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Habitat International 58 (2016) 51e58

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Water resources carrying capacity assessment: The case of Algeria's

capital city
Meriem Naimi Ait-Aoudia a, b, *, Ewa Berezowska-Azzag b
USDB, Universit
e Saad Dahleb Blida, Route de Soumaa, BP 270, Blida, Algeria
EPAU, Ecole Polytechnique d'Architecture et d'Urbanisme, Route de Beaulieu, El-Harrach, 16200, Algiers, Algeria

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Algiers, the capital city of Algeria, experienced in the past years, recurrent water shortages due to
Received 27 December 2015 rampant population growth, coupled with the relative scarcity of water resources in this Mediterranean
Received in revised form city. The current supply system, despite improvements that have occurred since then, still shows
25 July 2016 -vis a number of factors. Indeed, cyclical droughts, that signicantly reduce the intake
vulnerability vis-a
Accepted 17 September 2016
of surface water, affect the region. Over-exploitation of groundwater has led to the phenomenon of
seawater intrusion, when not mastered, can make these aquifers unusable. Water resources are also
prone to pollution that threatens water potability. To analyze the balance between water supply and
Algiers water issue
domestic demand, we will use the concept of water resources carrying capacity (WRCC). The latter can be
Water demand/supply balance dened as the level of human activity that can be withstood by the available water resources without
Indicators major degradation of aquatic environments while maintaining an adequate standard of living. Action
Carrying capacity assessment must be carried out simultaneously on the determinant factors of supply and demand which are of social,
economic and environmental nature. The objective of this study is to assess the population that can be
sustained with regard to water resources and domestic consumption patterns. Water demand consid-
eration as much as on supply is of critical importance to reduce water supply vulnerability in a country
with limited fresh water resources.
2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction individuals adequately. A rational and optimizing approach is

essential to meet these objectives without degrading the ecosystem
Access to fresh water in adequate quantity is undoubtedly one of (Gober, Wentz, Lant, Tschudi, & Kirkwood, 2011; Hellstro m,
the key indicators of well-being and human development. In the Jeppsson, & Ka rrman, 2000; McDonald et al., 2011). A very gen-
second World Water Report, Managing Water in uncertainty and eral consensus emerges to assert that humanity must live within its
risk (UNESCO, 2012), UN-Water pointed out that water underlies supply capacity and assimilation of discharges. Carrying capacity is
all aspects of human development, and that a coordinated and a concept that deals with this issue to ensure a sustainable devel-
rational approach to water management is fundamental. The major opment of humankind (Arrow et al., 1995; Cohen, 1995). Among the
concern about water in many areas is the uncertainty to provide plethora of denitions, we retain the concise one given by Rees
enough water to the growing demand of the population. According (1992) that denes the carrying capacity as the maximum rate of
to the United Nations FAO, (2007), by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be resource consumption and waste discharge that can be sustained
living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity and two indenitely in a given region without progressively impairing the
thirds of the world population could be in conditions of water functional integrity and productivity of relevant ecosystems. The
stress. question that arises is to plan the actions to be undertaken to
Strategies and actions are preconized to overcome water respond favourably to the current population and future genera-
shortages or at least mitigate its effects to meet the needs of tions. Carrying capacity issue still receives special attention (Wei Y.,
Huang, Lam, & Yuan, 2015; Wei Y., Huang, Li, & Xie, 2016). Water
resources carrying capacity is becoming a major issue in urban
 Saad Dahleb Blida, Route de Soumaa,
* Corresponding author. USDB, Universite planning (Joardar, 1998). It can be dened as the level of human
BP 270, Blida, Algeria. activity that can be withstood by the available water resources
E-mail address: (M. Naimi Ait-Aoudia).
0197-3975/ 2016 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
52 M. Naimi Ait-Aoudia, E. Berezowska-Azzag / Habitat International 58 (2016) 51e58

without major degradation of aquatic environments while main- SAA (Se curisation de l'Alimentation en eau d'Alger e in service in
taining an adequate standard of living. Water resources carrying 2002) and TAKSEBT (in service in 2008). In addition, the desali-
capacity assessment allows giving the maximum population sup- nation option was implemented. Desalinated water mainly comes
ported under individual water requirements. The assessment de- from two plants located in El Hamma (in service in 2008) and
pends on various parameters related to water demand and supply. Fouka (in service in 2011). The water supply system is shown in
Intensive research has been carried out in this direction especially Fig. 1.
in areas with a negative gap between water supply and demand of For water consumption estimation, we will follow the meth-
the population (Feng, Zhang, & Luo, 2008; Li, Guo, & Chen, 2000; Li, odology of Shiklomanov (1998), (2000) and Shiklomanov and
Wei, & Lu, 2010; Song, Kong, & Zhan, 2011; Liu & Chen, 2007; Ming, Rodda (2003) that assesses water withdrawals by sector taking
2011; Liu, 2012; Potter & Darmame, 2010; Zhongmin, 1999). Pro- into account water use for domestic, industrial and agricultural
jected climate change scenarios for freshwater resources attracted sectors. The structure of water, which shows water distribution by
great attention (Kundzewicz et al., 2008). A general review on sector is expressed as (a: b: g) where a, b and g are the percentages
water demand and supply and adaptation to climate change to of water allocation to domestic, industrial and agricultural sectors
mitigate the negative effects is given by Olmstead (2014). Pingale, respectively.
Mahesh, and Deepak (2014) studied the optimum allocation of Water structure has undergone considerable changes during the
water to satisfy the demands of different users under different two last decades. Indeed, in the period 1999 to 2002, the amounts
climate change scenarios. allocated to Algiers by sector were 49,900,000 m3 for domestic use,
Algeria is generally classied as semi-arid country affected by 26,900,000 m3 for industrial use and 87,000,000 m3 for agricul-
water stress. According to the United Nations Organization FAO. tural use (UNEP, 2004), (UNEP, 2005). Hence, the water structure
(2015), Algeria has a natural water supply below 500 cubic me- was (30:17:53) showing that the agricultural sector constituted the
ters per capita per year and is considered in absolute scarcity most important part. The current water supply system being
referring to Falkenmark classication (Falkenmark & Lundqvist, operational in 2011, allocation by sector during a year considered
1998). Among Algeria cities, Algiers, the political and economic normal in terms of rainfall is: 226,900,000 m3 for domestic use,
capital, suffered from severe water scarcity due to several factors. 122,200,000 m3 for industrial use and 96,600,000 m3 for agricul-
The most important ones are recurrent droughts conditions and tural use (Naimi-Ait-Aoudia & Berezowska-Azzag, 2014b) which
high pressure on resources, due to a fast population growth. By yields (51:27:22) as water structure. Modication in the water
2025, Algiers population will be around 4 millions (UNDESA, 2012). structure can be explained by several factors, including population
To resolve this problematic, the Algerian government launched growth, increased industrialization and willingness of government
major infrastructure projects consisting of new dams and desali- to favor domestic consumption (Mozas & Ghosn, 2013).
nation plants. A signicant improvement was observed, and the Carrying capacity concept focuses primarily on domestic needs
population experiences a relative comfort in water consumption due to the fact that health and well-being of people depend on
during recent years. Nevertheless the current system, completed in adequate water consumption that must be above the sanitary
2011, has not yet faced droughts. Moreover, due to overexploitation, threshold of 100 L per capita per day recommended by WHO
groundwaters are threatened with depletion and seawater (2011).
In this paper, we will focus on Algiers water resource carrying 3. Water resource carrying capacity
capacity assessment to determine the population that can be
adequately supported vis-a -vis water resource issue. The assess- 3.1. Carrying capacity conceptual framework
ment focuses on the water demand and supply factors. The ef-
ciency of water use depends upon improving the supply and The Carrying capacity of a given area stands for the maximum
rational patterns consumption of users. number of population that can be sustained through the use of
The assessment is made focusing on determinant factors con- available resources which can be brought to that region. The
cerning both the demand for and supply of water. The efciency of maximum borne population relative to a given constraint is
water use depends upon improving the supply and rational pat- assessed using the objective formulation of the German geographer
terns consumption of users. The ultimate aim is to devise measures Penck (1925). Originally, this formulation was used to determine
to meet adequate satisfaction of the current and the future popu- the maximum population that can be fed taking into account
lation in terms of water needs without signicant climatic condi- available food resources. Thereafter this equation was generalized
tions dependence. The remainder of the paper is organized as to consider resources other than foodstuffs (Cohen, 1995; Oh, Jeong,
follows. We give in section 2 an overview of Algiers current water Lee, Lee, & Choi, 2005).
supply system. Water resources carrying capacity assessment is Based on these works, we dened the conceptual framework of
given in section 3. Section 4 is devoted to discussion. Conclusions water resources carrying capacity assessment system shown in
are given in section 5. Fig. 2. Input parameters for assessing the water resources carrying
capacity of a given region are of two types: the level of individual
2. Water supply system consumption according to given standards and water availability.
Service level and water supply depend each on several determinant
The current water system relies on three sources of water: factors or key indicators.
ground water, surface water and desalination. Historically, Algiers In our case study, the following indicators of water supply have
was mainly supplied with water from aquifers. This explains the been identied: 'climatic year type', 'exploitation rate of ground-
extensive use of these waters. Algiers groundwater relies on water resources', 'surface water mobilization rate', 'desalination
aquifers that are Mitidja and the Sahel Dunes. During the 1970s, capacity', 'loss rate in adduction network', 'loss rate in the distri-
this millenary source was not enough to cover the basic needs of bution network', 'water reuse rate' and 'water structure'. On the
the inhabitants. Several dams have been built to increase the ca- other hand, key indicators for individual water consumption are:
pacity of the water supply system. Algiers is also now supplied households' average size, water expenditure in household budget,
with freshwater by three systems of water transfer referred to as: percentage of households with water-saving devices and percent-
me de Production Isser-Keddara e in service in 1987),
SPIK (Syste age of homes using rainwater (Ouyang, Wentz, Ruddell, & Harlan,
M. Naimi Ait-Aoudia, E. Berezowska-Azzag / Habitat International 58 (2016) 51e58 53

Fig. 1. Algiers water supply system.

3.2. Water availability scenarios

Several water supply scenarios were considered for assessing

carrying capacity with regard to domestic water consumption. We
will consider three sets of scenarios. The rst set comprises sce-
narios S1, S2 and S3 with the indicators values relative to the cur-
rent supply system. The second set dened by scenarios S4, S5, S6
and S7 is relative to current supply system with improved in-
dicators. These improvements could be made in the short term. A
scenario recommending reducing groundwater extraction during
the normal year to bring it to 80% (scenario 5) was proposed in
order to discuss the possibility to create a reserve of water for dry
years. Finally, the third set, which implies scenarios S8, S9, S10 and
S11, focuses on an augmented water supply capacity and further
indicators improvement. Overall the choice of hypotheses tends
towards the improvement, from the current situation, of indicators,
except for climatic year type that is beyond human control. Water
supply scenarios are shown in Fig. 5.
The water supply comes mainly from surface waters that are
highly dependent on rainfall. Between 1981 and 2002, the country
has experienced long periods of severe drought. Rainfall charac-
teristics observed in Algiers weather station during the period from
1970 to 2012 (Nouaceur, Laignel, & Turki, 2013) are illustrated in
Fig. 2. Carrying Capacity conceptual framework.
Fig. 3. As the risk of drought looms over the region, the three sce-
nario groups comprise hypotheses of climatic year: normal, dry and
very dry. Surface water contributions are considered reduced by
2014; Rockaway, Coomes, Rivard, & Kornstein, 2011; Stoker &
50% in a dry year and 75% in a very dry year, compared to a normal
Rorthfeder, 2014).
year. Emphasis was put on drought years to see the vulnerability of
A number of hypotheses is retained for each input factor i.e. this
the system during these years.
latter may take a value from a given set. All combinations among
The hypotheses retained for the other indicators, illustrated by
key indicators hypotheses constitute the eld of possibilities for
Fig. 4, focus on increasing mobilization of surface resources,
supply and service level. Each combination is called a scenario for
rational management of groundwater resources, reducing loss rate
calculating carrying capacity. Exploring the eld of possibilities or
in networks, increasing desalination capacity, encouraging treated
morphological analysis (Ritchey, 2006; Zwicky, 1969), aims to study
waste water reuse and increasing the part of the domestic sector by
the plausible scenarios for the water system.
54 M. Naimi Ait-Aoudia, E. Berezowska-Azzag / Habitat International 58 (2016) 51e58

Very dry Dry Normal Wet Very wet

Fig. 3. Algiers rainfall characteristic during 1970e2012 period.

Throughout the world, the current trend is to reduce water demand

even in countries with high water potential. For example, Berliners'
daily water consumption dropped from 220 L to 115 L (Berliner
Wasserbetriebe, 2015). The aim is to preserve this precious
resource by a rational and an optimal consumption.
For the four key indicators inuencing water demand we have
retained the following hypotheses shown in Fig. 6. For 'Water
expenditure in household budget' indicator we have set the hy-
potheses to 1% (current) and 2%. Setting this rate to 2% means an
increase in water prices. Water price setting is one potential lever
for restraining water demand when resources are scarce. For the
indicator 'Percentage of households with water-saving devices', we
dened three hypotheses. They all go towards an increase in the
generalization of these devices at homes. First, consider the current
rate of 0% that reects the absence of any incentive for citizens to
acquire such devices. Secondly, a rate of 15% that corresponds to a
feasible improvement in the short term, and nally, a signicant
improvement of 30% in the medium term. Similarly, for the indi-
cator 'Percentage of homes using rainwater', we dened three hy-
potheses going towards a progressive generalization of these
facilities. The current rate of 0%, the rates of 10% and those of 20%
have signicant impacts on reducing water demand. Finally, the
assumptions for the indicator 'Households' average size' express the
downward trend in the number of persons per household (5 per-
sons per household), and the consideration of current average size,
6 people per household (ONS, 2014). Water demand scenarios are
shown in Fig. 7. The resulting daily consumption have been
rounded to retain only four reference values, namely 100, 115, 130
and 145 L per capita per day respectively for scenarios D1-D2, D3-
D4, D5-D6 and D7. Domestic needs for the projected population for
2025 are respectively 145, 167, 189 and 210 million cubic meters for
a daily consumption per capita of 100, 115, 130 and 145 L.

3.4. Algiers household water resources carrying capacity


Carrying capacity assessment can lead to different estimates of

maximum supportable population because it depends on estimates
of individual water requirements and water availability. Algiers
carrying capacity was evaluated for the three sets of scenarios.
Fig. 4. Water Supply determining factors and hypotheses.
Estimations of population that can be supported with the four
references levels of daily consumption and under considered hy-
changing water structure, allowed by the reuse of treated water for potheses of water supply are shown in Figs. 8e10 for set 1, set 2 and
agricultural uses. The considered scenarios are shown in Fig. 5. set 3 respectively.

3.5. Scenario results analysis

3.3. Water demand scenarios
The analysis of the different simulations, gives rise to a number
Individual water consumption can vary considerably from one of remarks on the factors characterizing the carrying capacity on
region to another depending on several parameters. The WHO water resources for our case study. The rst group of simulations
(World Health Organization) dened a hierarchy of water re- regarding the current supply system highlights its vulnerability to
quirements that gives the minimum water quantity required for drought, and its inability to support the projected population in
domestic uses in terms of needs and level of health concern 2025, except under favourable rainfall conditions, and a reduction
(Howard & Bartram, 2003). The World Health Organization con- in the level of service to 100 L per capita per day.
siders daily consumption of 100e200 L per capita as optimal. The second set of simulations, which considers intermediate
M. Naimi Ait-Aoudia, E. Berezowska-Azzag / Habitat International 58 (2016) 51e58 55

Fig. 5. Water supply scenarios.

reserve to use in dry years as practiced in the city of Phoenix -

United States (Gober et al., 2011).
Finally, the last group of scenarios regarding a system based on a
signicant supply improvement shows an ability to support a large
population of up to more than seven million inhabitants in
favourable weather conditions. It would also be possible under
these conditions to reduce groundwater pumping allowing the
aquifers to replenish and, why not, regaining their past artesian

4. Action levers for a sustainable water policy

We proposed an approach whose ultimate objective is to pro-

vide a tool that advises about the possibilities and the limits of
population growth in the light of the available water resources,
means implemented and climatic constraints on the region. In
addition, another interpretation of the scenario analysis allows
drawing a number of recommendations to dene a water policy,
with the aim of meeting the water needs of a growing population,
while preserving the natural capital of the resource and
Fig. 6. Water Demand determining factors and hypotheses.

4.1. Water supply efciency

improvements to the supply system, also highlights the difculty to
withstand drought, and to support the projected population 4.1.1. Infrastructure investments
beyond a daily consumption of 115 L per capita. It is also note- Algeria has long relied exclusively on groundwater resources to
worthy that in normal years, if we maintain the level of con- supply the population. Due to population growth, this strategy was
sumption below that level, it would be possible to reduce not only doomed to reach its limits but have adverse effects on
groundwater extraction and consequently constitute a water aquifers as well. The government then started intensive investment
56 M. Naimi Ait-Aoudia, E. Berezowska-Azzag / Habitat International 58 (2016) 51e58

Fig. 7. Water demand scenarios.

Fig. 8. Water resource carrying capacity set 1 simulations. Fig. 9. Water resource carrying capacity set 2 simulations.

policy in infrastructure mobilization of water to face the ever- failures in the supply network. A considerable amount is lost along
increasing demand. Today dams can mobilize part of dripping the way before reaching its destination; forcing to deliver an
water in watersheds. Strengthening the mobilization of surface additional amount of water to meet the demand.
water by building new dams will increase the amount of water Adaptation to climate change may require creation or
delivered. Indeed, the Algerian government goes forward by enhancement of infrastructure for natural or articial groundwater
launching new dam projects. These investments can globally be recharge and storage in preparation for dry seasons. Hughes,
evaluated to 234 million dollars for the two dams under con- Chinowsky, and Strzepek (2010) pointed out that the costs of
struction (Oued-Djemma and Souk-Tleta) in the near region of adapting existing water infrastructure to climate change scenarios
Algiers with a capacity of 266 million cubic meters. are less than 2% of total of basic infrastructure costs in OECD
It is noteworthy that the improved water supply system requires countries.
an additional desalination plant equivalent to the existing Hamma The reuse of treated wastewater has been initiated but is at an
station that can globally evaluated to 250 million dollars (Mozas & embryonic state. Several projects to achieve that goal have been
Ghosn, 2013). launched. The treated wastewater reuse represents a potential to be
considered with greater attention in a country reputed arid.
4.1.2. Improving existing infrastructure Reducing fresh water demand of agricultural and industrial activ-
The option of increasing supply should be linked with an ities could be signicant if they use recycled water after appropriate
effective policy to reduce network losses caused by leaks due to treatment. The amounts of water gained would be redirected to the
M. Naimi Ait-Aoudia, E. Berezowska-Azzag / Habitat International 58 (2016) 51e58 57

Encouraging residents to use water efcient appliances; pro-

motion of rainwater harvesting at homes. Water-efcient ap-
pliances and xtures represent an investment of around 5000
dollars for households. Rain water collection system constitutes
eighty per cent of this amount.
Information policy: Education, awareness of citizens and au-
thority incentives, are ways to reach this objective. In general,
residents adopt efcient consumption patterns if they are
motivated to do so (Ferraro & Price, 2013).
The price of water could play a regulator to promote domestic
consumption-saving behaviour. A great part of the literature on
water demand has focused on the econometric estimation of
price elasticity (Lee & Tanverakul, 2015; Yoo, Simonit, Kinzig, &
Perrings, 2014).

5. Conclusion

In this paper we have assessed Algiers carrying capacity with

Fig. 10. Water resource carrying capacity set 3 simulations.
respect to per capita domestic water use under several water
supply conditions. We have considered in this assessment, both the
domestic supply, and so mitigate the pressure on resources. If this determinants of supply and demand. The choice of hypotheses was
policy is pursued and properly implemented, a giant step would be guided by considerations of improving the supply system and
done in toward an optimal water management. optimization in water consumption patterns. Indeed the manage-
ment of water demand as much as on supply is of critical impor-
tance in a country with limited fresh water resources. Simulations
4.1.3. Aquifer protection
on the different key indicators help to identify vulnerabilities in the
Due to excessive exploitation for decades, ground waters have
water system and therefore take actions to avoid or reduce these
lost much of their potential. From artesian property, evidenced by
vulnerabilities. Carrying capacity assessment provides, in ne,
piezometric surveys conducted under the French rule, aquifers are
policy makers, elements of appreciation to lay the foundations of a
now subject to the threat of seawater intrusion. Conscious of the
sustainable urban development policy.
problem, the government has undertaken drastic measures to
reduce pumping and preserve groundwater. The supply from sur-
face water, desalination plants, and recently the initiation of treated Appendix A. Supplementary data
wastewater reuse are heading in this direction. However, the pro-
liferation of illegal wells for both agricultural use and some small Supplementary data related to this article can be found at http://
industrial units undermines the efforts and perpetuates the threat
depletion of aquifers. It is therefore necessary to strengthen control
to eradicate this scourge of illegal pumping, so that the resource References
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