The WSTA 11th Gulf Water Conference
“Water in the GCC … Towards Efficient Management”
20-22 October, 2014, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman
WSTA in Cooperation with the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Water Resources, Sultanate of Oman, and the Oman Water Society
Supported by The General Secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council
In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, situated in one of the driest and most water-stressed region of the world, sustainable water provision to the various development activities has grown to be one of the most challenging tasks faced. This is due to limited available natural water resources on one hand, and escalating sectoral water demands resulting from the fast-paced socio-economic development and its associated rapid population growth on the other. Currently, the GCC countries are experiencing an alarming future of increasing water scarcity and increasing water supply costs, which might not only threaten their future development, but also the preservation and sustainability of their past economic and social achievements.
Addressing water scarcity, both natural and human-induced, is considered now as one of the major and most critical challenges facing the GCC countries. This challenge is expected to grow with time due to many pressing drivers, including population growth, changing lifestyle and consumption patterns, food demand, prevailing general subsidy system, climate change, and many other drivers, forcing these countries into more expensive and costly investments in water supply sources and infrastructures (i.e., desalination, water treatment, dams, and groundwater wellfields) to meet escalating water demands. The heavy financial, economic, and environmental costs, as well as social costs associated with the currently practiced supply-side management approach in the GCC countries cannot be overemphasized.
Currently, in the GCC countries water efficiency in both the supply-side and the demand-side is generally very low. For example, on the supply side the physical leakage component of the non-revenue water in the municipal networks ranges between 30% and more than 40%, which is at odds with the high cost incurred in producing desalinated water varying between 1-2US$ per cubic meter. Moreover, recycling in the GCC countries is negligible, while the collected wastewater on average does not exceed 40% of total domestic water volumes, and the reuse rate is less than 60% of the treated volumes. On the demand side, the per capita water consumption in the domestic sector in most of the GCC countries reaches 500 Liters/day and in some countries exceeds 700 Liters/day, which ranks amongst the highest in the world. Furthermore, in the agricultural sector which consumes on average more than 80% of the total water used in the GCC countries, the predominance of inefficient irrigation practices leads to the loss of more than 50% of the amounts of irrigation water applied. Similarly, in the industrial sector wasteful water practices are common with negligible recycling efforts.
While the GCC countries have spent billions of dollars on water supply infrastructure (i.e., desalination plants, treatment facilities, dams, and drilling of wells) in the provision of water supply, inadequate attention has been given to how efficiently the existing water is being used, being supplied, recycled, or reused. To enhance the sustainability of the water management system and strengthen water demand management policies in the GCC countries, there is an urgent need to reconsider the existing traditional supply-side management approach, and improve water efficiency by reducing wasteful use in all the water consuming sectors, and raise awareness and influence consumers to make behavioral changes to reduce water wastage. In fact, under the currently prevailing political economy in the GCC countries, where a general subsidy system exists that makes the use of economic incentives/disincentives difficult, it is becoming crucially imperative for these countries to focus on improving water efficiency to sustain water supplies with the least costs and minimum risks, and to achieve maximum productivity per cubic meter consumed.
Improving water efficiency by implementing measures that reduce waste, in both the supply and demand sides, is more “cost-effective” than increasing water supply capacity, as available water efficiency options have a lower unit cost than increasing supply. For example reducing water leakage in urban distribution networks is more cost-effective than expanding desalination capacity to augment supply; similarly, increasing the conveyance system and irrigation efficiency is more cost-effective than increasing groundwater abstraction to meet irrigation demands. Therefore, improving water efficiency need to be seen as a viable complement, and in some cases may be a substitute for, investments in long-term water supplies and infrastructure.
At the heart of this concept is an economic standard, where a good water use efficiency program produces a level of benefits that exceed the costs required to undertake the program; for example reducing the desalination plants production or delaying their capacity expansion by implementing water efficiency measures, such as reduction of the leakage in the distribution network, or water-saving devices, or recycling, not only save consumers money and governments financial resources and lower the burden on the national budget, but it also saves natural energy resources assets (oil and gas), the main source of income to the GCC countries. Furthermore, in addition to the increase in the added-value per cubic meter and freeing up water for other uses, this will reduce the environmental costs in terms of greenhouse gases emissions and effluents discharged to the marine environment by desalination plants, thus reducing environmental degradation. Hence, improving water efficiency results in a multitude of successive benefits and contributes directly to the developmental goals of the GCC countries, would help ensure reliable water supplies today and for future generation, and enhance the overall level of water security.
Although the water scarcity problem is well recognized in the GCC countries, water efficiency has not yet become a major priority in the agendas of the governments of the GCC countries. Moreover, in most of the GCC countries, institutions are rooted in a centralized culture with supply driven management and fragmented and sub-sectoral approaches to water management. Hence, it is of paramount importance that efforts are made to incorporate explicitly water efficiency measures within a framework of an integrated and comprehensive water policies and management strategies. Water efficiency must be addressed at all levels in water management, through technical means, improved management practices, and societal behavior changes. In short, before simply “providing more water” (i.e., a supply management approach), which often implies construction of new and expensive infrastructure, the first and more cost-effective approach should be to improve the water efficiency of the water management system, addressing the demand side issues, and as a last resort augmenting supplies.
Through addressing the topic of sustainable water management in the GCC countries, the WSTA Eleventh Gulf Water Conference focuses on the water efficiency of the water sector within a demand management framework, as well as related topics for improving the management efficiency in the various consuming sectors, such as appropriate governance approaches and stakeholders participation, legislative consideration, innovative technologies, awareness raising, capacity development, data requirements and transparent decision making process, economic analysis and benefits, and many other factors relevant to the issue of water efficiency in a scientific forum. The conference will present the experiences and best practices from different countries in improving water efficiency and overcoming the water challenges in the arid GCC and Arab countries.