GCC governments have earmarked more than $100 billion in their water sectors between 2011 and 2016 to improve desalination technologies involving solar energy, and maximise on wastewater treatments and recycling.
According to a recent report by Ventures Middle East, population growth and deterioration of water quality has prompted GCC governments to embark on major spending to combat water scarcity and ensure sustainable resources for the future.
A recent study by Booz & Company also suggests that the GCC countries are likely to invest more than $100 billion in their water sector up to 2016 even as the region faces water over-consumption with per capita higher than the global average highlights the seriousness of excess water consumption in the GCC region.
On a per capita basis, Saudi Arabia and the UAE consume 91 per cent and 83 per cent more water than the global average, and about six times more water than the UK, Booz & Company said in its report a few months back.
Qatar and Oman are also above the global average for water consumption, despite their desert climates, the Booz study shows..
According to joint research by the Euro Arab Organisation for Environment, Water and Desert Ranches and the University of Jordan, the Arab world is likely to witness a water crisis around 2025 unless effective steering mechanisms for sustainable water management and measures to reduce the agricultural consumption of water are applied.
The UAE has planned several wastewater treatment and recycling projects to improve water management practices in order to meet rising demand of this scarce and costly resource. Abu Dhabi will add more than 30 million gallons per day of desalination capacity to its water network following a green light for a power and water plant extension at Mirfa.
Abdulla Saif Al Nuaimi, director general of Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority said water is one of the scarcest resources in the Mena region and that Gulf countries are among the world’s top ten producers of desalinated water.
“Desalination currently provides two-thirds of the water requirements in Mena, and the new urgency and high priority assigned by governments to investments across the water desalination sector in the region is therefore not a surprise.”
Elsewhere in the UAE, Fewa, the electricity and water authority for Ajman, Ras Al Khaima, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah, will implement ultra-filtration as a pre-treatment step for the first time at its Al Zawrah seawater reverse osmosis plant in Ajman to produce 115 million litres per day of pre-treated seawater to feed the reverse osmosis membrane system.
Qatar is also looking to increase its capacity in both the wastewater and water areas. In doing so it is considering new technological processes through independent water and power projects, the largest being the Ras Girtas project, currently under construction in the Ras Laffan industrial complex.
Meanwhile, the Public Authority of Electricity and Water in Oman plans to build strategic water storage reservoirs in Muscat in order to overcome a crisis situation if desalination plants are disrupted, while the Kuwait Ministry of Electricity and Water will construct two reverse osmosis desalination plants in Doha, Kuwait that will produce nearly 50 million gallons of water per day.
“The water sector is a major challenge for GCC states which are among the most water scarce countries in the world,” said Anita Mathews, Exhibition Director for Power + Water Middle East. “The problems of water shortage and water security are now being addressed and the relevant factors which influence the water resources identified.”
According to Booz & Company study, desalination provides two-thirds or more of the potable water used in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, and will continue to play a huge role in the GCC’s water development efforts.
But desalination carries enormous economic and environmental costs. Despite a more than fivefold improvement in efficiency since 1979, the $1 it costs to desalinate a cubic metre of seawater is still a relatively expensive way of producing potable water.
Seawater desalination is an energy-intensive process, consuming eight times more energy than groundwater projects, and accounting for between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of energy consumption in the GCC. This adds to the problems of energy intensity already plaguing the region. The desalination process also discharges salt back into the Arabian Gulf and other oceanic sources, jeopardising their marine life and introducing new environmental risks, the Booz & Company study said.