|Managing Water for Peace in the Middle East: Alternative Strategies (UNU, 1995, 309 pages)|
|3. Hydro-powered reverse-osmosis desalination in water-resources development in Kuwait|
Kuwait is located at the north-western corner of the Arabian Gulf, between latitudes 28°30' and 30°05' north and longitudes 46°30' and 48°30' east. The country is bounded to the north and north-west by Iraq and to the south-west and south by Saudi Arabia, and has a land area of 17,818 km² and a coastline of 195 km (fig. 3.1).
The population was estimated at 1.79 million in 1987. Crude-oil production and petroleum-related investments provide the main governmental revenue. The gross national product (GNP) per capita was estimated to be US$19,610 in 1987. The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990 and its subsequent liberation in March 1991 are too recent for further comment except that water development is the key to the future habitability of Kuwait as it was before.
During the period 1925-1950, Kuwait imported fresh water by chow from the Shatt al-Arab in Iraq, some 100 km north-west from Kuwait, to supplement water obtained from wells. Further exploitation of water resources was initiated by the rapid development of the oil industry and commerce in the 1950s, when shortage problems became a constraint to economic development.
Limitations of water are likely to impact increasingly on the economic development of other states in the Middle East and North Africa to the extent that "by the year 2000, water-not oil-will be the dominant resources issue of the Middle East" (Starr and Stoll 1987). The situation is particularly acute in Arabian Gulf states such as Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Of these, Kuwait has been the pioneer state in developing desalination to supply fresh water for domestic use since the 1950s.
Kuwait had no alternative but to develop non-conventional options such as (1) importing water from Iraq or Turkey from the Euphrates River, (2) exploiting brackish groundwater, or (3) desalting seawater. The first option may not be realistic in political terms. Thus desalination became the key issue, with cost then becoming the major constraint.
Two experimental desalination trials were carried out in the 1980s-seawater reverse-osmosis (RO) desalination at the Doha co-generation station, and brackish-groundwater RO desalination with skid-mounted units-which give an opportunity to compare the unit cost of water produced by these different approaches.
The main purpose of studying the application of hydro-powered RO desalination is to examine its technical feasibility and cost effectiveness.