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Water Protests in Algeria Are Giving Cause for Concern about its Long-Term Stability

Via Future Directions International, a report on Algeria’s water stress:

As Algerians continue to protest about the country’s government, following Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation, demonstrations have also broken out in eastern Algeria, where protesters have demanded better access to drinking water. The protests occurred in Hammamet, near the town of Tebessa, where tensions have continued to rise since the government allowed a mineral water factory to exploit local spring water. According to locals, a lack of access to water has been a problem in the area for some time, but the situation has grown worse since the factory began operating.

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Algeria, the largest country in Africa, is not endowed with many sources of usable water. Consequently, nearly 40 per cent of Algeria’s population is water-stressed. The country is 95 per cent arid and 80 per cent desert and the minimal rainfall it receives is seasonal. Much of its water is sourced from a few reservoirs, long-distance transfers and, increasingly, desalination. Over-exploitation of water resources is also a significant risk, especially in the southern and central parts of the country, where groundwater is the most reliable source of water. Algerian groundwater withdrawals are approximately double the recharge rate, with 3 billion m³withdrawn every year and 1.5 billion m³ renewed. As a result, Algeria’s aquifers have become increasingly contaminated and saline.

Algeria’s water scarcity problems are not limited to the sparsely-populated southern and central parts of the country. Three-quarters of Algerians live in cities, which is mainly due to large numbers of people moving from rural to urban areas. This has produced acute pressure on municipal water supplies and water shortages in cities have been common since the 1990s. Residents of Algiers, for instance, only have access to potable water 30 per cent of the time. Although the Algerian government has made some steps towards mitigating this problem, the initiatives it has undertaken will be undermined by the rate of population growth in the cities: by 2025, the population of Algiers is expected to swellto over four million. In addition to high demand for water, the water infrastructure in Algerian cities has contributed to inefficient water management: up to 30 per cent of water is lost in transit, due to leaks, ruptures and theft, while there are few government incentives to invest in water saving equipment.

Although it is clear that Algeria needs to invest in better water infrastructure and water-saving initiatives, it is unclear how it will be able to do so. The oil price shock in 2014 caused significant difficulties for Algeria’s oil-based economy and the high spending of the preceding decade has become increasingly unsustainable. This has meant that despite earmarking US$18 billion ($25.5 billion) for water projects in its 2015-19 investment plan, the Algerian government instead imposed austerity measures, cutting state spending by 9 per cent. In the meantime, the country has explored new means of increasing its oil production, particularly through the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This not only indicates that Algeria has no plans to reform the oil economy, but fracking is also incredibly water-intensive and risks putting more pressure on already-fragile water supplies.

With Bouteflika’s resignation and continuing protests against the ruling elite, Algeria finds itself at a dangerous crossroads. Whatever the eventual outcome of the current crisis, the demonstrations in Hammamet are a reminder that failure to safeguard water supplies is a powerful destabilising influence. Protests over water in similarly arid countries, such as Iraq and Iran, ought to have been object lessons for Algeria.



This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 1st, 2019 at 11:05 am and is filed under Algeria.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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