Water Ministry takes shape

02 November 2001

Details of the role of the planned Water Ministry are starting to emerge, as international companies mobilise for major investment in the sector. The ministry, the creation of which was announced in July, will start its operations in the next financial year. Its formation is expected to precede the liberalisation of the water sector and the introduction of foreign investment in desalination.

The Water Ministry will undertake studies to assess the condition of the kingdom's water resources and prepare a masterplan for the development of the sector, says a spokesman for the existing Agriculture & Water Ministry (AWM). It will prepare programmes for the deregulation of water networks and study the introduction of new water tariffs. It will also have a close relationship with the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), in which the new minister will take a senior position.

The new ministry is to be created by paring off the water departments at AWM. It will create a central strategic vision for the sector, which has suffered from a lack of cohesion. Until now, the responsibility for strategic decision making has been held by a number of local regional bodies, as well as SWCC and AWM.

The kingdom's water sector is facing a major capacity shortfall. SWCC forecasts that demand for desalinated water will rise by 60 per cent to 10.7 million cubic metres a day by 2020, based on average per capita consumption of 300 litres a day. The urgency of the problem is amplified by the depreciation of existing water utilities, the majority of which are due to experience a fall in production by 2015. SWCC projects the cost of investment required to meet desalinated water demand by 2020 at SR 202,463 million ($53,990 million), making the participation of foreign investors an attractive option.

AWM provided the following responses to questions posed by MEED:

When will the planned Water Ministry start its operations?

- It is expected to start in the next financial year

What will the Water Ministry be responsible for?

- Its most important responsibility will be advising the cabinet on the following

1) Overseeing administration, utilities, inspection and structure of the water sector

2) Conducting studies connected to sources, reserves and abundance of water

3) Preparing a national integrated water plan to set out policies related to water reserves, preservation of resources and their use for different purposes

4) Preparing complete programmes for the deregulation of drinking and cleaning water networks for all cities and regions in the kingdom

5) Developing water policies and suggestions for accompanying structures to preserve water reserves and ways to utilise them

6) Preparing studies for water tariffs for all user rates

7) Improving the efficiency of obtaining water imports

8) Creating appropriate networks and systems for private sector executive and maintenance work in the water desalination sector

9) Assuming responsibility for the provision of licences needed to drill wells

Will the ministry have responsibility for taking strategic decisions in the water sector?

- This issue is expected to be finalised when the new ministry is formed and in the light of its importance

What will be the relationship between the new ministry and SWCC?

- It will be the same as the existing relationship, which is to relay the decisions made at the weekly cabinet meeting to SWCC; and the water minister will be head of the SWCC board

Will there be co-ordination between the Water Ministry and the Electricity & Industry Ministry and other ministries connected to water issues?

- There will be co-ordination between the ministries over water issues

Will the issue of water tariffs be dealt with by the ministry?

- Yes. This subject is already under study

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