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Ahead of World Water Day, Saudi Arabia Launches Program for a Drastic Reduction in Water Use

Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s driest countries, has announced a national program for rationalising water consumption in the Kingdom, setting ambitious targets that include slashing usage by nearly 24 percent by next year and some 43 percent by the end of the next decade. The announcement came at the Saudi Water Forum 2019, held this week in Riyadh, and with World Water Day set for Friday, March 22.

Speaking at the March 17-19 Forum, Saudi Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Abdulrahman Al Fadley, officiallylaunched the Qatrah (Arabic for ‘droplet’) program, aimed at reducing water consumption as part of the ministry's efforts to attain water sustainability, along its official website (www.qatrah.com) and social media accounts. Citizens can pledge to conserve water by registering on the site.

With the theme “Sustainable Water for Sustainable Development”, the forum itself aimed to promote sustainability in Saudi Arabia's water management sector, localize international expertise in the sector, attract foreign investment into the industry, and increase the implementation of state-of-the-art water technology.

Saudi Arabia, which has a population of about 33.4 million, is the world’s third largest per capita consumer of water after the United States (pop. 324.5 million approx.) and Canada (pop. 37.2 million), according to the Qatrah website. Through the Qatrah program, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture aims to reduce daily per capita consumption from 263 liters to 200 liters by 2020 and to 150 liters by 2030.


The water conservation program will be implemented by the government-owned National Water Company in all regions of the Kingdom “which occupies one of the world's highest levels of per capita water consumption globally, not in keeping with its water conditions,” a statement said.

The Qatrah program promotes the importance of water conservation, proposes methods for rationalizing industrial and residential consumption and educates individuals on the importance of modifying their own water usage. The rationalization of water consumption, both industrial and residential, is part of the National Transformation Program 2020 and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 roadmap for the future.

“Qatrah has been established to contribute to changing the behavior of individuals, raising water awareness, sustaining water resources, optimizing water resources through rationalization, and will allow society of maximize the benefits of food, fuel, electricity and water support, as well as safeguard natural resources,” the statement said.

Water security is a key challenge facing Saudi Arabia and has already led to the Kingdom emerging as the world’s largest producer of desalinated water. According to the Global Food Security Index 2015, 97 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population has access to potable water, despite extremely low annual rainfall, very high evaporation rates and the depletion of groundwater through previously unfettered usage.

Water conservation is far from just a Saudi issue. World Water Day 2019 falls on Friday March 22 and was created to highlight the importance of freshwater and to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The internationally recognized theme this year is 'Leaving no one behind'.



DEVELOPING TECHNIQUES FOR WATER PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION AT LOWEST COST

A number of government ministers and senior officials in the water sector from inside and outside the Kingdom attended the Saudi Water Forum, which is being held under the theme "Sustainable Water for Sustainable Development" and intends to shed light on the efforts and future directions of the water sector, according to Vision 2030 and National Water Strategy.

In his address at the Water Forum’s opening ceremony on Sunday, Minister Al Fadley praised the government’s unity of purpose that has been indispensable to the Ministry’s success in implementing strategic water projects.

“The reality of the water sector in the Kingdom requires all of us to work together -- the public sector, the private sector and the citizenry – with the aim of developing techniques for the production and distribution of water at the lowest possible cost,” Al Fadley said.

Undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Dr. Faisal Al-Subaie, in his opening remarks pointed out that the forum takes place during the same week as World Water Day, enhancing the “opportunity for all water sectors to learn about the experiences and technical developments that address the scarcity of water and resources locally, regionally and internationally.”

The Forum hosted five workshops on water project management, focusing on 1) the latest designs and operations of membrane desalination plants; 2) the use of intelligent technologies in water distribution management; 3) discussion of Japanese water strategy; 4) private sector participation in water; and 5) sanitation projects. Additionally, Forum attendees have the opportunity to sit in on three panel discussions dealing with 1) privatization and investment in the water sector; 2) the role of society in water sustainability and rationalization of use; and 3) the role of research institutes in water sustainability.

RATIONALIZING WATER USE IN THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR
Dr. Abdul Hameed Al-Zaraa, Advisor and Director of the Water Projects Monitoring Office at the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, also addressed the Forum, informing participants about the Ministry’s most important initiatives and projects. He also highlighted sources for the Kingdom’s water and how they pertain to the agricultural, urban and industrial sectors.

According to Dr. Al Zaraa, the Kingdom’s water sources include desalinated water, renewable groundwater, non-renewable groundwater, treated wastewater and surface water. In 2016, he said, a total of 82 percent of non-renewable water consumption came in the agricultural sector, while the industrial and urban sectors accounted for 5 percent and 12 percent of non-renewable consumption, respectively.

“The agricultural sector consumes the most water, requiring the implementation of a number of initiatives that reduce water consumption in this sector, the most important of which are national transformation initiatives to control and regulate water consumption in agriculture and in the consumption of well water,” he said, adding that the Ministry plans to reduce the amount of water used in the agricultural sector and increase the amount of water available to the urban sector in 2030.

Between 2012 and 2016, per capita consumption of water in Saudi Arabia increased significantly from 237 liters to 271 liters, he continued, pointing out the significant challenges to reducing water consumption. This problem, he stressed, is not confined to the Kingdom but is, indeed, a global problem.

FORGET CAPE TOWN, LOOK TO CALIFORNIA

Dr. Jacob Tompkins, Co-Founder & CTO of London’s The Water Retail Company, was quoted on the Qatrah website as saying that in Saudi Arabia “there is virtually no surface water and groundwater supplies are being depleted. Desalination on a vast scale is able to provide for the country’s water needs, but for how long? The demand for industrial and municipal water is still growing and, at the same time, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest levels of per capita water consumption in the world. Producing water at this scale is unsustainable....”

In seeking a parallel for Saudi Arabia’s water conditions, Tompkins puts the focus on California rather than Cape Town, South Africa, the world’s first city to face a serious shortage. Saudis, he wrote, should look at California where a very severe drought prompted restrictions on supply and warnings of catastrophe. This prompted Californians to change their behaviors and private enterprise and public bodies to develop new technologies and devices that optimized water use. “This lead to an amazing reduction in water use of almost 25%,” he wrote.

“Saudi Arabia and California are both prosperous and have a strong focus on the power of technology. But Saudi Arabia has several advantages over California, firstly there is no immediate water crisis so there is time to plan and take action. Secondly, cohesive forces like family and faith mean that there are strong forces for positive collective action and behavioral change, and thirdly that there is an appetite for social change that has a national benefit and a diversification of the economy,” he wrote, pointing out that while there will always be a need for desalination, it is time for Saudi Arabia to embrace the technology of the next century, to use information technology and behavioral campaigns and optimized systems to move Saudi from one of the highest consumers to become one of the lowest.

In February 2018, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build nine water desalination plants on the Red Sea coast, at a total cost of more than SAR 2 billion and with total production capacity of 240,000 cubic meters of water per day. The project to build the plants was to be ready in less than 18 months. Today, Saudi Arabia has more than 30 desalination plants in 17 locations.

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