The GCC’s wastewater sector came under intense pressure in the four years leading up to the economic downturn in 2008, thanks to strong population growth and the construction of millions of new homes.

As a result, there were 15 to 20 per cent increases in the volume of sewage in the GCC region. Kuwait and the emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have experienced some of the highest annual growth in sewage inflows, putting pressure on the sewerage infrastructure.

Dubai Municipality’s only existing sewage treatment plant at Al-Aweer has been under particular strain – it was originally designed to handle 260,000 cubic metres a day (cm/d) of wastewater, but was treating an estimated 475,000 cm/d at the end of 2008, up from an average 460,000 cm/d in 2007.

Abu Dhabi’s wastewater infrastructure has faced a similar challenge. With a design capacity of 360,000 cm/d, the Al-Mafraq plant treated 475,000 cm/d at peak times in 2008, some 55,000 cm/d above the 2007 average. At the smaller Al-Zakher plant in Al-Ain, the situation was even more acute. Designed to treat 54,000 cm/d, it processed 135,000 cm/d in 2008, up from 120,000 cm/d the previous year.

The global financial downturn has eased the pressure on the Gulf’s utilities. In Dubai, for example, prior to the downturn forecasts suggested inflows could reach 700,000 cm/d by 2010, a figure which is no longer thought by analysts to be accurate.

Environmental Impact

737 kg/mile – Carbon footprint of effluent reuse

902 kg/mile – Carbon footprint of desalination

kg/mile=kilogrammes a mile. Source: Atkins

Falling costs

Dubai’s leading real estate developer Nakheel appears to share this view – in the first three months of 2009, it reduced in scope or cancelled a number of large-scale wastewater projects as a result of the correction in the Dubai real estate market. However, an ageing infrastructure and high rates of indigenous population growth mean investment prospects in the Gulf’s wastewater sector remain healthy.

Based on late 2008 unit costs, the sewage treatment plant programme planned in the Gulf is estimated to be worth $9.8bn, and more than $15bn if the network costs are included.

From this year to 2015, more than 5.5 million cm/d of new wastewater treatment capacity is expected to be added in the GCC – well above the existing capacity of 4.2 million.

As a result of declining materials prices and increasing contractor competition due to dwindling workloads, the cost of building extra sewage treatment plant capacity in the region has fallen by 20-30 per cent in 2009.

This may encourage utilities to press ahead with their works programmes again, after serious delays in the final quarter of 2008 and early 2009 due to the market uncertainty over cost.

One sign of the improved cost climate was a June announcement from Bahrain’s Works Ministry, in the form of a request for proposals on the Muharraq wastewater project. Ten groups have subsequently expressed their interest in the planned plant.

However, the greatest requirements will be in Saudi Arabia, with a requirement for 2.2 million cm/d in extra wastewater treatment capacity, followed by the UAE, which is predicted to need 1.3 million cm/d more and Kuwait with 795,000 cm/d.

In 2007, Saudi Arabia launched a major overhaul of its wastewater sector, in response to rising demand and an ageing infrastructure.

Demand for water was growing at 6 per cent a year, but with the kingdom having the highest water production and transportation costs in the world, Riyadh has focussed on re-using treated sewage effluent to meet some of the population’s water needs.

To increase water and wastewater network coverage to 100 per cent – sewage collection currently covers only 45 per cent of the country – Saudi Arabia is planning to invest $40bn in its sewage collection and treatment, and water distribution infrastructure over the next 20 years. The highest level of investment will be in sewage collection, which is forecast to received 57 per cent – or $23bn – of the total.

In Kuwait, the Public Works Ministry forecasts that total wastewater inflows will increase from 711,000 cm/d in 2009 to 816,000 cm/d in 2010, a 14.8 per cent increase in the space of just one year. Four major wastewater treatment plants are currently in operation in Kuwait with a combined design capacity of 697,000 cm/d.

To meet the predicted shortfall in capacity, Kuwait is planning to install an estimated 800,000 cm/d of new capacity by 2015.

The Public Works Ministry is planning to move wastewater treatment plants away from residential areas, while at the same time upgrading and increasing the sector’s capacity.

Capacity investment

Existing plants at Riqqa and Jahra will be replaced with new capacity at Umm al-Hayman and Kabad. When completed in 2012, the Kabad treatment plant will have capacity to treat 345,000 cm/d of wastewater. At Umm al-Hayman, 275,000 cm/d of additional capacity will be added, taking capacity at the plant to at least 300,000, a figure that may be increased further to 500,000 cm/d by 2020.

In the UAE, the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have also been investing heavily in new wastewater treatment capacity. Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC), set up in 2005 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority, is in charge of the investment programme to upgrade the emirate’s sewage collection and treatment infrastructure.

In 2007, ADSSC unveiled a $1.2bn strategic investment programme, which includes the construction of a 41-kilometre-long deep gravity sewer from Abu Dhabi Island to the mainland. In 2008, the emirate also awarded its first two sewage treatment plants to private developers on long-term concessions. A joint venture of the UK’s Biwater Group, Kuwait’s Kharafi National and the local Al-Qudra Holding was appointed to build and operate a 300,000 cm/d sewage treatment plant at Al-Wathba, near Al-Mafraq, and an 80,000 cm/d plant at Al-Saad in the Al-Ain area. The 25-year concession provides for the plants to be commissioned at the end of 2010.

Dubai, which has faced the biggest wastewater treatment challenge in all the GCC in recent years, has stepped up its investment in wastewater infrastructure. In 2008, 20 new tanker discharge points were added at the Al-Aweer sewage treatment plant located 15 kilometres from the city centre, taking the total number in operation to 60.

In April next year, Dubai municipality’s first sewage plant for 20 years will be commissioned. The 300,000 cm/d plant at Jebel Ali has been designed with expansion in mind. By 2030, its capacity could reach 1.2 million cm/d.

The private sector has also been investing in Dubai’s wastewater treatment sector. For example, local property developer Emaar built sewage treatment plants for most of its major developments including the Greens and Burj Dubai.

A combination of population growth and ageing sewage treatment plants means that wastewater treatment will continue to provide an investment opportunity for developers for decades to come.

With many Gulf states aiming for 100 per cent reuse of treated sewage effluent within the next few years, an improved wastewater treatment infrastructure will remain a priority for GCC governments.

GCC Wastewater: The drive for capacity

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