Water Security in Morocco: Crises, strategies, and opportunities for Spain

Samara López Ruiz

6 mins - 15 de Marzo de 2024, 07:00

Water security has emerged as a critical challenge in the 21st century, affecting countries worldwide, and Morocco is no exception. But what is water security?

The concept of water security
Water security is a concept that goes beyond the mere availability of water and focuses on the ability of a region or country to ensure sufficient, safe and affordable access to essential water resources.

The current definition of water security has evolved from an approach focused exclusively on military risks and conflicts to a broader perspective for understanding global water-related challenges. This holistic approach recognizes the interconnectedness of water-related problems and goes beyond simply considering the availability of the resource. Water security addresses human vulnerability to hazards such as droughts and floods and the need to ensure the long-term sustainability of water resources. In addressing these aspects, the aim is not only to provide access to water but also to mitigate risks, build resilience and effectively meet human needs related to this critical resource.

The water crisis in Morocco
Morocco, like Spain, is facing a sharp decline in rainfall, accompanied by a significant reduction in water levels in its reservoirs. The drought plaguing Morocco ranks as one of the most severe in its history, extending uninterruptedly for more than six years. The Minister of Infrastructure and Water, Nizar Baraka, has acknowledged that rainfall has fallen 67% below the annual average, and water inflows to reservoirs have decreased by 66%. In addition, rising temperatures have intensified the evaporation of stored water, further reducing available water resources and posing a significant threat to the country's water security.

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The water crisis highlights the water-food nexus, as it is affecting the country's food security. Adverse weather conditions and persistent water shortages have hit Morocco's agricultural sector hard, which is vital to its economy. In Q4 2023, the slowdown reached 5.2% y-o-y, in contrast to 6.9% y-o-y in Q1. According to an HCP report, this decline in the value added of Moroccan agriculture is mainly attributed to the lack of water, exacerbated by higher-than-average seasonal temperatures that negatively impacted crops, resulting in a reduction in the volume of agricultural products exported. However, this phenomenon is not new; in the 2022-2023 season, cereal production was 15% lower than the average of the last five years. Moreover, it is expected to worsen since, if in 2020, Morocco was ranked 27th in the world in terms of water stress, it is expected to climb to 19th in 2040.

Morocco's strategy
Far from sitting idly by, the Alawite country has adopted a proactive response based on integrated water management. In this respect, the Moroccan Government stresses the vital importance of international organizations such as the World Bank and the European Union in providing financial and technical assistance to strengthen the country's water security. These partnerships are materialized through the approval of multi-million dollar financing programs that support the implementation of its National Water Plan 2020-2050, which is articulated around three main objectives: compensating for the water deficit, interconnecting water basins and exploring new possibilities for water management.

The actions undertaken cover a wide range of strategies, from cloud seeding to the construction of what are known as "water highways". However, the priority seems to be desalination. The Government has initiated numerous plans to build desalination plants, aiming that, by 2030, 50% of the drinking water supply will come from desalination processes, mainly for agricultural and urban uses.

The financing of these projects involves collaboration between the Moroccan public and private sectors. An approach from which Spain can benefit.

Spain as a partner in drought mitigation in Morocco
Both governments have demonstrated a collaborative attitude, providing both symbolic and material signs of their joint commitment in the fight against drought. This is reflected in the strategic collaboration to strengthen resilience to the challenges of climate change, as reflected in the Joint Declaration issued during the XII High Level Meeting in February 2023. This water crisis is generating important opportunities for Spanish companies, in a context where economic relations between the two countries have traditionally been intense.

The experience of Spanish companies in Morocco, developing leading projects in the water sector, enriches this narrative. For more than a decade, Abengoa (now Coxabengoa) has been at the forefront in the development of world-class projects in the Maghreb country, contributing significantly to Morocco's water security and sustainable development. Emblematic examples include the implementation of innovative technologies in desalination and efficient water management. Abengoa's continued presence in Morocco exemplifies Spain's commitment to strengthening the country's water security and taking advantage of commercial opportunities in the water market.

There is ample evidence of the Spanish government's intention to promote the presence of Spanish companies in this market. For example, in 2023, the Council of Ministers approved a €5 million reimbursable credit for the installation of water treatment plants in Morocco. This commitment was reinforced with the extension of up to 800 million euros in credit lines for Spanish companies investing in the Maghreb country, focusing on areas such as renewable energies, water and desalination, infrastructure and logistics, industry and innovation. Spanish companies are pioneers and world leaders in the export of technology and know-how in desalination and water reuse. In fact, five of them are among the 20 companies in the world with the largest installed desalination capacity, including one in first place. This commitment has made it possible to carry out ambitious projects such as the Casablanca desalination plant, developed by another Spanish company, with an investment of 800 million euros and a daily capacity of 548,000 m3.

Therefore, if we analyze water security in Morocco from a SWOT perspective, weaknesses can be seen as opportunities for Spanish companies, while drought and climate change mitigation emerge as areas of collaboration between the governments of Spain and Morocco. The Spanish Government and companies should be alert not only to strengthen commercial relations in a country whose water sector is currently expanding but also because the experience acquired may prove to be decisive in preventing and planning for climate situations sooner rather than later.
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