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The water challenge in the GCC countries

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GCC states face an important challenge in securing their water resources. With a low rainfall, high evaporation rates, an arid climate, a population growth rate that is among the highest in the world, and 140% rise in demand for water over past decade, innovative solutions will have to be found in the near future[1].

Nowadays, the GCC countries rely deeply on desalination, a method that produces around 90% of the water in the Arabian Peninsula. The carbon-intensive technology is expensive and is gradually becoming less viable. The UAE, where it rains on average only three days a year, spent about $800 million building, operating and maintaining desalination plants in 2015, according to the organization Global Water that predicted the bill to more than treble to $3.22 billion this year.

Marwan Abdulaziz, director general of EnPark, a Dubai free zone for energy and environment companies, says : “There’s a big opportunity from a business point of view. Companies can come in and change the way desalination is done, whether through nuclear technology or solar panels for example, instead of old ways, such as gas turbines that separate the salt from the water.”

Other viable substitutes to traditional methods are also under study as atmospheric water generators that create water from humidity or water reuse systems that recycle waste water. Changes also are being made in agriculture as 85% of water resources is consumed by this sector in the GCC.

The GCC states have the means to address this situation and the example of Singapore is often cited as the country which was one of the most vulnerable to running out of water, managed to increase its water self-sufficiency. Many innovation programs are already being held, particularly around the UAE’s World Expo 2020, which includes sustainability as a key theme.

 

[1] Water Security in the Gulf Region, Aljazeera Centre for Studies, March 31, 2015

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