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3: The future of freshwater resources in the Arabian peninsula

Water resources
Water requirements
Management options

Mohamed Abdulrazzak


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



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.

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