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close this bookFreshwater Resources in Arid Lands (UNU, 1997, 94 pages)
close this folder3: The future of freshwater resources in the Arabian peninsula
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentWater resources
View the documentWater requirements
View the documentManagement options
View the documentConclusions
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Water requirements

Imbalances between increasing water demand and existing limited water resources are being experienced by the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. During the last decade, water demand in all sectors has increased dramatically as a result of high population growth, improvement in the standard of living, efforts to establish self-sufficiency in food, and promotion of industrial development. The deficit is being met through sea-water desalination and mining of groundwater resources. Currently, agriculture is the primary water consumer, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Industrial water demand is very small in comparison to the domestic sector.

Domestic and industrial water requirements for the countries of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, are satisfied through desalination and a limited amount of groundwater from both shallow and deep aquifers; Yemen relies solely on groundwater resources for all sectors. In all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Yemen, agricultural requirements are met through abstraction of water from shallow alluvial aquifers located in the coastal strips and inland basins, and from deep aquifers covering most of the Arabian Peninsula. In Saudi Arabia, rapid expansion of agricultural activities has resulted in substantial increases in water demand, leading to extensive mining of the deep aquifers. Likewise, agricultural water demand has sharply increased in the countries of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, where groundwater reserves are being mined. This agricultural development is a direct result of government policies encouraging self-sufficiency in food production. Government incentives and subsidies have made it possible for large areas to be cultivated, placing great strain on the existing groundwater resources.

Total water demand for agricultural, industrial, and domestic purposes for all the countries in the region increased, during the period 1980-1990, from 6.6 to 22.5 bcm, an almost fourfold increase, resulting from high population growth, and the need for food production. The major consumers were Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Water requirements are expected to reach 26.2 bcm by the end of the twentieth century, and 36.7 bcm by the year 2025, as shown in table 5. Agriculture accounts for the majority of water use, followed by the domestic sector.

For the peninsula as a whole, the demand for agricultural water requirements is estimated at 19.7 bcm in 1990, with demands of 14.6, 2.7,1.2, and 0.95 bcm in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, respectively. In 1990, the percentage of agricultural demand ranged from 21 to 93 per cent of the total water demand, as shown in table 6. Agricultural water demand is expected to reach 21.2 hem and 24.3 bcm in the years 2000 and 2025, as shown in table 5.

Industrial activities in most of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula are limited and have contributed to only small increases in total water requirements, when compared with the domestic and agricultural sectors. Industrial water demand in 1990 reached 0.30 bcm, with percentages ranging between 0.4 and 7.6 per cent. Industrial demand is projected to reach 0.7 bcm and 2.3 bcm in the years 2000 and 2025, respectively, with the highest demands being in the countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman.

Industrial production structure in the peninsula is geared towards consumer goods and petroleum refinement. Major industries in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman consist of petrochemicals, cement, and limited food and beverage production. Countries with relatively well-established petrochemical industries and refineries are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Most industrial activities are confined close to major urban centres, requiring competition with the domestic sector to satisfy water requirements. In urban areas with concentrated industrial activities, industrial water requirements represent the major aspect of water consumption in relation to domestic requirements. In most of the GCC countries, field development and petro-chemical industries are considered to be water-use intensive, and rely on groundwater supplemented with surface water, desalination, and a limited amount of recycled water.

Table 5 Past and Projected Water Demand (mcm) in the Arabian Peninsula for the Years 1990, 2000, and 2025


1990

2000

2025

Total demand

Country

Domestic

Agriculture

Industrial

Domestic

Agriculture

Industrial

Domestic

Agriculture

Industrial

1990

2000

2025

Bahrain

86

120

17

169

124

26

230

271

73

223

319

574

Kuwait

295

80

8

375

110

105

670

140

160

383

590

970

Qatar

76

109

9

90

185

15

230

205

50

194

290

485

Oman

81

1,150

5

170

1,270

85

630

1,500

350

1,236

1,525

2,480

UAE

513

950

27

750

1,400

30

1,100

2,050

50

1,490

2,180

3,200

Saudi Arabia

1,508

14,600

192

2,350

15,000

415

6,450

16,300

1,450

16,300

17,765

24,200

Yemen

168

2,700

31

360

3,100

60

840

3,800

137

2,899

3,520

4,777

Total

2,727

19,709

289

4,264

21,189

736

10,150

24,266

2,270

22,725

26,189

36,686

Source: Compiled by ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) secretariat from country reports and international sources, 1994 and 1995.

Table 6 Proportion and Water Demand by Sectors to Total Demand in the Arabian Peninsula for the Years 1990, 2000, and 2025 (Percentage)


1990

2000

2025

Country

Domestic

Agricultural

Industrial

Domestic

Agricultural

Industrial

Domestic

Agricultural

Industrial

Bahrain

38.6

53.8

7.6

53.0

38.9

8.2

40.1

47.2

12.7

Kuwait

77.0

20.9

2.1

63.6

18.6

17.8

69.1

14.4

16.5

Qatar

39.2

56.2

4.6

31.0

63.8

5.2

47.4

42.3

10.3

Oman

6.6

93.0

0.4

11.1

83.3

5.6

25.4

60.5

14.1

UAE

34.4

63.8

1.8

34.4

64.2

1.4

34.4

64.1

1.6

Saudi Arabia

9.3

89.6

1.2

13.2

84.4

2.3

26.7

67.4

6.0

Yemen

5.8

93.1

1.1

10.2

88.1

1.7

17.6

79.5

2.9

Average

30.1

67.2

2.7

30.9

63.1

6.0

37.2

53.6

9.2

Domestic water requirements represent only a small fraction of total water requirements. Most countries of the peninsula, with the exception of Yemen, have a high per capita water consumption rate resulting not only from the provision of good-quality water from desalination plants, delivered at minimal cost, but also from lack of conservation measures. In 1990, domestic requirements were estimated at 2.7 bcm, which is expected to reach 4.3 and 10.2 bcm in the years 2000 and 2025, respectively, as a result of increased population growth and improved standards of living. Domestic demand is very high in all the GCC countries with respect to their populations, and ranges between 6.5 and 77 per cent of total demand, as shown in tables 5 and 6.

Water demand for each individual country, based on current trends and projections, is shown in table 5. Water shortages are expected to increase as a result of increased demand and limited renewable supplies. Water resources from renewable groundwater, desalination, and reclaimed waste water are already insufficient to meet expected demand. It is expected that, in order to offset the imbalance between supply and demand, mining of groundwater, especially from the deep aquifers, may be required to meet agricultural and other demands. Expected domestic and industrial demand increases in the next thirty years may also necessitate the construction of additional desalination and treatment plants to produce water and treat waste water, for most of the countries in the region, especially the GCC countries, unless strict integrated management approaches, including water-conservation measures and effective management schemes, are implemented and good-quality groundwater is used solely for domestic and industrial use. The volumes of water from deep groundwater reserves, desalination, and reuse of renovated waste water that are needed to offset deficits are shown in table 7.

If present domestic consumption patterns continue unaltered, most countries of the peninsula will be required to mine their groundwater resources further and to allocate financial resources towards the construction of new desalination plants and support facilities with capacities capable of handling increasing demands. A large number of waste-treatment plants will also be required to handle the resulting wastes. This huge investment may result in considerable economic strain, especially in those countries with limited financial resources.