Henry Vaux, Jr.
University of California, Berkeley
Intensifying water scarcity is now a global phenomenon. The water resources of many regions of the world are insufficient to meet the demands for food and fiber, municipal and industrial uses and environmental uses. Even countries that are relatively richly endowed with water may have to address regional or temporary water scarcity. Virtually no region or area of the world has water resources that are sufficient to meet demands in all times and regions. The arid and semi-arid regions of the world are experiencing the most intense water scarcity. Elsewhere it has been shown that science and the development of technology, including soft technologies, will be crucial in enabling countries and regions are or will be short of water to manage increasingly severe scarcity (Vaux and Jury, 2004).
North Africa and the Middle East are among the most water scarce regions and that scarcity will continue to intensify as populations grow and economies develop. Tunisia exemplifies the general scarcity problem faced by most countries in these regions. The indigenous water supplies of Tunisia amount to about 435 m3 per person per year, roughly 25% of what is thought to be necessary to fully serve the water demands of each member of the population. This figure is typical of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa and will likely decline if the populations of these countries continue to grow. One of the major challenges of the future for these countries will be to manage intensifying water scarcity in ways that optimize the productivity of water and preserve and maintain environmental amenities to the greatest extent feasible.
Agriculture is the largest consumptive user of water throughout the world including in North Africa and the Middle East. The productivity of irrigated agriculture is significantly higher than the productivity of rainfed agriculture, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. The consequence is that agricultural uses of water are very important in generating the food and fiber needed to serve the populations of the region. Nevertheless, the growth in competing demands means that efforts will have to be made to manage agricultural water in the most efficient ways possible. This volume contains the papers presented at a workshop held in Carthage, Tunisia in June, 2005 which was intended to address the use of science and scientific expertise in managing water resources of the region. The workshop was sponsored by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Tunisian Ministry of Research, Science, Technology and Competency Development and the Tunisian National Institute of Scientific and Technology Research.
The overarching objective of the workshop was to focus on the question of how Tunisia and other countries in North Africa and the Middle East marshal their considerable scientific resources to address the problem of insufficient agricultural productivity due to water scarcity. Workshop participants focused on two related issues. First, how can Tunisia (and other countries) utilize their existing water supplies, including recycled wastewater, to optimize production of food and fiber? Second, how can Tunisia, other countries, develop the capacity for producing high valued crops for export in their warmer southern regions despite the lack of water
in those regions? The answers to these questions depend on scientific advances in agronomy, water science and economics.
In considering the means of strengthening science based decision making the agenda was divided in to segments. One segment included general presentations on Science and Decision-Making, including the unique role of the Islamic World Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Science and Technology of Senegal. Another segment included presentations on science and water management and yet another examined specific water management issues in Tunisia. There was an extensive discussion of innovations in agricultural water management. One innovation which has significant potential for the region is the use of regulated deficit irrigation regimes on permanent crops which allow growers to produce high quality yields with very limited water supplies. In all of these presentations and in the related discussions participants recognized that there is much existing science waiting to be applied and utilized in the management of agricultural water. In addition, significant new scientific innovations are likely to be available to help growers everywhere utilize water in a highly productive and highly efficient fashion.
Many participants also recognized that the generation and availability of science alone is not sufficient for good agricultural water management. The science must be transferred to policy makers, water managers and water users. The workshop considered the questions of what constitutes good scientific advice from both the perspective of the scientist and the policy maker. Agricultural water users and managers provided perspectives on what constitutes good scientific advice. Water users also reported on how they had used science in their own endeavors. Finally, there were a number of presentations and discussions on how to link science with action. The structure of the program, the presentations, and the resulting discussions illustrated that while good science and the development of good science will be crucially important in resolving the water problems of Tunisia and its neighbors, communications of that science to a broad array of users, including policy makers, managers and growers will be at least as important.
The workshop was enriched by participants from many of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. All participants engaged in the workshop discussions, bringing examples from their own situations to bear on the deliberations. It is the hope of the workshop sponsors and organizers that the presentations and deliberations of this workshop on strengthening science based decision making in agricultural water management will help in fashioning solutions to the significant water problems of North Africa and the Middle East.