Water resources in the Middle East are under increasing pressure. Population growth in the region is predicted to be around 2% a year. This rate suggests that, by 2025 at current levels of consumption, the region will need four times as much water as is available from natural sources.
Water scarcity has an impact on many aspects of the economy of the region, from the necessity of relying on imported food to the development of industries that use less water.
The reliance on importing food from outside the region has reduced pressures on water resources by exporting the need for water. For example, to produce a tonne of grain requires around 1,000 tonnes of water. So importing a tonne of grain saves this water locally.
Ironically, this may have slowed the development of water efficient technologies in the region. As pressures on world food production increase, this policy of exporting water demand may become less viable.
*So what can be done? *
As pressures increase, sustainable water resource development will become more important and more sought after by governments. Sustainability in this sense means using only what is available, reducing the demand and reusing water is different ways, such as in grey water systems or through water recovery from wastewater treatment.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has recently changed the law to allow the use of treated effluent to irrigate crops for human consumption.
In UAE, city municipalities are using treated effluent for municipal irrigation and are changing from spray irrigation to trickle irrigation, which is proven to increase soil water availability while reducing evaporation.
Pressure on resources
Will this increase in pressure on resources have an impact on the bottled water industry? Groundwater from sustainable supplies will be required if the industry is to continue using natural sources.
Water sourced from areas where there is sufficient recharge can be considered sustainable, and some of the volume required to feed the market is likely to be recharged. Where there is very low rainfall, such as in much of Saudi Arabia, water abstraction is likely to exceed recharge rates and is therefore unsustainable.
The other main source of water is from desalinated seawater; while sustainable with respect to water, desalination requires significant energy and therefore cost.
Despite this, desalination is considered the shining hope of the region’s requirements for potable water. This, in turn, will move the pressure from water to energy.
Whatever is done, it is clear that the growing pressures on water supply are only going to increase. Both practical and technical solutions will be key in managing resources, both now and in the near future.
Ric Horobin biography*
Dr Ric Horobin, Zenith International Water & Environment Director, has degrees in geophysics and hydrogeology, devoting his working life to environmental issues. His specialised team manages projects all over the world focusing on hydrogeology, hydrochemistry, microbiology and groundwater engineering.
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