Morocco – Facing scarcity

Climate change has become one of the biggest, most complex challenges facing humankind in the 21st century, and water is at the heart of its impacts. This is particularly serious in arid regions like North Africa, where water resources are already being adversely affected by climate variability. In Morocco, due to a combination of population growth, economic development and a strong decline in precipitation, water resources are under more pressure.

Water availability in Morocco has dropped from 3,500 m3 per person per year in 1960 to 1,000 m3 in 2000, and forecasts are predicting it will further fall to 490 m3 in 2020, below the United Nations' “absolute water scarcity” level.

In this context of scarcity, the gap between offer and demand will increase in the next years. Currently, the water demand in Morocco, estimated at 13,7 Bm3, is met from surface water mobilized (11,7 Bm3) and an overexploitation of groundwater (2 Bm3). In 2030, water demand is predicted to increase to 16,2 Bm3, and therefore, if no measures are taken, the gap would be 4,5 Bm3.

Aware of this pressing issue, Morocco has implemented a national strategy based on the development of the water sector around six main components. One of them is the management and development of water offer, which consists precisely in increasing the water offer and closing the gap. Up next, we are going to review the projects that are being implemented to increase the water offer and the organisations involved in them.


A. What projects are being implemented?

The water supply projects planned in Morocco are large-scale, multi-million dollar infrastructures, and are expected to not only ensure a sustainable availability of water in the future, but also develop the industrial, agricultural and tourism activities of the regions. These infrastructures are primarily dams, desalination plants and wastewater reuse plants.

A.1. Dams

Morocco is maintaining its “politique des barrages”, a policy of water resources development focused on the construction of dams. This policy increased the number of large dams from 16 in 1960 to 128 by 2009, reaching a total reservoir capacity of 11,7 Bm3.
Now, Morocco is planning to build 3 new large dams each year by 2030, in order to mobilize additional 1,700 Mm3 surface water per year. 15 dams are currently under construction, one of them the Oued Martil Dam (120 Mm3 capacity).

A.2. Desalination plants

Since the dam building strategy alone cannot meet the future demand, Morocco is turning to the sea for alternatives. Desalination is a well-established technology, but expensive and energy-intensive, hence it used to be considered a last resort for Morocco, an option for remote locations. It was not until 1995 that Morocco started to build large-scale desalination plants and increased the number from none to 13 by 2015, reaching a total production capacity of 100,000 m3 per day.

Now, in the midst of a large desalination programme, Morocco is planning to build more desalination plants, aiming at expanding the production capacity to 400 Mm3 per year. More than 10 desalination plants are currently under construction, one of them the Agadir Desalination Plant (100,000 m3 per day production capacity).


A.3. Wastewater reuse plants

In addition, Morocco is opting for treated wastewater as a source of water supply. Due to the lack of wastewater treatment plants and their inefficiency, Morocco used to discharge most of its wastewater produced into the sea or reuse it for irrigation as raw or inadequately treated, leading to adverse health impacts. In 2005, the “Liquid Sanitation and National Wastewater Treatment Programme” was launched, with the objective of increasing the number of wastewater collected and treated.

Now, Morocco is planning to build more wastewater treatment plants, aiming at expanding the reuse capacity to 300 Mm3 per year. Currently, five large-scale treatment plants are being improved to reuse wastewater for golf irrigation and landscaping, one of them the Marrakech’s Station Nord Wastewater Treatment Plant.

B. What organisations are involved?

The projects implemented to increase the water supply offer in Morocco involve a wide range of organisations, from government bodies to international institutions and private companies.


B.1. Public authorities

The public authority most directly responsible for the water projects in Morocco is the State Secretariat in Charge of Water and the Environment (Secrétariat d’Etat chargé de l’Eau et de l’Environment, SEE). It operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment, and its tasks include not only deciding on the water strategy, but also assessing and monitoring water resources and capacity building of regional delegations.

Under the SEE, there is the National Drinking Water Office (Office National de l’Eau Potable, ONEP), Morocco’s bulk water producer and main public water utility. Its missions include programming and implementing projects for the supply of drinking water, ensuring the completion of these projects, monitoring the quality of water produced and assisting local municipalities in the water distribution.

B.2. International development institutions

Development institutions play a key role in the water projects in Morocco, since they provide investment finance and technical assistance. All the large-scale infrastructures are fully or partially financed by external partners such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the European Union and governmental aid agencies such as United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

B.3. Private companies

The private sector is getting more involved in the water projects. As a result of its move towards public-private partnership, Moroccan government agencies have begun to rely more on private companies, not only for the design and construction of the infrastructures, but also for their operation and management. Several international firms (e.g. Abengoa, Veolia and Waterleau) have been contracted to build and operate water infrastructures. Recently, the Abengoa-led consortium started the construction works for the desalination plant in Agadir.

B.4. Universities

Universities have a small role in the water projects in Morocco. Universities, such as Mohammed V University of Rabat, carry out water-related research through public grants or train future water managers. However, their role is limited and do not collaborate intensively with other water organisations.
By Fatine Ezbakhe

Civil Engineer specialized in Water

Published on 2015-04-28 15:10:53

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