middle East and North Africa region, which has 6% of the global population but only 1% of the world’s freshwater resources.

Conventional water sources – which rely on snowfall, rainfall and rivers – are not enough to meet growing freshwater demand in water-scarce areas. Fortunately Earth has other sources of water: millions of cubic kilometres of water in aquifers, in fog and icebergs, in the ballast holds of thousands of ships, and elsewhere.

Unconventional water sources

Cloud seeding and fog collectors

The atmosphere contains an estimated 13,000 km³ of water vapour. Annual global freshwater demand today is roughly 4,600 km³. Some of the atmosphere’s water vapour can be captured through cloud seeding – sowing clouds with small particles of commonly used silver iodide to make them rain or snow – and the collection of water from fog and mist.

Cloud seeding can enhance rainfall by up to 15% under the right conditions. Direct delivery of seeding material to the clouds using aircraft and rockets gets the highest yield. Fog harvesting is already happening in parts of the world. Remote communities in Chile, Morocco and South Africa have used vertical mesh nets to harvest fog for over 100 years. Viable sites are typically open locations with a fairly high elevation, exposed to wind flow. Advancements in materials and local knowledge have helped develop designs that are efficient in water collection. At times more than 20 litres can be collected on a dense fog day for every square metre of mesh. Average cost per litre can be less than one US cent.


Desalination – removing salt from seawater – contributes over 100 million cubic metres of water a day, supporting about 5% of the world’s population. Almost half (48%) of the global desalination capacity is located in the Middle East and North Africa region. New developments in desalination will likely make it the lowest-cost unconventional water supply resource worldwide. Innovative technologies are reducing energy inputs by 20% to 35%. Desalination produces enormous quantities of brine, a pollutant of concern. But extracting salts from brine to yield commercially viable products could offset the cost of desalinated water production in the next decade.

Reusing water

Advanced treatment systems can convert wastewater into potable water. Treated wastewater provides 25% of the potable water supply of Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, for example. Today around 70% of municipal wastewater in high-income countries is treated, but only 8% in low-income countries. The annual volume of untreated municipal wastewater in low-income countries globally is estimated at just 171 km³. This is because water use per capita in the municipal sector is low. Sub-Saharan Africa produces the lowest annual amounts of wastewater per capita (46m³); North America produces almost five times more. Acceptance of reused wastewater by people and policymakers remains a challenge.

Agricultural drainage water

Irrigation generally results in two types of drainage water: water on the surface, and water that seeps into the earth. Surface runoff can be collected and used again to grow food. Salinity of drainage water is higher, but salt-tolerant crops and new varieties can meet this challenge.

Brackish groundwater offshore

There are vast quantities of water (an estimated 300,000-500,000 km³) in aquifers off the shores of continents around the world. These aquifers (bodies of permeable rocks that hold groundwater) were created millions of years ago when sea levels were much lower. They are at shallow depths and less than 100km from shore.

Today new marine electromagnetic exploration methods provide detailed images of offshore freshwater. Horizontal drilling technologies make it possible to pump the water to shore.

To date, no offshore freshwater resources have been developed. The technology is still quite new and exploiting the resource would be expensive. It would also need to be combined with desalination.

Inland brackish groundwater

Deep inland aquifers with brackish or salty water exist in volumes estimated to total millions of cubic kilometres. Some countries, like Israel and Spain, already tap into them. It’s expensive, but there are ways to reduce high costs, such as reusing the salt recovered. And farmers can benefit from desalination technologies by switching to high value crops.

Micro-scale capture of rainwater

In dry environments over 90% of rainwater is typically lost to evaporation and surface runoff. Micro-catchment rainwater harvesting is an ancient practice designed to trap and collect water from a relatively small catchment area, usually 10-500m². It employs a wide range of techniques, from rooftop and cistern collection to farm and landscape systems including contour ridges, bunds, small runoff basins and strips.

Move water physically to water-scarce areas

Ships transport around 90% of the goods traded worldwide and discharge some 10 billion tons of ballast water (10km³) every year. Ballast water is fresh or saltwater held in the ship to provide stability and manoeuvrability during a voyage.

Under international convention, all ships of 400 gross tonnage and above must have onboard treatment options to desalinate ballast water, remove invasive aquatic organisms and unhealthy chemical compounds, and make it usable for other economic activities such as irrigation.

This water could be sold to port cities in arid regions.

Another water source that can be physically moved to water-scarce areas is ice. The more than 100,000 Arctic and Antarctic icebergs that melt into the ocean each year contain more freshwater than the world consumes.

A financial feasibility analysis of towing icebergs to Cape Town, South Africa suggests it is an economically attractive option if the icebergs to be towed are big enough: at least 125 million tons. Wrapping icebergs in a net and then a mega-bag would likely prevent breakup and reduce melting, studies suggest.

Increasing water scarcity is a major cause of conflict, social unrest and migration. Water is also being seen as an instrument for international cooperation to achieve sustainable development. It’s vital to tap into every available option.

Manzoor Qadir is Deputy Director of the United Nations Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), United Nations University

Vladimir Smakhtin is Director of the United Nations Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), United Nations University

Courtesy:  The Conversation

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A Human Tragedy in Libya Brought about by Intense Flooding and Political Chaos; Death toll Could Reach 20,000




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By Our Special Correspondent

There were, however, no evacuation plans set in motion. Local authorities have even reportedly told inhabitants, even in vulnerable locations near riverbeds, to stay in their homes.

Emergency workers uncovered more than 1,500 bodies in the wreckage of Libya’s eastern city of Derna on Tuesday, while it was feared the toll could spiral with 10,000 people reported still missing after flooding brought down dams and wiped out entire neighborhoods. The startling death and devastation wreaked by Mediterranean Storm Daniel pointed to its intensity, but also to the vulnerability of a nation torn apart by political chaos for more than a decade.

There were many issues with the way the eastern Libya administration has managed the crisis. The loss of life was also a consequence of the limited nature of Libya’s forecasting ability, warning and evacuation systems, said Kevin Collins, senior lecturer at the Open University. Weaknesses in the planning and design standards for infrastructure and cities were also exposed, he added.

Spokesperson of the interior ministry Lieutenant Tarek al-Kharraz on Wednesday told the AFP news agency that 3,840 deaths had been recorded in the Mediterranean city so far, including 3,190 who have already been buried. Among them were at least 400 foreigners, mostly from Sudan and Egypt.

Meanwhile, Hichem Abu Chkiouat, minister of civil aviation in the administration that runs eastern Libya, told the Reuters news agency more than 5,300 dead had been counted so far, and said the number was likely to increase significantly and might even double. Derna Mayor Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television the estimated number of deaths in the city could reach between 18,000 to 20,000 based on the number of districts destroyed by the flood.


The high toll of victims was partly blamed on the unprecedented intensity of the storm “Daniel”, which formed around September 4, bringing death and destruction to Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey last week. Such Mediterranean storms which bear the features of tropical cyclones and hurricanes, known as “medicanes”, only occur one to three times a year.

Libya’s National Meteorological Centre said Tuesday it issued early warnings for Storm Daniel, an “extreme weather event,” 72 hours before its occurrence, and notified all governmental authorities by e-mails and through media … “urging them to take preventive measures.” It said that Bayda recorded a record 414.1 millimetres of rain from Sunday to Monday. There were, however, no evacuation plans set in motion. Local authorities have even reportedly told inhabitants, even in vulnerable locations near riverbeds, to stay in their homes.

Storm Daniel “is illustrative of the type of devastating flooding event we may expect increasingly in the future” as the world heats up, said Lizzie Kendon, a climate science professor at the University of Bristol. Outside help was only just starting to reach Derna on Tuesday, more than 36 hours after the disaster struck. The floods damaged or destroyed many access roads to the coastal city of some 125,000.

The local al-Masar television said the eastern administration’s interior minister had said more than 5,000 people died. Other eastern cities, including Libya’s second biggest, Benghazi, were also hit by the storm. Tamer Ramadan, head of a delegation of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said, “We can confirm from our independent sources of information that the number of missing people is hitting 10,000 so far,” he told reporters via video link.

As the storm pounded the coast, Derna residents said they heard loud explosions and realised that old and decaying dams outside the city had collapsed. Flash floods were unleashed down Wadi Derna, a river running from the mountains through the city and into the sea.

A man looks at a dead body, after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit Libya, in Derna, Libya, September 12, 2023. REUTERS
A man looks at a dead body, after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit Libya, in Derna, Libya, September 12, 2023. REUTERS

Key question

Many bodies were believed trapped under rubble or had been washed out into the Mediterranean Sea, said eastern Libya’s health minister, Othman Abduljaleel. “We were stunned by the amount of destruction … the tragedy is very significant, and beyond the capacity of Derna and the government,” Abduljaleel told The Associated Press on the phone from Derna.

A key question was how the rains were able to burst through two dams outside Derna, whether because of poor maintenance or sheer volume of rain. Some reports said the old dams were not built in concrete and could not withstand a water overload. “The infrastructure could probably not cope, leading to the collapse of the dam,” said Karsten Haustein, a climate scientist and meteorologist at Leipzig University.

Local authorities have neglected Derna for years. “Even the maintenance aspect was simply absent. Everything kept being delayed,” said Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow specialising in Libya at the London-based Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies. Factionalism also comes into play. Derna was for several years controlled by Islamic extremists. Military commander Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan National Army (LNA) chief, captured the city in 2019 only after months of tough urban fighting. The eastern government has been suspicious of the city ever since and has sought to sideline its residents from any decision-making, said Harchaoui. “This mistrust might prove calamitous during the upcoming post-disaster period,” he said.

The political conditions in Libya “pose challenges for developing risk communication and hazard assessment strategies, coordinating rescue operations, and also potentially for maintenance of critical infrastructure such as dams”, Leslie Mabon, a lecturer in environmental systems at the UK-based Open University, said.

A man sits on a damaged car, after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 12, 2023. REUTERS
A man sits on a damaged car, after a powerful storm and heavy rainfall hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 12, 2023. REUTERS

Bridging the divide

Haftar’s eastern government based in the city of Benghazi is locked in a bitter rivalry with the western government in the capital of Tripoli. Each is backed by powerful militias and by foreign powers. Still, the initial reaction to the disaster brought some crossing of the divide.

The Tripoli-based government of western Libya sent a plane with 14 tonnes of medical supplies and health workers to Benghazi. It also said it had allocated the equivalent of $412 million for reconstruction in Derna and other eastern towns. Air planes arrived Tuesday in Benghazi carrying humanitarian aid and rescue teams from Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. Egypt’s military chief-of-staff met with Haftar to coordinate aid. Germany and France said they also were preparing to send rescue personnel and aid.

President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday that the United States is sending emergency funds to relief organisations and coordinating with the Libyan authorities and the UN to provide additional support. Some Libya experts have criticised slow US and UN reactions and the the authorities’

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Morocco’s Earthquake Wasn’t Unexpected – Building Codes Must Plan for Them




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More than 2,000 people died when a powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Morocco on 8 September. The epicentre was in the High Atlas Mountains, 71km (44 miles) south-west of Marrakesh. Moina Spooner, from The Conversation Africa, asked José A. Peláez, a professor in geophysics who has carried out research on seismic activity in Morocco, about what led to this situation.

What geological factors contributed to this earthquake?

The Earth’s surface is constituted of several tectonic plates, large segments of the planet’s outer layer, which move against each other. This movement is responsible for various geological phenomena, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and the formation of mountains and ocean basins.

The tectonic activity in Morocco primarily involves the convergence of the Eurasian and the Nubian (African) plates. The Eurasian Plate pushing against the Nubian Plate is what led to the formation of the Atlas Mountains, which run through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The mountains are where the epicentre of this recent earthquake was.


Currently, the collisions between the plates are causing a shortening of the Atlas Mountains, explaining the area’s seismicity. We know this because of data from GPS measurements, which show that they are moving about 1 millimetre closer to each other every year.  This shortening and compression is causing what are known as faults, huge friction between plates. These faults are the likely cause of this earthquake. Scientists think that these faults have been active for a long time, going back a few million years.

In addition, as pointed out by various researchers, the High Atlas Mountains have a unique geological feature where the Earth’s outermost and hard layer, called the lithosphere, is thinner than usual, combined with an unusual rise of the mantle. All these features could have influenced the occurrence of this high magnitude earthquake.

What is Morocco’s history of earthquakes?

Seismic activity and its phenomena, like earthquakes, are not unusual in Morocco. Over the last thousand years, earthquakes affecting Morocco have tended to take place mainly in two areas. Offshore, along the Azores-Gibraltar transform fault and the Alboran Sea, and another one onshore, along the Rif mountains in northern Morocco and the Tell Atlas mountain range in north-western Algeria. Earthquakes along the Atlas Belt are smaller in number, but not unusual.

Atlas Mountains. Wikipedia

The most significant, recent earthquakes affecting Morocco were in 1994, 2004 and 2016, with magnitudes ranging between 6.0 and 6.3. These occurred in the most seismically active region in Morocco and also in the western Mediterranean region. A bit further back in history, there was the devastating Agadir earthquake in February 1960, with a magnitude of 6.3. It was located around the boundary between the western High Atlas and the Anti Atlas, to the south. Available data indicates that between 12,000 and 15,000 people died due to this event. In addition, near the location of the recent event, there was another earthquake in 1955, with an estimated magnitude of about 5.8. Even further back, prior to the establishment of seismometers, several significant events were recorded in Morocco. Among them were the 1624 Fès earthquake, with an estimated magnitude of 6.7, and the 1731 Agadir earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.4.

Could it have been predicted?

Earthquakes cannot be predicted, even with the current knowledge in seismology. In fact, many researchers think that it will not be possible to do so in the future either. What seismologists can do is establish the areas in which earthquakes are most likely to occur, even establish the probability of their occurrence and its uncertainty.

This is that we call a long-term prediction, carried out from specific seismic hazard studies in the region. They are based on knowledge of past seismicity in the area, both historical and instrumental, and on the existence and knowledge of active tectonic structures (faults) that could generate earthquakes. The greater the knowledge that one has on these two topics – seismicity and active faults in the region – the more knowledge one will have about the future seismicity that may occur in the area, and the less the uncertainty will be. Seismic hazard studies also include the study of near-surface soil conditions and the characteristics of buildings. This helps to assess the possible damage from these potential earthquakes.

What can be done to lessen the impact of future earthquakes in Morocco?

The best tool we have to mitigate the impact of earthquakes is to conduct reliable seismic hazard studies. The results of these must then be implemented into national building codes. This way engineers can incorporate seismic safety into building designs.

Building codes need to take into account several factors, including the characteristics of the soil, the way seismic waves move and how the soil can amplify its movement during an earthquake. Also the expected shaking of the ground, which influences the behaviour and damage of buildings. These factors vary from one city to another, and in some cases from one district to another.

Seismologists know that earthquakes do not kill people – buildings do. Buildings with lack of regulation and lack of structural support are potential killers in high seismic hazard areas. Building codes must therefore be mandatory, and should be updated periodically. As more is learned about earthquake geology and the impact of earthquakes on buildings, building codes should be updated regularly. This is the best way to protect ourselves against these catastrophic phenomena. Territorial planners and rulers must know this and take it into account.

Article originally published in the Conversation

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Morocco Earthquake: Desperation and Grief as Death Roll Grows




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Almost 2,500 people were killed in Friday’s 6.8 magnitude earthquake, with its epicenter high in the Atlas Mountains.

  • Quake damages historic buildings in Marrakech old city
  • WHO says more than 300,000 people affected in quake zone

The death toll from last Friday’s earthquake has climbed to 2,497, with 2,476 people injured, Morocco’s state news agency reported on Monday. With much of the quake zone in hard-to-reach areas, the full impact has yet to emerge. The authorities have not issued any estimates for the number of people still missing.

Emergency crews work in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Amizmiz, Morocco, on September 10, 2023

Survivors of Morocco’s deadliest earthquake in more than six decades struggled to find food, water and shelter on Sunday as the search for the missing continued in remote villages and the death toll of more than 2,100 seemed likely to rise further.

Many people were spending a third night in the open after the 6.8 magnitude quake hit late on Friday. Relief workers face the challenge of reaching the worst-affected villages in the High Atlas, a rugged mountain range where settlements are often remote and where many houses crumbled.

The damage done to Morocco’s cultural heritage became more evident as local media reported the collapse of a historically important 12th century mosque. The quake also damaged parts of Marrakech old city, a Unesco World Heritage site.  In Moulay Brahim, a village 40 kms south of Marrakech, residents described how they dug the dead from the rubble using their bare hands. On a hillside overlooking the village, residents buried a 45-year-old woman who had died along with her 18-year-old son, a woman sobbing loudly as the body was lowered into the grave.

As he retrieved possessions from his damaged home, Hussein Adnaie said he believed people were still buried in the rubble nearby. “They didn’t get the rescue they needed so they died. I rescued my children and I’m trying to get covers for them and anything to wear from the house,” Adnaie said.

Yassin Noumghar, 36, complained of shortages of water, food and power, saying he had received little government aid so far. “We lost everything, we lost the entire house,” Noumghar said. “We want just for our government to help us.” Later, sacks of food were unloaded from a truck, which local official Mouhamad al-Hayyan said had been organised by the government and civil society organisations.

Twenty-five bodies had been brought to the village’s small clinic, according to staff. With many homes built of mud bricks and timber or cement and breeze blocks, structures crumbled easily. It was Morocco’s deadliest earthquake since 1960 when a quake was estimated to have killed at least 12,000 people.

In the badly hit village of Amizmiz, residents watched as rescuers used a mechanical digger on a collapsed house. “They are looking for a man and his son. One of them might still be alive,” said Hassan Halouch, a retired builder.

The army, mobilised to help the rescue effort, set up a camp with tents for the homeless. With most shops damaged or closed, residents struggled to get food and supplies.  “We’re still waiting for tents. We haven’t had anything yet,” said Mohammed Nejjar, a labourer who was folding his blanket in a makeshift shelter constructed with bits of wood. “I had a little food offered by one man but that’s all since the earthquake. You can’t see a single shop open here and people are frightened to go inside in case the roof falls down.”

The quake’s epicentre was 72 km (45 miles) southwest of Marrakech, a city beloved by Moroccans and foreign tourists for its medieval mosques, palaces and seminaries richly adorned with vivid mosaic tiling amid a labyrinth of rose-hued alleyways. The government said on Sunday it has set up a fund for those affected by the earthquake. The government has also said it is reinforcing search-and-rescue teams, providing drinking water and distributing food, tents and blankets. The World Health Organization said more than 300,000 people have been affected by the disaster.

Foreign Aid

Spain said 56 officers and four sniffer dogs have arrived in Morocco, while a second team of 30 people and four dogs was heading there. Britain said it was deploying 60 search-and-rescue specialists and four dogs on Sunday, as well as a four-person medical assessment team. Qatar also said its search-and-rescue team departed for Morocco.

US President Joe Biden expressed his “sadness about the loss of life and devastation” caused by the quake. “We stand ready to provide any necessary assistance to the Moroccan people,” Biden told a news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. A US official said a small team of disaster experts dispatched by the United States arrived in Morocco on Sunday to assess the situation. France said it stood ready to help and was awaiting a formal request from Morocco.

Other countries offering assistance included Turkey, where earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people. By Sunday, the Turkish team had not yet departed. “The next two to three days will be critical for finding people trapped under the rubble,” Caroline Holt, global director of operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told Reuters.

Holt said the international aid system has been waiting for an invitation from Morocco to assist, adding this was not necessarily unusual as the government assesses needs. Pope Francis offered prayers and solidarity for the victims.

Morocco has declared three days of mourning and King Mohammed VI called for prayers for the dead to be held at mosques across the country.

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