Water remains a challenge for arid Gulf

02 October 2014

Population growth is creating new supply problems for governments to overcome

In a water-scarce region, water supply security has always been the top priority for people living in the arid deserts of the Gulf. But the growing concentration of the region’s population in large-scale urban centres has made the challenge more acute than ever before.

Bahrain’s experience is typical. The island in the past relied completely on groundwater for its water needs, but as its population grew rapidly as the oil industry developed, new sources of water were needed.

With fuel to burn, the answer was desalination, which was introduced to the country in 1975. Since then, the technology has been increasingly relied upon, and today, like much of the Gulf, desalination accounts for 90 per cent of Bahrain’s water needs.

The problem with this system is much of this desalinated water is consumed almost immediately, which is a major concern if production is degraded. To combat these concerns, some states are now developing strategic water reserves, so that if problems develop they have time to restore production or secure alternative water supplies.

One solution is the construction of large reservoirs. Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa) recently received proposals for the main contracts for the construction of five reservoirs in the country, as part of its $3bn Water Security Mega Reservoirs project.

Reservoirs are not the only solution. Abu Dhabi has adopted a different approach and plans to recharge its aquifers. In 2010, the emirate began building a water storage scheme in its Western Region, which involves pumping desalinated water into the depleted water table. This solution offers much larger storage capacity and, in the future, other governments, including Qatar, are expected to follow Abu Dhabi’s lead.

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