At the Heart of Sustainable Development

Water has a precious value and each drop should be used sustainably by current and future generations. Continued population growth will inevitably put increasing stress on water demand. The world population is projected to increase by more than one billion people within the next 15 years, reaching 8.5 billion in 2030, and to increase further to 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100, according to a United Nations report. Sixty percent of the global population lives in Asia (4.4 billion) and 16 percent in Africa (1.2 billion). In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, water stress is further exasperated by rapid urbanization, unsustainable groundwater withdrawal and energy-intensive desalination. These are top concerns for the region’s water industry, which are amplified by the unpredictable impact of climate change. Consequently, countries in the MENA region have been increasingly adopting new sustainable strategies to address these challenges by implementing plans for water resources management, including management of available water resources and adoption of new and less energy-intensive technologies.

Groundwater Depletion Raises Alarms

Excessive demand for water will continue to rise, however supply will eventually lag behind total demand. The World Resources Institute (WRI) scored and ranked future water stress – a measure of competition and depletion of surface water – in 167 countries by 2040. WRI found that 33 countries face extremely high water stress in 2040. Fourteen of the 33 likely most water stressed countries in 2040 are in the Middle East, including nine considered extremely highly stressed with a score of 5.0 out of 5.0: Bahrain, Kuwait, Palestine, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Lebanon. During times when surface water becomes scarce, the region draws heavily upon its vital resource, groundwater. According to a report by Future Directions International (FDI), groundwater supplies are facing depletion in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have over-pumped their groundwater supplies to the point that many wells are going dry. Between 2002 and 2009 the Middle East lost 144 million km3 of water, more than enough to fill the Dead Sea, mainly due to the over-abstraction of groundwater. FDI stresses that there is a need for more effective groundwater regulation.

Adopting Energy Efficient Desalination Technologies

The GCC region, one of the most water-scarce regions of the world, draws heavily upon desalinated sea water. The region will increase its total seawater desalination capacity by nearly 40 percent by 2020 in an effort to meet the rapidly increasing demand for potable water in the region, according to a report revealed by the International Water Summit in collaboration with MEED Projects. The GCC’s current seawater desalination capacity of approximately 4,000 million imperial gallons a day (MIGD) is set to increase to more than 5,500MIGD – nearly 40 percent over the next 5 years as the GCC states invest heavily in increasing potable water supply. If powered by hydrocarbons, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) believes that such a ramp up could pose significant resources constraints. The GCC countries will need new domestic energy sources to meet long-term energy needs for desalination, particularly if economies wish to preserve the ability to export oil and gas, and avoid costly imports. IRENA states that two key pillars of a long-term desalination infrastructure strategy are emerging – adopting more energy efficient desalination technologies (e.g. RO) and transitioning towards alternate energy fuels (e.g. solar).

Wastewater Reuse: A Platform for Growth

Wastewater reuse will be a key focus area in the region. According to a report by Bluefield Research, USD22.4 billion of wastewater treatment spending in the region is forecast from 2015-2020. Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Abu Dhabi (UAE) have set targets that will increase reuse capacity by 91 percent to 8.8 million cubic meters per day. Reclaimed water will be allocated to irrigation, landscaping, and industrial uses that would otherwise draw from valuable groundwater and desalinated water supplies. The report states that while desalination remains a primary solution for governments to address water supply challenges in the region, increased adoption of wastewater treatment and reuse represents another significant opportunity for solutions providers.

AWW Content & Research Team