The Mashhad city is the second largest city in Iran. The economic growth in the Mashhad city is strongly threatened by water shortages and unregulated groundwater extraction. The situation is critical, and the government is considering drastic infrastructural measures such as desalination and water supply from the Sea of Oman (Ministerie van Landbouw, 2018). Hence, finding cost-effective alternatives to reduce groundwater consumption in the Mashhad basin (Figure 1) is of regional interest.

The SMART-WADI project (SMART Water Decisions for Iran), carried out by a consortium of FutureWater, IHE-Delft, and local partner EWERI, focuses on farmers who irrigate their crops with groundwater. The aim is to provide up-to-date information and advice on water productivity, irrigation and farm management. The project combines the latest satellite technology for the quantification of water consumption and productivity, with high resolution flying sensor (drone) images to monitor the crop growth.

Figure 1. Mashhad basin in Iran.

Using this information in a crop model can determine the potential for improving agricultural practices and reduce groundwater consumption. This way, a higher crop yield (food production) and higher water productivity can be obtained (Figure 2). Eventually farmers receive this information in combination with recommendations regarding irrigation planning via an online portal or mobile app.

SMART-WADI is now in the phase of a feasibility project, in which the market context and technical aspects are tested. This is supported by the Partners for Water Program of RVO.nl, with co-funding from the executive project partners. Based on the first signals and the experiences of FutureWater and IHE-Delft in similar projects, it is estimated that this information service has great potential to be scaled up to other areas in Iran.

FutureWater is developing and testing a framework to predict crop yield and water productivity based on crop growth monitoring using flying sensors and remote sensing. Thanks to this innovation, farmers can timely plan field management practices (e.g. irrigation application) enhancing water productivity and reducing groundwater consumption.

Figure 2. Conceptual framework of SMART-WADI.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is considered the most water-scarce region of the world. Disputes over water lead to tension within communities, and unreliable water services are prompting people to migrate in search of better opportunities. Water investments absorb large amounts of public funds, which could often be used more efficiently elsewhere. As the region’s population continues to grow, per capita water availability is set to fall by 50 percent by 2050, and, if climate change affects weather and precipitation patterns as predicted, the MENA region may see more frequent and severe droughts and floods

Map of yearly average precipitation in the MENA region (mm).

The need for alternative and improved water management options is therefore urgently needed, but a clear overview on what the main focus should be is lacking. A broad range of options exists which can be grouped by different approaches such as reducing the demand, increasing the supply, transfer between different sectors, transfer within different sectors, increase storage etc. An important aspect for the MENA region includes desalination.

Map of aridity in the MENA region.

To explore different options the World Bank initiated an initiative to generate an improved understanding of water issues in the region and overview of available options under different scenarios of water supply and demand management with special focus on desalination, taking into account the energy nexus and environmental concerns. As part of this initiative, FutureWater will carry out an assessment of water stress in the MENA region, including associated marginal cost of water supply to meet the water supply need. Conducting consultation workshops and meetings will be organized with relevant parties in the region (governmental, universities, civil society groups).