Photograph — INWRDAM

By 2025, when fourteen percent of the world will depend on desalinated water, Morocco will be in pole position to provide around 75 million cubic meters of it. This is because the country is currently constructing Africa’s largest seawater desalination station, billed for operational commencement by 2021. The project is sited in the southern city of Agadir, Morocco’s tenth largest city by population, home to over 450,000 people.

In 2017, Morocco’s minister of Economy and Finance Mohamed Boussaid, and Minister of Agriculture, Aziz Akhannouch, had signed the conventions initiating the construction. The county had then entrusted the project to Abengoa, a global biotech company who are also “specialists in the design and construction of desalination and water treatment plants.”

The plant is expected to initiate at 275.000 cubic meters of desalinated water daily, with a capped peak output of 450.000 cubic meters per day at full functionality. In phase one, the objective is to supply the Souss-Massa region’s 2.3 million population with drinking water. In phase two, the station will irrigate a considerable farming area, reportedly 15,000 hectares in the Chtouka Ait Baha area.

Agriculture is a mainstay of Souss-Massa, with its capital city Agadir renowned for its sardine and tourist port, which is why the government chose that location. It is also why the fish farmers and other processors of agricultural products are excited to contribute. Although the project is costing financiers some MAD 4 billion, the farmers have added their MAD 10.000 to the funds, in exchange for a discounted government offer on future desalinated water sales.

The enormity and significance of the project is probably not lost on the primary beneficiaries who live in or around Chtouka Ait Baha. This is because farmers in the area have been experimenting with revolutionary water sources for centuries. Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) designated the agro-pastoral system of Ait Souab-Ait Mansour a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) site. This was in recognition of the locals’ innovative system called “metfia,” a rainwater reservoir dug into a rock. In a few words, before now, local farmers were literally digging water out of rocks.

However, this desalination station is not all good news for Morocco’s fishing industry, the most prolific in Africa. The process can be toxic, depending on the mechanism deployed in discarding the waste. As a result of this, and the possible increase in marine pollution, fishes are more likely to avoid the depths of water where they feel most threatened, resulting in waning harvests. Nikolay Voutchkov, director of the International Desalination Association, insists desalination is the future, calling it a “reliable, drought-proof alternative.”

As of 2015, there were 18,000 desalination plants worldwide, forty-four percent of them in the Middle East and North Africa. The current largest seawater desalination plant in the world is Tel Aviv’s Sorek station, which became operational in 2013 and produces 624, 000 cubic meters of water daily, supplying twenty percent of Israel’s national water consumption.

By Caleb Ajinomoh

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