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3: The future of freshwater resources in the Arabian peninsula

Mohamed Abdulrazzak

Introduction

Throughout history, the unavailability of water in the Arab world has affected the lives and livelihood of inhabitants. A remarkable variety of adjustments to water supply fluctuations and deficits have been made by indigenous people over the years. More recently, however, socio-economic development, high population growth, the availability of modern water pumping and irrigation technology, as well as expanded urbanization and agricultural activity, have placed substantial strains on the water resources, particularly in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. High population growth in combination with increases in per capita water consumption have contributed to increases in water consumption. The population in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula has increased almost twofold during the period 1970-1990, from 17.8 to 33.5 million. This number is expected to reach 45.5 and 95.6 million, respectively, by the years 2000 and 2025, as shown in table 1 (UN 1994).

An important aspect of the region's water supply shortage is the fact that all the countries are situated in arid and extremely arid zones. These areas are characterized by large variability in rainfall, limited renewable groundwater resources, problems with groundwater salinity, and the absence of rivers and lakes.

The intensive use of groundwater resources from shallow and deep aquifers to meet rising demand has led to further exploitation of water resources in excess of natural renewability and has contributed towards water-quality deterioration, especially in the coastal zones. This has compelled all the countries, with the exception of Yemen, to invest in the construction of sea-water desalination plants. By necessity, desalination has become a major component of the water-supply system in these countries for providing water to satisfy domestic requirements. Competition among sectors over utilization of available groundwater sources in some of the countries has created water deficits. Rising demand is not only placing pressure on water resources, especially the most easily accessible sources, but also brings about an entirely new progression of environmental concerns and their associated development costs.

Table 1 Population Growth (millions) of the Arabian Peninsula Countries

 

Year

Country

1950

1970

1990

2000

2025

Saudi Arabia

3.201

7.740

14.870

20.667

40.426

Kuwait

0.152

0.760

2.143

1.718

2.789

Bahrain

0.116

0.270

0.503

0.653

1.014

Qatar

0.025

0.171

0.427

0.542

0.731

UAE

0.070

0.505

1.589

1.970

2.792

Oman

0.433

0.750

1.524

2.168

4.705

Yemen

4.316

7.480

12.400

17.804

43.104

Total

8.31

17.78

33.46

45.52

95.56

Source: United Nations (1994).

Overcoming future water-supply limitation problems and increasing water demand in all countries of the Arabian Peninsula requires the implementation and enhancement of water-management practices and investment in efficient low-cost water-desalination and waste-water-treatment technologies to provide additional sources. Efficient management of water resources in each of the countries of the Arabian Peninsula may include supply-and-demand control, strengthening of both institutional arrangements and capacity building, and integrated planning, in order to formulate and implement water policies and strategies. In this paper, the water supply-and-demand situation in the Arabian Peninsula is examined, and options for reducing water deficits are suggested.

Water resources

The countries of the Arabian Peninsula have similar physiographic, social, and economic characteristics, including extremely arid climates, sparse natural vegetation, and fragile soil conditions. The natural water resources consist of limited quantities of run-off resulting from floods, groundwater in the alluvial aquifers, and extensive groundwater reserves in the deep sedimentary aquifers. The supplementary non-conventional sources include desalination of sea and brackish water, and renovated waste water. Water availability is governed by rainfall distribution in time and space, in relation to run-off generation, as well as topographic and geological features that influence water movement and storage.

The peninsula is largely desert with the exception of the coastal strips and mountain ranges. The climate is characterized by long, hot, dry summers and short, cool winters for the interior regions, and hot, somewhat more humid, summers and mild winters for coastal regions. Hydrometeorological parameters exhibit great variation: seasonal temperatures may range from -5° to 46°C in the north, central, and eastern parts of the peninsula. The coastal areas and mountainous highlands have lower and less extreme temperatures, ranging from 5° to 35°C. Humidity is generally low in the interior, ranging from 10 to 30 per cent, while in the coastal areas it may range between 60 and 95 per cent. The low percentage of cloudy days and the high solar radiation over the region result in high evaporation rates. The total annual potential evaporation ranges from 2,500 mm in the coastal areas to more than 4,500 mm inland.

The Arabian Peninsula generally has scanty and irregular rainfall. The average annual rainfall ranges from 70 to 130 mm, except in the mountain ranges of southwestern Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and southern Oman, where rainfall may reach more than 500 mm. Average rainfall has little meaning, however, since many desert areas receive no rainfall for months or years owing to extremely random storm patterns. Rainfall throughout the area is generally governed by regional Mediterranean and Indian subcontinental aircirculation patterns. Cyclonic lifting associated with the eastward passage of depressions from the Mediterranean region causes winter rainfall in the months of November and April over the northern and eastern parts of the peninsula. Spring rainfall sometimes occurs over the central and south-western parts of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman. The Indian subcontinent monsoons influence the weather over the southern region of the peninsula, resulting in summer rainfall that occurs mostly over the southern parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and most of Yemen. All these circulation patterns are modified by local topographic relief and distance from the sea. In general, rainfall amount decreases sharply with distance from the sea and in a northerly direction. The steep relief of the mountain ranges in the Asir High-lands in south-western Saudi Arabia, the Sarat Mountains in western Yemen, and the Hajar and Dhofar mountains in the southern regions of Oman that run parallel to the Red Sea and the Gulf, usually causes orographic rainfall that frequently leads to flash flooding, particularly in the summer months. Most rainfall in these areas is of high intensity and short duration, producing a large volume of surface run-off that gathers in wadis and stream beds that are normally dry. Run-off is then utilized directly for irrigation, and/or is impounded behind dams and later released for flood-plain irrigation and for increasing recharge to the alluvial aquifers beneath the wadi channel.

The main topographic features of the Arabian Peninsula are the western, southwestern, and south-eastern mountain ridges, as well as the central plateau. The mountain ridges divide numerous moderate-sized drainage basins that empty towards the Red Sea, Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Oman, as well as larger basins that drain towards the central plateau and, in some cases, continue eastward towards the Gulf. Generally, the coastal drainage basins have steep reliefs and narrow coastal plains compared with the mild slope and large catchment area of the inland region. Steep slopes and well-defined topographic features control the availability of surface run-off as well as the modes of groundwater recharge. The remainder of the peninsula is characterized by low relief and poor drainage.

The other major features that influence the availability of groundwater resources are the peninsula's igneous and metamorphic basement rock known as the "Arabian Shield," and the sequences of sedimentary layers known as the "Arabian Shelf," shown in figures 1 and 2. The shield, which covers one-third of the peninsula, consists of an outcrop of hard rock that begins in the western part of Saudi Arabia and extends from the Gulf of Aqaba in the north to the Gulf of Aden in the south. The shield has limited groundwater stores in the alluvial deposits of wadi channels, and weathered joints and fracture zones.

The dependable groundwater reserves are those stored in the thick extensive sequences of sedimentary formations of the Arabian Shelf, underlying two-thirds of the peninsula, as shown in figure 2. The outcrops of these formations, where recharge may take place, are located in the western part of the peninsula. The formations slope gently, and increase in thickness, as they extend eastward under the Gulf, north-easterly into Jordan and Iraq, and south-west to Yemen. In combination with rainfall distribution, these topographic and geological features control surface and groundwater availability and use in different parts of the peninsula.

Surface Water

Run-off occurs mainly in the form of intermittent flash floods, and is governed by rainfall patterns and topographic features over the Arabian Peninsula. Intermittent surface run-off volume in the peninsula is estimated at 5.3 billion cubic metres (bcm) (Abdulrazzak 1995; Saad 1995; Bahrain Country Report 1995; Qatar Country Report 1995; UAE Country Report 1986; Yemen Country Report 1995). Run-off variation and utilization in each country of the peninsula is shown in table 2. The annual run-off volume generated in south-western Saudi Arabia and Yemen is estimated to be 1,450 million cubic metres (mom) and 1,200 mcm, respectively. The national totals for Saudi Arabia (Authman 1983; BAAC 1980) and Yemen (Mohamed 1986; Al-Fusail et al. 1991; Yemen Country Report 1995) are estimated at 2,230 mcm and 2,000 mcm, respectively. Amounts of surface water available in Oman (El-Zawahry and Ibrahim 1992) and the United Arab Emirates (Al-Asam 1992; Uqba 1992; UAE Country Report 1986) were estimated at 918 mcm and 125 mcm, respectively. The remaining countries have only negligible amounts of surface run-off.

In general, utilization of surface run-off is directed towards traditional flood irrigation, especially in the south-western region of Saudi Arabia and most of Yemen. Also, regulated and unregulated flood flow is the main source of groundwater recharge to the aquifers. Approximately 195 dams of various sizes, with a combined storage capacity of 475 mcm, have been constructed in Saudi Arabia for the purposes of flood protection and groundwater recharge. Fifty-two dams have been (or are being) constructed in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.


Figure 1 General Geological Map and Aquifers of the Arabian Peninsula (Source: Modified after MAW 1984)


Figure 2 Schematic Geological Section of Deep Aquifers (Source: MAW 1984)

Table 2 Water Resources in the Arabian Peninsula

Country

Area (km²)

Average annual rainfall(m)

Run-off(mcm)

Shallow groundwater reserves(mm)

Run-off utilization (mcm)

Groundwater recharge (mcm)

Groundwater use (mcm)

Desalination (mcm)

Waste-water reuse (mcm)

Saudi Arabia

2,149,690

33-550

2,230

84,000

900

3,850

14,430

795

217

Kuwait

17,818

30-140

0.10

182

-

160

80

240

83

Bahrain

652

30-140

0.20

90

-

100

166

75

9.5

Qatar

11,610

20-150

1.35

2,500

0.25

50

190

92

25

United Arab Emirates

83,600

80-160

125

20,000

75

125

900

385

128

Oman

212,460

80-400

918

10,500

275

550

645

32

25

Yemen

527,970

10-1,000

2,000

13,500

475

1,525

1,200

9

6

Total

3,003,008

-

5,275

130,772

2,700

6,360

17,611

1,628

493.5

Sources: Saad (1995), Abdulrazzak (1995), UAE Country Report (1986), Bahrain Country Report (1995), Qatar Country Report (1995) and Yemen Country Report (1995).

Shallow Alluvial Aquifers

Alluvial deposits along the main wadi channels and the flood plains of drainage basins make up the shallow groundwater system in the peninsula. Groundwater in the shallow aquifers is the only renewable water source for these countries. The shallow aquifers in the eastern part of the peninsula, particularly in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, are generally thicker and wider than in the west, while alluvial thickness in the inland basins is greater than in those of the coastal basins. Alluvial aquifer thicknesses generally range from 20 to 200 metres, with the exception of the coastal areas of Oman where thicknesses may reach 400 metres. The width of these alluvial aquifers may range from a few hundred metres to several kilometres. The widths of the aquifers decrease in a southerly direction for basins on both the western and eastern coasts. The coastal alluvial aquifers are subject to salt-water intrusion, especially on the Gulf, owing to extensive groundwater withdrawals. Shallow aquifer water quality is generally good, with total dissolved solids ranging from 300 ppm to 3,000 ppm. Combined reserves of the alluvial aquifers shown in table 2 are estimated at 131 bcm (Abdulrazzak 1992 and 1995; Shahin 1989; Khoury et al. 1986), with the largest reserves for the numerous basins in Saudi Arabia, estimated at 84 bcm (BAAC 1980; MAW 1984; Ukayli and Husain 1988). Groundwater from the shallow alluvials is sometimes used for domestic and irrigation purposes. However, poor groundwater quality in the downstream areas may limit its use for meeting domestic needs.

Fossil Groundwater Aquifers

The other main source of water for the countries of the Arabian Peninsula is the non-renewable fossil groundwater stored in the sedimentary deep aquifers. The sandstone and limestone geological formations of the Arabian Shelf, shown in figures 1 and 2, store significant amounts of groundwater that are thousands of years old (Burdon 1973; Edgell 1987). The sedimentary aquifers have been classified as either primary or secondary, based on their areal extent, groundwater volume, water quality, and development potential (MAW 1984). The primary aquifers are the Saq, Tabuk, Wajid, Minjur-Druma, Wasia-Biyadh, Dammam, Um er-Radhuma, and Neogene. The latter two are carbonate aquifers while the remainder are sandstone. Secondary aquifers are the Aruma, Jauf, Khuff, Jilh, Sakaka, the upper Jurassic, the lower Cretaceous, and Buwaib. These aquifers cover two-thirds of Saudi Arabia and some of them extend into Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen, as well as into Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.

Vast amounts of groundwater stored in the primary deep aquifers serve as a dependable source of water for the central and northern regions of Saudi Arabia, and, to a lesser extent, the other countries of the peninsula. Deep groundwater reserves for the aquifers in the peninsula are estimated at 2,175 bcm, with the major portion (1,919 bcm) located in Saudi Arabia. Recharge for all the deep aquifers is estimated at a very limited 2.7 bcm per year. This reserve represents groundwater exploitable by lowering the water level to 300 metres below the ground surface, the maximum depth currently possible with modern pumping technology.

Although water in the deep aquifers is ample in quantity, the quality varies greatly and is suitable for domestic consumption in only a few areas. Total dissolved solids range from 400 to 20,000 ppm. Good-quality water is stored in only a few aquifers: the Saq, Tabuk, and Wajid in Saudi Arabia, and the Dammam in Bahrain and Kuwait (Bahrain Country Report 1995; Kuwait Country Report 1986). Brackish water from the Minjur, Wasia, Biyadh, and Um er-Radhuma aquifers usually requires treatment in most of the countries for hardness and high temperature. Water temperatures vary between 40° and 65°C, depending on the depth of extraction. Water from these deep aquifers tends to be saturated with calcium and magnesium salts and has high concentrations of sulphate and chloride ions; it also contains relatively large quantities of hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide gases. The brackish water from some of these deep aquifers is usually used without treatment for agricultural purposes, and for limited domestic purposes in some locations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The groundwater of most of the deep aquifers requires treatment such as cooling, aeration to remove hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide gases, and lime soda processing.

Desalination

Experience with desalination in many of the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, began as early as 1938. During the last twenty years, the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, with the exception of Yemen, have become increasingly dependent on desalination to meet their water-supply requirements. Several of the Gulf countries, however, have no option but to rely on the desalination of sea water or brackish groundwater. This is because renewable groundwater supplies are very small, and often the quality is poor owing to limited recharge magnitude and salt-water intrusion. In addition, the deep aquifers, particularly those near the coastal zones, usually contain highly saline water requiring desalination. The same conditions exist for the western coastal areas of Saudi Arabia, and southern regions of the Arabian Peninsula. Most of the deep aquifers with good water quality are located at great depths and in remote areas far from the urban centres where the water is needed.

Table 3 Desalination Capacity Installed in Arab Countries, 1963 - 1993

Country

Total capacity (m³/day)

Bahrain

315,197

Egypt

87,044

Jordan

8,445

Iraq

333,093

Kuwait

1,523,210

Oman

162,096

Qatar

562,074

Saudi Arabia

5,020,324

Syria

7,703

United Arab Emirates

2,081,091

Yemen

37,188

Algeria

204,312

Djibouti

404

Libya

666,750

Morocco

15,325

Mauritania

4,654

Somalia

408

Sudan

1,776

Tunisia

50,914

Total

11,093,008

Source: Bushnak (1995).

Capacity installed: 63% of world total; remainder: North America 13%, Europe 5%, Asia 8 %, others 11 %.

Costs associated with the development of deep fossil groundwater sources, including drilling, casings, pumping, transportation, and treatment, may be high.

Water desalination in the Gulf States has constituted a flexible means of alleviating water-supply shortages over the past two decades. In addition, desalination provides water of excellent quality, which in turn contributes to the well-being of society in relation to sanitation, health, and better quality of life. At the present time, two-thirds of the world's total desalination capacity is installed in the Arab countries, mainly in the Arabian Peninsula, as shown in table 3. Out of 18.8 mcm per day of desalination capacity, the countries of the Arabian Gulf account for over one-half of the production (53 per cent). Saudi Arabia alone accounts for one-quarter of world capacity in desalination. Three Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates - rate first, third, and fourth, respectively, in desalination capacity. The present annual designed desalination capacity of the seven countries of the peninsula has reached 2.02 bcm, compared with a worldwide capacity of 5.68 bcm (Wagnick 1992; Bushnak 1995). These capacities cover all desalination plants and include numerous units in private sector ownership for industrial or other purposes. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, in particular, rely on large-scale plants capable of producing up to 500 mcm per year.

Desalination production efficiency ranges between 70 and 85 per cent of designed plant capacity. The total regional volume of desalinized water produced in 1992 was estimated at 1,628 mcm (Al-Sufy 1992; Bushnak 1992 and 1995), as shown in table 2. Desalinated water provided 51 per cent of urban and industrial water demand in 1990. The major producers of desalinated water are Saudi Arabia (51 per cent), the United Arab Emirates (22 per cent), Kuwait (15 per cent), Qatar (5 per cent), Bahrain (4 per cent), Oman (2 per cent), and Yemen (1 per cent) (Bushnak 1992 and 1995).

The total number of desalination plants in operation as of 1992 reached 45, with 23 in Saudi Arabia, 8 in the United Arab Emirates, 6 in Kuwait, 3 in Bahrain, 2 each in Oman and Qatar, and 1 in Yemen (Al-Sufy 1992). In Saudi Arabia, 17 plants are located on the Red Sea coast and 6 on the Gulf. Three large-scale multistage flash (MSF) plants are located at Al-Jubail, Jeddah, and Al-Khobar, with annual production capacities of 394 mcm, 217 mcm, and 83 mcm, respectively.

Currently, the largest desalination centre in the world is located in Al-Jubail, in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia. One-third of the desalinated water for Saudi Arabia is produced at this plant, equivalent to 7.5 per cent of world capacity. The plant consists of 40 MSF units producing approximately one million cubic metres of desalinated water. The desalinated water is transferred through pipelines with a total capacity of 1.8 x 108 cubic metres per day. One of these pipelines runs as far as Riyadh, which is 465 km from Al-Jubail, and the other delivers water to Qasim. A considerable number of urban centres are being supplied with desalinated water through this system. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates have a large number of desalination plants.

Cost comparisons using different desalination processes range between US$1 and US$3.5 per cubic metre for sea water, and between US$0.4 and US$1.5 per cubic metre for brackish water. A survey of water production costs indicates wide variation, depending on plant size and energy prices. Usually, costs decrease with increased plant capacity. Costs reported by the Gulf countries are usually less than for countries in the rest of the world because of minimal energy charges. For example, the cost of producing one cubic metre of water in Saudi Arabia ranges from US$0.48 to US$2.2; in the United Arab Emirates, water costs range from US$1 to US$1.45; in Qatar the range is US$1.14 to US$1.64, and in Bahrain the cost is US$0.56.

In other parts of the world, where energy costs are not subsidized, production costs are somewhat higher; for example, in Florida and the US Virgin Islands, costs range from US$2.06 to US$2.60; in Malta the cost is US$1.18, and in the Canary Islands it is US$1.62. In general, water production costs in countries of the Peninsula where desalination is used extensively are distributed as follows: 38 per cent for capital investment; 20.5 per cent for energy; 21.3 per cent for labour; 16.2 per cent for maintenance, and 4 per cent for chemicals.

Brackish groundwater desalination is being used more nowadays near major urban centres because the cost of production is less than for that of sea water. Small desalination plants for brackish groundwater are usually found inland near urban centres, especially in Saudi Arabia. Plants generally have smaller capacities of up to 2O,000 cubic metres per day, in comparison to large sea-water-desalination plants where capacities may exceed 100,000 cubic metres. Small plants are common, owing to the limited volume of extraction possible from a large number of wells. Brackish water desalination usually involves the reverse osmosis (RO) process. However, the cost of treatment is much less than for sea-water desalination, owing to low salinity, and usually ranges from US$0.3 to US$0.65 per cubic metre. The cost of water production depends on plant size and also on the concentration of certain salts, heavy metals, and organic materials. The major cost components consist of investment in well drilling and pumping, and brine-water disposal. The disposal of brine presents a major environmental constraint of brackish-water desalination. Careful consideration is usually needed to avoid contamination of groundwater sources.

More than 80 per cent of desalinated water in the Gulf region is produced through MSF distillation; RO accounts for 16.1 per cent. This translates into three-quarters of the world capacity for MSF desalination, and about one-quarter of RO production. The Gulf countries share in multi-effect distillation (MED), electrodialysis (ED) and vapour compression (VC), as well as other processes, at the respective rates of 16.4 per cent, 16.6 per cent, and 5.5 per cent.

Desalination of sea and brackish water has become an essential water-supply component for many urban centres in these regions. This has compelled these countries to make substantial investments in desalination technology. The availability of financial resources from oil income, and free energy sources, has further encouraged reliance on water desalination as a primary source to meet domestic water requirements. These factors, in conjunction with natural supply limitations, make it likely that reliance on desalination will continue to increase in the future. Future projections indicate that more investments in desalination technology will be required to offset overexploitation of water resources and increased public demand.

For the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, desalination is the easiest means of meeting the ever-increasing demand for water in the region. Most of the countries are constructing and planning significant expansion of their desalination capacity to meet future water requirements, as shown in table 4. Saudi Arabia is constructing additional plants with combined capacities of 126 mcm for the major cities of Medina, Yanbu, Jeddah and Al-Jubail. Future plans call for an additional capacity of 213 mcm for the cities of Jeddah and Al-Khobar. The United Arab Emirates is also expected to increase its desalination capacity by 270 mcm in the near future for its urban centres at Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Kuwait is planning to increase its desalination capacity by 110 mcm by 1997. In Qatar, the present desalination capacity of 112 mcm at Ras Abu Fontas will be raised by 16 mcm in the near future, and an additional capacity of 88 mcm will be added to the system by the end of the twentieth century. In Bahrain, desalination capacity has reached 75 mcm in 1993 and 25 mcm of further capacity is proposed for Maharraq City, while a further 40 mcm of capacity is being studied as a part of a privatization scheme for power and water. In Oman, the present desalination capacity is 55 mcm and will be increased by 13 mcm with the construction of several smaller units by 1995. Present and future combined capacities for the countries of the peninsula are expected to reach 2.92 bcm by the year 2000. Desalinated water will constitute a main source of water for domestic requirements for most of the countries of the peninsula, particularly Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, as shown in table 4.

Table 4 Desalination Schemes in Each Country of the Arabian Peninsula

1990

2000

Country

Installed desalination capacity (mcm)

Desalination production (mcm)

Domestic/ industrial demand (mcm)

Desalination/ demand ratio (%)

Planned desalination capacity (mcm)

Total desalination capacity (mcm)

Domestic/ industrial demand (mcm)

Desalination/ demand ratio(%)

Bahrain

75

56

103

54

66

141

155

91

Kuwait

318

240

303

79

110

428

530

81

Oman

55

32

86

37

13

68

147

46

Qatar

112

83

85

98

104

216

140

>100

Saudi Arabia

950

795

1,700

47

339

1,289

2,900

44

United Arab Emirates

502

342

540

63

270

772

832

93

Yemen

10

9

216

4

0

10

360

3

Total

2,027

1,557

3,033

-

902

2,924

5,029

-

Renovated Waste Water

Existing waste-water treatment facilities in the Arabian Peninsula face difficulties in handling the ever-increasing volumes of waste water generated by increased water consumption and urbanization. Waste-water discharge from major urban centres is polluting shallow alluvial aquifers and the coastline, and has caused urban water-tables to rise. The main emphasis to date in these countries has been on simple disposal of waste water, rather than on treating and reusing effluent, owing to the extensive capital investment required. Planning for the full utilization of treated effluent remains in the early stages, and the regional treatment capacity is sufficient to handle only 40 per cent of the domestic waste water generated. The total volume of renovated waste water used in the Arabian Peninsula is estimated as about 433 mcm, which is far less than the volumes treated. The reuse volumes are shown in table 2, which represent approximately 25 per cent of the available treated waste water.

Waste-water reuse ranges between 217 mcm in Saudi Arabia and 6 mcm in Yemen. The ratios of reuse to the domestic and industrial water requirements range from 27.7 to 30 per cent. In the region as a whole, renovated waste water meets about 2 per cent of total water demand or 14 per cent of domestic and industrial demand. In Saudi Arabia, reclaimed waste water is used for irrigation of non-cash crops, landscape irrigation, and industrial cooling. In Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman it is used for municipal irrigation of landscaped areas, while in Qatar it is used to irrigate animal-food crops.

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.

Management options

The increasing imbalance between water supply and demand has compelled many countries of the Arabian Peninsula to augment supplies through sea-water and brackish-water desalination, reuse of renovated waste water, groundwater-recharge schemes, and the implementation of conservative water-conservation measures. In order to alleviate future water shortages, current supply-augmentation schemes and demand-management measures need to be enhanced with respect to coverage and enforcement. In addition, further efforts need to be made towards the development and management of water resources, based on an integrated approach. Viable options for the development and management of water resources may involve some or all of the measures discussed below.

Table 7 Projected Water Supply Availability in Million Cubic Metres (mcm) for the Years 2000 and 2010

       

Water sources (mcm)

 

Year 2000

Year 2010

Country

Surface a

Reclaimed

Desalinization

Groundwaterb

Surfacea

Reclaimed

Desalinization

Groundwaterb

Bahrain

-

42

141

67

-

53

141

121

Kuwait

-

80

428

132

-

106

428

237

Oman

227

50

68

1,072

227

61

68

1,229

Qatar

0.40

43

216

75

0.4

43

216

129

Saudi Arabia

900

710

1,290

8,600

900

1,000

1,300

11,900

United Arab Emirates

75

200

772

1,185

75

250

772

1,359

Yemen

1,450

36

10

2,105

1,450

57

10

3,055

Total

2,652.4

1,161

2,925

13,236

2,652.4

1,570

2,935

18,030

a. Diversion of surface run-off.

b. Mainly deep aquifers.

Desalination of sea water presents a feasible solution to water shortages for countries with inexpensive energy sources. This water source will continue to provide water for domestic purposes for the foreseeable future. The current practice of constructing large-scale desalination plants has contributed to a reduction in costs and the production of large volumes of water.

Research and development efforts in the field of desalination are expected to reduce the production and maintenance costs associated with desalination, making it possible to produce increased volumes of desalinated sea and brackish water at reasonable prices. Major development efforts over the last ten years have focused on the improvement of energy efficiency and membrane performance and replacement. Current technological trends are oriented towards the use of hybrid processes, with emphasis on innovative combinations of chemical-physical and electrochemical methods. The integration of desalination and energy-production facilities provides an incentive for reduced desalination energy costs. Energy costs represent a major portion of the total cost of the desalination process. The Gulf countries report lower production costs, in comparison to the rest of the world, due to energy subsidies. Efforts are currently being geared towards the use of a single energy source for performing several functions within the plant, a process known as cogeneration. Hybrid desalination processes have been developed in which sea-water plants using various processes are built at the same site, making use of the electrical and thermal energy produced in the process. Such plants use evaporation processes in combination with RO. Electrical energy is supplied by local power facilities or by gas turbine generation, and heat from the power plant is used for preheating feed water for the desalination plant. A portion of the generated electricity and exhaust heat from the turbine would power the desalination plant. This combination improves the efficiency of energy utilization. A cogeneration scheme involving an RO plant would include using part of the generated electricity to power the desalination plant, with the remainder being sold to the public. Exhaust heat from the gas turbine could be used to provide steam to operate thermal MED units. This scheme allows optimum energy use while providing flexibility to meet variable water demand. The cogeneration arrangement also allows the RO units to operate at maximum capacity in conjunction with the operation of the thermal plant.

The principles of building energy-production and desalination plants jointly, and integrating the different desalination processes in one plant, is the focus of future development in desalination throughout the world. Efforts are also being invested in further improvements in the process, equipment, and knowledge of the desalination process.

There is a consensus in the desalination industry that MSF distillation has reached maturity, and no further substantial progress is expected to be achieved. Other thermal methods, however, will continue to be refined and improved. Work is being done to create reliable large-size, low-temperature alternatives, using MED or VC (vapour compression) units. Lower-cost material is also expected to be used in the construction of MED and VC distillation processes.

Technical advancements are expected in membrane processing, and concentrated efforts are under way in many countries where membrane separation is used. The combined experience of owners and manufacturers of RO plants will lead to improved product design and operational procedures. Improvements are still needed in pre-treatment of feed water, especially for surface sea-water intakes. The development of low-cost UF (ultrafiltration) membranes is expected to result in an economical alternative to feed-water pre-treatment.

Other aspects of the desalination process that are being studied and further refined include the use of chemicals to reduce scale deposits, and improved structure and materials for heat-transfer surfaces in the evaporation process. They also include the use of corrosion-resistant materials, improved membrane selectivity, improved water production per unit area of membrane, and improvements in the efficiency of auxiliary equipment involved in the RO process. Substantial progress has already been made in the improvement of the MSF process. Nevertheless, further perfection in processes such as enhanced heat transfer will make continuous operation possible. Improved scale and corrosion control, flow range, workmanship, and automated monitoring and control will also improve desalination efficiency and longevity using this method. The MED process is also well developed, although specific aspects such as the use of thin titanium tubing need to be improved to maximize efficient heat transfer. Further improvement is also needed in the area of raw sea water entering from outside the plant. VC in combination with MED units need further development in compressor design to enhance their efficiency and reliability and to provide higher capacities.

The membrane processes of RO and ED are potentially applicable to large-scale sea-water desalination. Improved membrane efficiency and technology are expected to lower production costs and make these processes more reliable. New membrane-manufacturing processes, such as plasma polymerization or radiation-induced grafting, may result in new membranes with higher specific fluxes, higher temperature tolerance, and high chemical stability, as well as anti-fouling mechanisms. Improved backing materials will allow production of compaction resistant membranes that will enable operation at higher pressures. It is expected that these improvements will result in conversion rates as high as 50 per cent, thereby decreasing production costs.

In addition to the availability of low-cost water desalination, the reuse of treated waste water can alleviate water shortage in industrial and agricultural sectors. Its use in the domestic sector is not feasible, owing to uncertainty about viruses, prohibitive costs for tertiary treatment, and general non-acceptance by the public in the majority of the Gulf countries.

Increases in the volume of groundwater recharge from surface run-off and renovated waste water that meets internationally accepted standards can provide additional water to be used in times of need. The large volume of surface run-off that is being lost to the sea from coastal drainage basins and evaporation from inland basins can be utilized for recharging purposes. Available renovated waste water can be used to increase the magnitude of groundwater recharge. Low-cost imported water can be used for recharge purposes to enhance groundwater storage or strategic groundwater reserves for domestic purposes. Merging surface water and groundwater from countries with abundant sources would contribute to better water allocation. There is a need to increase the efficiency of recharge dams that have been built in different areas, through better dam operation and silt and clay removal. The building of such groundwater reserves provides a stand-by source that can be used in emergency conditions. Such schemes have been used in many parts of the world and, under appropriate design and operation, the same volume of water stored can usually be recovered. A series of recharge dams or injection-recharging well fields can store excess run-off, especially in the south and southwestern parts of the peninsula.

Another viable alternative for increasing rainfall amount is the modification of weather by cloud seeding, which has been experimented with in Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. This option may be of benefit in Saudi Arabia, as well as in Yemen and Oman, where potential benefits include frequent cultivation of terraces and spate irrigation basins, increased magnitude of groundwater recharge, additional water supply for rural communities, improvement in vegetative cover, and hail suppression. The availability of additional run-off will encourage continuation of farming, which in turn will discourage urban migration and increase local incomes. The presence of mountain ridges in the south-western region of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and southern Oman, forces moist air masses to rise, making weather modification a viable means of increasing the amount of rainfall. Cloud-seeding programmes can be considered as an option for increasing rainfall; however, social, economic, and environmental aspects of such programmes should be considered.

There are a number of proposals for augmenting the water supply of the Arabian Peninsula by the importation of fresh water from outside the region. The best known is the Turkish "Peace Pipeline" scheme. Through the construction of two pipelines, it would transfer water to the Arabian Gulf states from rivers of Turkey that flow toward the Mediterranean. The proposed projects will move 2.2 bcm per year, with approximately one-half of the volume for Syria and Jordan and one-half to the Arabian Peninsula. The cost of the project is estimated at US$20 billion, and its construction time is estimated to be between 8 and 10 years. The large western pipeline would pass through Syria and Jordan and terminate at Mecca in western Saudi Arabia. The smaller eastern pipeline would cross Syria and Iraq and then pass down the west side of the Gulf, supplying water to Kuwait, the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Saudi

Arabia and Kuwait would be supplied with 840 and 220 mcm, Although this importation of water would ease the shortfall situation in the region, the Arabian Peninsula countries are concerned about the political implications of becoming dependent on upstream states for the security of their water supply, as well as the potential vulnerability of the pipelines to sabotage or attack, and therefore this importation proposal is not currently active.

Two other importation proposals involve pipelines under the Arabian Gulf, one from the Garon River of Iran to Qatar and the other from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates. The Iran-Qatar scheme involves a gravity pipeline, 1.5 metres in diameter, extending 770 kilometres, of which 560 kilometres would be within Iranian territory. It would provide Qatar with an estimated annual volume of 135 mcm. The cost is estimated at US$1.5 billion, and completion time at three years. Other proposals for importing water to the region include towing icebergs from the Arctic and utilizing the empty holds of incoming petroleum tankers.

A long-term solution to the water-deficit problem may involve the implementation of demand-management measures. Viable options consist of consumption and waste reduction, and increases in use efficiency. Formulation and implementation of water-management plans that include conservation programmes as one of the major components can contribute significantly to decreasing water consumption.

Conservation efforts need to be concentrated in all sectors, with emphasis on the agricultural sector, where current consumption is six times the amount of water used for domestic and industrial purposes. Incentives, and agricultural and industrial subsidies, especially for countries that depend highly on desalination, may be used as leverage to implement such conservation measures as improving irrigation efficiency through sprinkler and drip systems, laser levelling, canal lining, farmer education, and recycling in industries. A significant reduction in overall water consumption in the region could be achieved by a reappraisal of agricultural policies for water allocation according to market value.

Desalinated water in most of the region has been used almost exclusively for domestic purposes, and reduced consumption in this sector would have a corresponding impact on future desalination and waste-water schemes. High per capita water consumption reflects the need for urban water conservation. Reduction in domestic consumption can be achieved through increasing public awareness of the value of water as a scarce resource, the installation of water-saving devices, and the continued enforcement of water conservation through modified building codes. Water metering and charging for water has been widely practised throughout the region; however, the ineffectiveness in reducing water consumption is due to extremely low water tariffs that do not provide effective mechanisms for discouraging excessive water use or wastage. Conservation needs to be encouraged through price incentives mandated through regulations in the domestic and industrial sectors.

Another possibility for reducing demand is leak detection within the delivery system and pipeline rehabilitation. In Qatar, Bahrain, and many cities in Saudi Arabia, leakage from the delivery system caused losses ranging from 20 to 50 per cent. In some of the countries, lack of funds for comprehensive leak detection and maintenance prevent systematic monitoring of the system; consequently, reductions in leakage are small compared with the potential overall water savings that could be realized. Implementation of leak-detection programmes should be the responsibility of every water-distribution authority.

The implementation of some specific conservation measures in the domestic and industrial sector, on a voluntary or regulatory basis, needs to be an integral component of any management activities implemented by water authorities. Programmes should focus on public education, use of water-saving technologies, rebates for retrofitting, modification of existing building codes that promote the use of water-efficient fixtures, the use of grey water for landscaping and industrial cooling, using water-conserving plants, and import restrictions. Existing housing and industrial subsidies and loans that have proved feasible in most countries can be used as incentives to enforce regulations. A system of restrictions and/or penalties designed to enforce compliance with regulations is required to ensure successful reduction in water consumption. High priority should be given to implementation of conservation programmes on a continuous basis and to evaluation of their effectiveness. Industrial water recycling should be given due consideration.

Weakness in institutional arrangements is one of the major constraints in the management of water resources in the region. Strength can be achieved through comprehensive water legislation that defines water allocation, development, monitoring, and protection measures, as well as the responsibilities of each organization, and mechanisms to facilitate the exchange and dissemination of information. Regulations and laws need to include provisions for project coordination on a local, national, and regional level, both within each country and between countries. Plans should include water laws governing the development and protection of groundwater resources, water allocation, and pricing. It would be appropriate for each country to set up a single coordinating body, such as a national water-resource committee or council. This organization, with delegated power, would ensure coordination of activities within and between countries and timely exchange of information, and would be responsible for determining optimal water-resource development and management, especially for water resources shared between countries.

Finally, further efforts by each country of the Arabian Peninsula are needed to develop and manage water resources using an integrated approach as envisaged in Agenda 21. Such integration of resources must include both conventional surface and groundwater resources, as well as non-conventional water resources such as desalination and waste-water reuse, while taking into consideration both quality and quantity requirements. National water plans need to be formulated and/or revised to accommodate an integrated approach as well as legal frameworks for optimal allocation of water resources.

Conclusions

The countries of the Arabian Peninsula have limited renewable freshwater supplies, which have been nearly fully developed, and the only dependable source is fossil groundwater reserves. In some regions, depletion of these nonrenewable groundwater resources is taking place at an alarming rate, owing to overpumping in order to meet agricultural requirements.

Improvements in the standard of living and urban migration, coupled with the absence of conservation programmes, have brought about high domestic water consumption, which itself increased by three times from 1980 to 1990. Programmes currently in force in many of the countries have focused mainly on the development of water resources rather than management, in order to meet rising water demand. To overcome water shortages, many of the countries of the peninsula have come to rely on desalination and mining of groundwater resources. Conservative forecasts indicate that demand during the period 1995-2025 for all sectors is expected to increase almost twofold.

To cope with future water demands there is a need thoroughly to evaluate and implement means of augmenting supplies, devoting serious effort to management approaches that will provide optimal allocation and efficient utilization of water resources. Emphasis must be placed on efficient management of water resources in the region. To meet future demand, water supplies may require augmentation with desalinated sea and brackish water, increased magnitude of renovated waste water, and groundwater recharge. Concurrently, serious efforts need to be made towards reducing water requirements through demand-management measures. The effectiveness of demand-management measures has been demonstrated in many parts of the world.

It is essential that each country of the region establish an up-to-date water plan that emphasizes integrated water-resource development and management. Water policies and strategies should address the allocation of water in accordance with market values, conservation, pollution control, and improvement of the coordination of efforts between water institutions. Technical research and development, as well as manpower development and training, are also essential aspects of any water programme. Key policies should address short- and long-term programmes for agricultural development, capacity building, review of water-pricing subsidies, development and application of appropriate technology, institutional arrangements, and water importation.

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