Morocco seeks private investors for US$ 27 billion water plan

Morocco’s water minster, Charafat Afilal, has unveiled plans to let private capital take the lead in developing desalination and irrigation projects as part of a US$ 27 billion programme to ease the burden on the country’s water resources.

The National Water Plan provides for an additional five billion m³ in water resources by 2030, the minster told journalists recently. “The plan aims to address an expected rise in the national water deficit from three billion to five billion m³ in 2030,” she said. The investment will maintain Morocco’s annual average for water availability at its current 700 m³ per capita as the population increases.

The plan, will cost almost twice the total public investment budgeted for 2014, and will rely mostly for financing on long-term concessions open to private operators. “The government will raise the amount of its annual contribution to the water sector but operators will be shouldering a greater proportion of the costs incurred under this plan, whether it’s the investment or the running cost of the facilities they develop,” Afilal said.

“Morocco has always had a water deficit, which explains how aquifers have been subject to abuse over the last few years,” said Afilal. She said wasteful traditional irrigation practices have persisted in the country’s agricultural industry. Half of the five billion m³ Morocco hopes to gain from the plan will be through economies in consumption mostly by modernizing agricultural irrigation systems.

“The water plan was elaborated in close cooperation with the agriculture department, which accounts for 80-90% of total water usage in Morocco. They agree on the need to shift to less thirsty crops but there is also a need to revamp the predominantly wasteful irrigation systems,” Afilal said.

The other rest of the gains will come from a half-dozen new desalination plants in build-operate-transfer partnerships between private operators and the state utility Office National de l’Eau et l’Electricite (ONEE).

ONEE, which has long dominated the production of drinking water, signed a partnership in June for the first of the desalination plants with a consortium that included Spain’s Abengoa and InfraMaroc, an affiliate of Morocco’s biggest pension fund, Rabat- based Caisse de Depot et de Gestion.

The agreement allows the group for 20 years to sell to ONEE the water it produces from a 100,000 m³/d desalination unit currently under construction near Agadir.