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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.


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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