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Saudi Arabia, a country with a population of around 36 million and one of the world’s driest countries, is the third biggest consumer of water per capita in the world, after the United States and Canada. The country has implemented a series of measures to rationalize water consumption as part of its Vision 2030 program, with the aim of reducing consumption by up to 43% by the end of the decade. And reverse osmosis is the key.
The role of water in the survival of civilisations and in the evolution of their history has been crucial since the beginning of time. Water as a source of life. A resource so vital to present and future generations, and sometimes so scarce, that it can even become a sacred resource.
Access to water is one of humanity's greatest problems and one of the most worrying sources of conflict in many areas of the planet. Water resources are unevenly distributed and, although the UN has established access to water as one of the Fundamental Human Rights and made it the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda, water shortages affect 40% of the global population today.
The data is telling. Just six countries account for nearly 50% of the world's water resources: Brazil, the United States, Canada, Russia, India and China. And 27% of this water can be found in just five river systems: the Amazon, Congo, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Yellow River and Orinoco. Beyond this overabundance, there are many areas of the planet with alarming water stress where water is consumed at a faster rate than it can be replenished.
The GCC countries are located in one of the world's driest regions, with limited freshwater resources, high evaporation rates, and increasing demand for water due to population growth and economic development.
To address water scarcity in this part of the world, there is a need for sustainable water management practices, including conservation measures, improving water use efficiency, and promoting the use of alternative sources of water, such as treated wastewater and desalinated seawater by promoting Circular Economy concept.
Saudi Arabia, a country with a population of around 36 million and one of the world’s driest countries, is the third biggest consumer of water per capita in the world, after the United States and Canada. The country has implemented a series of measures to rationalize water consumption as part of its Vision 2030 program, with the aim of reducing consumption by up to 43% by the end of the decade.
In the Saudi Water Forum of 2019, Saudi Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture, Abdulrahman Al Fadley, officially launched the Qatrah program (Arabic for ‘droplet’) to rationalize water consumption. Through the Qatrah program, the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture aims to reduce daily per capita consumption from 348 liters per person per day in 2021 to 150 liters by 2030.
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.
According to our latest Sustainability Report, total production of desalinated water in the Middle East region will be 13 times higher in 2040 than in 2014. In a region with serious water shortages, the demand for desalinated water produced with the most sustainable solutions is growing in response to climate change and an increasing population.
One of the most effective ways of dealing with this problem is to focus on the fact that 98% of Earth's water is saltwater and to take advantage of this water to supply the places that need it the most, once it has been turned into clean and ready-to-drink water. Desalination, especially desalination by reverse osmosis, makes this possible being the most efficient and sustainable solution available today.
Although three quarters of the Earth's surface is covered by water, only 2.3% of this is fresh water. And of that 2.3%, humans can only access to 0.3%. Desalinating the seawater that makes up the rest of the planet could solve the problem of water shortage.
The increasing use of desalinated seawater for domestic, industrial, and agricultural purposes has raised environmental concerns, such as the disposal of brine, the impact on marine ecosystems, and the high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with desalination. But the answer is in the Reverse Osmosis.
Converting seawater into drinking water is technologically possible. We have been doing this for a long time in our reverse osmosis desalination plants, nowadays using the most advanced, efficient and environmentally friendly technology. Brine shall be faced as a potential source of minerals and not only as a potential harmful waste and the technology to make it profitable and sustainable is available, it is just a matter to reflect this need in the target tariff to pay for drinkable water.
But what is reverse osmosis desalination? We explain this in more detail in infographic below. But, basically, it is a process in which pressure is applied to seawater containing salt, this water then passes through a membrane and we obtain clean water free from salt particles, which have been caught on the other side of the membrane. The clean water undergoes a remineralisation process and is sent to homes for consumption, while the resultant brine is diluted before being returned to the sea to avoid high concentrations of salt.
So far, reverse osmosis technology is not only the most economical solution, but also the most sustainable:
- A five-litre bottle in the supermarket costs the same as desalinating 1,000 litres of water.
- And desalinating 1,000 litres of water uses the same amount of energy as an air conditioning system in a house for one hour.
- Reverse osmosis also produces 6.5 times fewer CO₂ emissions than conventional desalination technology.
In conclusion, water scarcity remains a significant challenge in the GCC countries, but efforts are underway to address it through sustainable water management practices and the development of alternative water sources. The success of these efforts will depend on strong political will, public participation, and regional cooperation.
By Julio de la Rosa, ME Business Development Director, ACCIONA’s Water business