WA­TER CRI­SIS: THINK GLOBAL, ACT LO­CAL

Fresh wa­ter is a unique nat­u­ral re­source. Un­like hy­dro­car­bons, it is es­sen­tially non-sub­sti­tutable. Whether for drink­ing or ir­ri­ga­tion – there is no re­place­ment for it. As such, wa­ter is a crit­i­cal re­source for hu­man life just as it is for al­most all eco-

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE - BY SEAN EVERS Man­ag­ing Part­ner Gulf In­tel­li­gence

Un­like fos­sil fu­els, fresh wa­ter is a unique nat­u­ral re­source and is es­sen­tially non-sub­sti­tutable – whether for drink­ing or ir­ri­ga­tion – it can­not be re­placed.

Un­for­tu­nately, only 3% of the to­tal wa­ter on the planet is fresh wa­ter, while about 97% is salt wa­ter from its oceans. Of the fresh wa­ter that's avail­able, ap­prox­i­mately 70% is frozen in glaciers and ice caps, leav­ing less than 1% of the to­tal world wa­ter sup­ply read­ily us­able for hu­mans.

And even though wa­ter – un­like hy­dro­car­bons – is fi­nite but re­new­able, its re­newal and sus­tain­abil­ity won't be en­sured if con­sump­tion ex­ceeds its re­newal rate. At a time of rapidly-ris­ing wa­ter us­age around the globe, wa­ter re­sources are there­fore com­ing un­der sig­nif­i­cant stress, mak­ing al­ready ex­ist­ing short­ages more se­vere.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank-spon­sored 2030 Wa­ter Re­sources Group, de­mand for wa­ter world­wide may ex­ceed sup­plies by 40% by 2030 at cur­rent growth rates. The Gulf States, in­clud­ing Qatar, which are lo­cated in one of the world's most arid re­gions with scanty rain­fall, high evap­o­ra­tion rates and no rivers, are among the ma­jor con­trib­u­tors to this de­mand growth.

Driven by grow­ing pop­u­la­tions, the es­tab­lish­ment of new in­dus­tries and so­cio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment, the re­gion's wa­ter sup­ply-de­mand gap has widened

dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years. As a re­sult, Gulf coun­tries de­pend to a very high de­gree on de­sali­na­tion to meet their run­away wa­ter re­quire­ments. To­day, the Gulf re­gion ac­counts for nearly 50% of the world's de­sali­nated wa­ter ca­pac­ity.

De­sali­na­tion ca­pac­ity

In the Mid­dle East-North Africa (MENA) re­gion, de­sali­na­tion ca­pac­ity is ex­pected to grow from 21 mil­lion cu­bic me­ters a day (cm/d) in 2007 to nearly 110 mil­lion cm/d by 2030 – of which 70% is in Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, Kuwait, Al­ge­ria and Libya, ac­cord­ing to a joint re­port by the In­ter­na­tional Re­new­able En­ergy Agency (Irena) and the In­ter­na­tional En­ergy Agency's En­ergy Tech­nol­ogy Sys­tems Anal­y­sis Pro­gramme (ETSAP).

This will con­trib­ute to the surge in en­ergy use in the re­gion. The an­nual elec­tric­ity de­mand for de­sali­na­tion in MENA is ex­pected to rise to 122 ter­awatt hours (TWh) by 2030, a fac­tor of three higher com­pared with 2007. In the UAE, for ex­am­ple, sea­wa­ter de­sali­na­tion re­quires about 10 times more en­ergy than sur­face fresh wa­ter pro­duc­tion, and its costs are pro­jected to in­crease by 300%.

In­deed, the world's wa­ter and en­ergy needs are so closely linked that, go­ing for­ward, they can't be sep­a­rated from each other. As a re­sult, wa­ter and en­ergy – to­gether with food se­cu­rity and cli­mate change – are the crit­i­cal is­sues top­ping to­day's global pol­icy agen­das.

En­ergy com­pa­nies – like other in­dus­tries – are con­sumers of fresh wa­ter, if at a smaller scale than, for ex­am­ple, the agri­cul­tural sec­tor. Still, as global en­ergy de­mand con­tin­ues to rise and more wa­ter-in­ten­sive meth­ods are be­ing ap­plied to ex­tract un­con­ven­tional hy­dro­car­bons such as oil sands, ef­fec­tively man­ag­ing the over­all use of the re­source through new and ad­vanced re­cy­cling and re­use tech­nolo­gies is be­com­ing sem­i­nal.

As such, the en­ergy sec­tor at large will have to in­ten­sify its ef­forts to ad­dress and pre­pare for fu­ture wa­ter chal­lenges in many parts of the world. A stronger fo­cus by the in­dus­try on re­search and devel­op­ment (R&D) into wa­ter man­age­ment, re­use, re­cy­cling and de­sali­na­tion – as is al­ready hap­pen­ing at Qatar Science & Tech­nol­ogy Park (QSTP), where nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional en­ergy firms have set up shop – is there­fore es­sen­tial.

Qatar’s chal­lenges

Qatar's par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges of hav­ing ac­cess to very lim­ited fresh wa­ter re­serves while at the same time grow­ing rapidly both in terms of pop­u­la­tion and in­dus­trial devel­op­ment, mean the is­sue of wa­ter is more press­ing here than in many other coun­tries. Set­ting up R&D fa­cil­i­ties in the Gulf state there­fore is an al­most nat­u­ral choice to tackle the wa­ter is­sue and de­velop lo­cal so­lu­tions that can ul­ti­mately be ap­plied glob­ally. It is also in line with the coun­try's own vi­sion of trans­form­ing it­self into a knowl­edge econ­omy and re­duc­ing its de­pen­dence on hy­dro­car­bons.

There can be lit­tle doubt that R&D will play an im­por­tant role in meet­ing the world's wa­ter chal­lenge go­ing for­ward. But it will only be one el­e­ment in what needs to be an in­te­grated eco­nomic ap­proach to wa­ter re­source man­age­ment. Apart from en­ergy com­pa­nies, other pri­vate-sec­tor stake­hold­ers such as agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers, tech­nol­ogy providers and in­dus­trial wa­ter users will have to make crit­i­cal wa­ter man­age­ment de­ci­sions.

Gov­ern­ments will have to in­tro­duce poli­cies aimed at in­creas­ing ef­fi­cien­cies, pric­ing wa­ter ac­cord­ing to its real eco­nomic value, and re­duc­ing economies' wa­ter-in­ten­sity, in par­tic­u­lar in coun­tries that face scarce and di­min­ish­ing wa­ter re­sources. In short, it is vi­tal that all stake­hold­ers get to­gether if a wa­ter cri­sis is to be averted

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