Population, Industrial Growth Place Pressure on Saudi Water Supply

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is facing a possible water supply shortage if it does not step up efforts to properly handle its rapidly increasing population and steady industrial growth, according to the country’s largest bank, National Commercial Bank (NCB), who released a report this week about water in the kingdom.

Low water tariffs are also playing a significant part in precipitating shortages, the bank found.

“The kingdom’s rapidly rising population, expansionary fiscal policies and large investments in social and physical infrastructure, have exerted pressure on the existing water networks…the accelerated pace of water consumption relative to that of population is attributed to the low utility rates faced by the public, as the water sector is heavily subsidized by the government,” said the study, sent to news outlet Emirates 24/7 this week.

Saudi Arabia’s population has grown by an average of 3 percent a year for the last two decades. This growth is expected at this pace for at least the next five years as well, according to the bank.

During this time, the country has lowered its water consumption by approximately 1.5 percent per year. However, its desalinated water demand has increased by 6.27 percent a year.

“As the Saudi population is estimated to reach 31.69 million in 2015, additional pressure will be placed on energy intensive desalination plants for potable water,” the NCB said.

“Furthermore, the abundance of oil and gas reserves provides the kingdom with both a comparative advantage in energy costs and funding sources…this acts as a driver in the project market, increasing the share of industrial water consumption.”

Saudi water tariffs are on average the lowest within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.  Low water tariffs have been associated with high levels of consumption, as consumers are less concerned with waste because they do not feel it in their wallets

Since Saudi Arabia is a country of absolute water scarcity, the bank’s study noted, it is necessary for it to implement cost-effective utility prices, as well as developing water-efficient renewable energy sources and implementing conservation efforts.

The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) announced this week that will begin construction of the world’s largest desalination plant this year. Last October, the company announced plans to build three solar-powered desalination plants.

“We are reducing dependence on oil and using alternative energy sources to run our plants,” SWCC Governor Abdul Rahman Al Ibrahim said.

“These solar powered desalination plants are established to support oil- and gas-powered stations, and we have plans to establish similar plants inside the existing desalination complexes.”

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