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The water crisis in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will worsen
Jeddah, 26th March 2001

    The water crisis in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries will worsen during the first quarter of the century with the shortage rising from the current 15 billion cubic meters to 31 billion cubic meters by the year 2025, a Gulf conference on water was told.

  The solution, according to a Saudi water expert, lies in active involvement of the private sector and the gradual removal of state subsidies so that enough funds could be raised to finance future projects.

  The conference was opened by Qatari Minister of Municipality and Agriculture Affairs Ali Al-Khatir, who blamed irrational consumption for compounding the crisis. Qatar provides free water and electricity to its citizens but charges foreign residents. 

  The conference which opened on Saturday will last through Wednesday and is being attended by delegates from the six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.

  Dr. Bushnak, member of the consultancy board of  the Supreme Economic Council, said reluctance of local financing bodies, lack of proper technical and financial monitoring and control criteria and the absence of legislation and regulations to encourage investments in this vital sector are among the main obstacles.

  At the current consumption level which is fast depleting renewable sources, the Kingdom needs to invest SR300 billion ($80 billion) over the next 40 years to meet growing demand.

  Dr. Bushnak said the Saudi private sector has asked the government to allow businessmen to build the third and fourth expansion phases of Al-Shuaiba desalination plant along the Red Sea to provide an additional 150 million gallons per day of drinking water to cities and towns in the Makkah Province.

  A study commissioned by the newly-established Makkah Utility Company said SR23 billion ($6.1 billion) capital investment is needed for Jeddah water projects until the year 2020. The company is hoping to attract SR5 billion from local and foreign financiers.

  The Saline Water Conversion Corporation said it would build 15 new desalination plants along the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf over the coming years to produce 2 million cubic meters per day.  The corporation has drawn up plans to increase its desalination capacity to 800 million gallons per day.

  Ajlan Al-Kawari, GCC assistant secretary-general for economic affairs, issued a strong warning saying the GCC states which are among the world’s poorest in water resources, continue to depend heavily on desalination and may one day find themselves forced to import water in large quantities. In just 15 years from 1980 to 1995 demand for water in the GCC increased from 6 billion cubic meters to 25 billion cubic meters. The agricultural sector continues to be the number one consumer of underground water accounting for 85 percent of overall consumption.

  Al-Kawari said the GCC countries are currently experiencing a deficit of 15 billion cubic meters which is mainly covered by non-renewable sources. This will rise to more than 31 billion cubic meters by the year 2025. Desalination has become an indispensable alternative for the GCC states, but it is a choice marred by many difficulties including technology and economic viability.

  Dr. Bushnak called for what he termed “innovative financial and administrative solutions” to bridge the wide gap between demand and supply. Past and present experiences, he said, have proved that businessmen are capable of coming up with such initiatives.

Source: ArabNews®

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26 March 2001 02:21:41 PM

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