In Algeria, “water is like oil, it must be used wisely” – Jeune Afrique
A few millimeters of rain here or there. After a long and turbulent summer, the following dry autumn and mild winter do not bode well. For four years, Algeria has been facing one of the worst episodes of drought in its recent history. In addition to the effects of prolonged absence of rain and snow on vegetation and agriculture, there is also the lowering of groundwater levels and dams. The Koudiat Asserdoun Dam on the Isser River in Algeria, one of the country’s largest, is only 3% of its capacity. In other words, it is completely dry.
For Malek Abdesselam, PhD in hydrogeology and director of the Water Laboratory at Tizi Ouzou University, this situation is not exceptional and is an integral part of Algeria’s rainfall regime. The problem stems from the rarity and irregularity of the latter rather than the management of the water brought by the rains. “On average, 400-450 mm of precipitation can fall on the central-eastern coasts of our country in January-June. These are important contributions, but we take little advantage of them. This water is going out to sea very quickly because we are not doing enough for catch, save and transfer to clauses,” he analysed.
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As for the drought-fighting measures announced at the last Council of Ministers, this expert thinks they are nothing new. “They were already recommended by the President of the Republic in July 2021. There is talk of a ‘revival’ of the desalination program, which means very little has been done so far.” For the hydrogeologist, the desalination option that should be strongly promoted will require years of work and large budgets. “No factory will be ready for at least two years. There are two, almost there, in eastern Algeria, but they are of rather low capacity. For everything else, we are in the specifications, land selection or first land works,” he said.
The hydrogeologist notes another anachronism, that it is the joint enterprise created by the companies “Sonatrach” and “Sonelgaz” that is responsible for the damage to the Ministry of Water for the construction and management of these plants. “It should be said that this choice was made during the time of former energy minister Chakib Khalil [aujourd’hui en fuite aux États-Unis, NDLR] controlling this market and attributions,” he recalls, noting that people working in the sector were trained when there was a lot of water in the dams and a lot of money in the banks. This is no longer the case. And for good reason, four former ministers in charge of water management are currently in prison. “When you know that the water sector spent about 60 billion dollars in recent years, it says a lot,” the expert continues.
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There is also wastewater reuse as part of the government’s recommended measures, but again, this is an option that has been recommended for years without much change on the ground, while potential volumes are close to one billion cubic meters per year. . “Existing treatment plants are designed for biological treatment of city water and that’s it. It is advisable to add to them everything that has filtration and chemical treatment. “There is a need for additional and more appropriate treatment, including disinfection, for the reuse of this water, especially for agriculture and industry,” he analyzes.
Finally, for Dr. Malek Abdesselam, the situation is complex and requires a multifactorial approach: seawater desalination, water restoration of rainfall for recharge and restoration of groundwater and dams, reuse of treated wastewater, water conservation, monitoring of water resource use by sector police, use of water-saving irrigation techniques and above all not allowing all rainwater to flow into the sea. [des centaines de millions de mètres cubes de novembre 2021 à mai 2022, NDLR]. Why send water to the sea and then return it with millions of dollars? he wonders.
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“A desalination plant requires money, equipment, training, time and a lot of resources. On the other hand, if 20, 30, or even 100 millimeters of water falls tomorrow at the rate of 20, 30, or 100 liters per square meter, these are very large amounts that can be recovered in basins, slopes, and valleys. and storage and re-injection into aquifers and dams. There are four to five months of possible rain left in this season, which we should not miss. There is urgency,” he stressed.
For a hydrogeologist, water is like oil. When prices go up, a lot of money comes in, and you need to know how to use it wisely. “The same goes for water. We are still a hot country with a lot of rain. It is necessary to recover maximum water while paying attention to ecological balances. For example, in the North, especially in Mitija, we have dangerously depleted underground resources,” he said, recommending accurate assessment of the needs of the population, agriculture and industry, and diagnosing the efficiency of hydraulic networks. water
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Finally, chronic water stress and the water crisis of recent years have already prompted Algerians to change their consumption habits with the widespread use of cisterns and water tarpaulins in apartments and buildings. People naturally become more economical and careful in their daily management of the precious liquid. “There is also water trading and there is a custom to deliver water by cistern, today many people buy the water they consume. This has reduced pressure on governments and agencies responsible for governance water”, he concludes.