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28 February 2024

GCC to set up common water grid


Gulf oil producers are planning to pump around $10.5 billion to set up a landmark common water supply grid to meet their fast growing consumption in the long run because of a rapid population growth and expanding non-oil sectors.

The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, which are the world’s richest in oil but poorest in water, have agreed to set up giant desalination plants in Oman to use water from the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.

The project involves large pipelines that will link all six members and supply them with desalinated water in case of shortages in their existing desalination plants in the Gulf.

The project includes three stages, the first of which will cost around $2.7 billion and involves linking regional countries with a pipeline network while the second phase will cost nearly $four billion to construct a plant in Sohar on Oman’s coastline overlooking both seas. The third phase includes the construction of another desalination station in Ashkhara in Oman at a cost of about $3.8 billion.

“This project is in line with a decision by the GCC heads of state at their meeting in Riyadh in mid 2012,” Bahraini Minister of Water and Electricity Abdul Mohsen bin Ali Mirza said in remarks published in regional newspapers.

He said a feasibility study bid has already been awarded to King Abdullah for Research and Strategic Studies in Saudi Arabia at a cost of SR12.5 million.

Officials said the project would rely on water from the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea outside the oil-rich Gulf to ease reliance on desalination plants in the Gulf due to rapid growth in consumption in member states.

In a recent study, a US research firm warned that regional states could face a serious water supply shortage because of a rapid growth in domestic demand due to a large increase in their population, steady expansion in their economies, the long summer season, and lack of awareness about rationalization of water consumption.

 “Excess water consumption has become a serious issue in the region. GCC residents and businesses have disregarded the consequences of their water usage to enjoy benefits more common in countries with ample rain and overflowing aquifers. But with the population of the GCC increasing in excess of two cent a year, it is a real challenge,” Booz & Company said.

According to the report, desalination station provides more than two-thirds of the potable water used in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, and will continue to play a huge role in the GCC’s water development efforts.

But it warned that desalination carries enormous economic and environmental costs. Despite a more than fivefold improvement in efficiency since 1979, the $one it costs to desalinate a cubic meter of seawater is still a relatively expensive way of producing potable water, it said.

“Moreover, seawater desalination is an energy-intensive process, consuming eight times more energy than groundwater projects, and accounting for between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of energy consumption in the GCC. This adds to the problems of energy intensity already plaguing the region,” it said.

The report estimated that GCC countries, which control 40 per cent of the world’s oil, would invest more than $100 billion in their water sectors between 2011 and 2016.

It said some of these investments will be in improved desalination technologies, which could involve solar energy or new ways of filtering out salt or making it evaporate.

A recent official study showed people in the UAE are the world’s largest water consumers, with the average per capita consumption standing at 364 litres per day, more than 82 per cent above the global average individual demand.

Demand for water in the UAE, the second largest Arab economy, totalled around 4.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2011 and is projected to nearly double to nine bcm in 2030 because of high consumption and population growth, said Mariam Hassan Al-Shanasi, undersecretary of the ministry of environment and water.

She estimated per capita water demand in the country at 364 litres per day compared with a global average of nearly 200 litres per day.

(Home page image courtesy Shutterstock)