The shortage of water is one of the world’s greatest current and future challenges. Even more so for the Arabian Gulf region, with GCC countries consuming considerably more water than the world average, despite the fact that the Arabian Gulf gets little rain and has low levels of groundwater.
Currently, demand for potable water in the region is about 3,300 million imperial gallons per day (MIGD), and is expected to grow to about 5,200 MIGD by 2020.
GCC countries depend mainly on groundwater resources, desalinated water plants and recycled wastewater to meet the requirements of the population, agriculture and industries. The increasing population and the fast growing economies of the GCC have affected the quality of the already scares groundwater, leading to poorer quality of water for daily use and negative environmental impacts.
To meet this challenge, governments have turned to large-scale desalination and wastewater treatment.
Over the past decade, GCC countries have become the world’s biggest consumers of desalinated water, with the Arabian Gulf accounting for around 41 percent of desalinated water produced globally.
By 2020, total seawater desalination capacity is expected to further increase by nearly 40 percent by 2020 — from around 4,000 MIGD to more than 5,500 MIGD — to meet increasing demand for potable water in the region.
To generate these additional millions of gallons of potable water of seawater requires a high amount of energy — which in turn contributes to CO2 emissions and puts a severe stain on the economies of the GCC.
Water is also a key requirement for enterprises in the chemical industry. The industry uses two types of water: process water, which is purified water, and cooling water, which is sea water used to cool the production plants.
The continued growth in GCC chemical output over the past decades, means that the industry needs increasingly more water for production and cooling purposes. GCC chemical producers have been encouraged to take preventive and corrective actions to maximize water use and reuse as the outlook for water demand becomes an even more important issue.
As reported in the GPCA Sustainability and Responsible Care report for 2015-16, process water consumption shows an encouraging reduction from 2013 and 2014.
The report also shows a downward trend in terms of waste water discharges. It is important to note the growing awareness that sea water used for cooling should not be high in temperature when discharged back into the sea, to ensure no harm is done to the marine habitat.
If the GCC’s chemical industry, the second largest manufacturing industry in the region, can achieve greater water conservation, then the benefits will not be just environmental but also economical.