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More water for mining

There's a tough balancing act between phosphate mining and management of water resources, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. New guidelines may help relieve the situation.
More water for mining
Mining for phosphates helps the economy of many Mediterranean countries in North Africa and the Middle East; but it also requires a large amount of water, which is a scarce resource in these areas. Phosphate mining can also degrade the quality of water and exacerbate the problem.

In response, the EU-funded project 'Integrated water management of Mediterranean phosphate mining and local agricultural systems' (Elmaa) sought to reduce pressure on water resources and encourage more sustainable phosphate mining.

Elmaa, which means water in Arabic, provided the industry and water-resource managers with new methods to manage water near mines. It encouraged the use of municipal wastewater instead for mining and agriculture.

To achieve this, the project recommended the use of decision support systems (DDS), based on know-how acquired in previous European projects, to manage water resources in this context. This involved process engineering, agronomy, socioeconomics, hydrogeology, modelling and information technology, as well as recommendations of the European Water Framework Directive for water use and management.

The project also outlined guidelines for water reuse and loss control, bringing often conflicting stakeholders (e.g. from mining and agriculture) together under one framework. It also enabled the phosphate industry in the countries concerned – Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia – to meet strict national and international standards for environmental conservation.

By supporting the phosphate industry in this manner, the project outcomes have the potential to encourage trade with Europe and forge stronger partnerships. Project results have been disseminated through papers, conferences and seminars, and particularly through the international workshop dedicated to water management in phosphate mining organised by the project in Morocco. The economies of both Europe and the Arab countries involved stand to benefit from this endeavour.

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