Magazine article UN Chronicle

Cewas Middle East: Supporting Entrepreneurs to Address Water, Sanitation and Resource Management Challenges

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Cewas Middle East: Supporting Entrepreneurs to Address Water, Sanitation and Resource Management Challenges

Article excerpt


What can be done to introduce innovation and sustainability in the water and sanitation sectors in the Middle East? How can one give agency to younger, newer voices and visions in these sectors?

In 2013, cewas Middle East was established in an effort to examine and address these questions, cewas Middle East is a branch of cewas, the international centre for water management, which has been supporting young innovators in the water and sanitation sectors since 2011. cewas is the world's first and only dedicated water and sanitation start-up incubator and business innovation training programme. Since its inception, cewas has created more than 40 international water and sanitation startups, and executed over 20 water entrepreneurship training programmes on four continents.

The questions of sustainability and innovation in the Middle East are important and relevant for many reasons. The region has one of the most unsustainable water usages in the world and the highest levels of youth unemployment globally. Climate change and water scarcity, which have a direct link to unemployment and migration patterns, are increasing regional tensions. The water and sanitation sectors have not witnessed many widespread innovations in the past century. Flush toilets, an invention of the late 1500s, are still being installed, even in desert areas with limited access to water. Donor financing dominates the wastewater sector, where multimillion-dollar treatment plants go unused after construction due to lack of sustainable financing. Reuse of treated wastewater is limited, hard to finance and often considered culturally taboo. Industrial and household garbage, a diverse resource with high financial potential, is being burned or dumped into the rivers and oceans. Educational systems do not sufficiently teach about environmental issues in the classroom, and there is a lack of enforcement for environmental standards or laws. This list of challenges represents just some of the water and sanitation issues in the Middle East. From the perspective of an environmental entrepreneur, however, these challenges can turn into business opportunities.

The first cewas flagship start-up training programme in sustainable water, sanitation and resource management was in Palestine in 2015, and expanded to Jordan in 2017 and to Lebanon in 2018. Thus, the opportunity and incentive for individuals and communities to mobilize around these issues was given a small yet important platform, cewas Middle East has now trained over 100 people in the region on sustainability and innovation concepts, introduced over 25 new sustainable start-ups into the regional market, and helped 10 existing businesses to expand their products and services into the "green" sector, cewas Middle East start-ups address a range of issues, such as water integrity challenges, water consumption, agricultural innovations, educational and behavioural tools, water pollution, solid and e-waste reduction, wastewater management and recycling.


Water and sanitation start-ups may have great business ideas, a fantastic team and an unbreakable drive, but it is the strength of the existing start-up support ecosystem and the capacity of the market within which the start-ups are operating that prove to be key factors in determining the outcome of their efforts. Since water, sanitation and solid waste issues in the Middle East are intrinsically tied to the political context of each country, the start-ups that have attended the cewas Middle East training programmes have mainly focused on the local or national markets. There are a few that have reached a regional market, mainly those developing technical solutions, however, they also face the constraints of the markets in the region and from the underdeveloped start-up ecosystems.

In Jordan, at least half of those operating in the social entrepreneurship scene have been educated outside the country; they face the challenge of trying to integrate their learning and vision in a Jordanian context. …

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