Saudi Efforts to Prevent and Adapt to Climate-Related Water Scarcity are Highly Effective

Saudi Efforts to Prevent and Adapt to Climate-Related Water Scarcity are Highly Effective

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Over the last decade, Saudi Arabia, a largely arid country, has witnessed significant changes in water usage, driven by the dual pressures of a growing population and industrialization. One of the key changes has been the shift from water-intensive agricultural practices to more sustainable methods due to the depletion of the country’s underground water reserves, a major source of irrigation water. The Kingdom’s non-renewable aquifers, such as the Saq-Ram and Wasia-Biyadh, have been critically impacted due to over-extraction. The increased demand for desalinated water, particularly in the petrochemical industry, has strained the existing water infrastructure in the industrial sector.

Climate factors have further exacerbated water scarcity in Saudi Arabia. Increased temperatures and decreased precipitation associated with climate change have led to more extended periods of drought, putting additional pressure on existing water resources. These factors have also negatively impacted the few freshwater bodies, such as the As-Sarawat and Hijaz Mountains’ seasonal rivers, reducing their minimal flow. Despite its arid climate, Saudi Arabia occasionally experiences flash floods, which are challenging to repel for practical purposes due to the country’s geography and infrastructure. Sea-level rise doesn’t significantly impact the country’s freshwater supply but poses a growing threat to its coastal desalination plants, an essential resource for potable water. The government has been increasingly investing in desalination, wastewater recycling, and more efficient irrigation technologies to combat these challenges.

The Saudi National Water Strategy 2030, launched in 2018, aims to preserve water resources, protect the environment, and provide quality and efficient services. To achieve the goals of this initiative, the country has invested in several desalination projects that produce 7.6 million m3 daily, accounting for 22 percent of global production, making Saudi Arabia the leading desalinated water producer in the world.

As of October 2020, the Kingdom had a total of 33 desalination plants in 17 locations run by the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), a government-run organization responsible for approximately 69 percent of desalination in the Kingdom (5.6 million m3/d) and 20 percent of worldwide desalination, with nonrenewable groundwater (less than 40 percent) taking most of the remaining share and reclaimed wastewater surface water and surface water supplies supplying the rest.

In March 2023, Saudi Arabia announced allocating $80 billion for water projects within the coming years as part of its efforts to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all and increase the percentage of the population covered by sanitation services to be more than 95% by 2030. The strategy also aims to reduce water consumption for agricultural purposes by optimizing the use of water resources through (i) the rationalization of current resources and reduction of consumption rates in the urban and agricultural sectors; (ii) improvement of irrigation practices and promotion of the reuse of treated wastewater in the sector; (iii) reducing feed cultivation and improving crop productivity through comparative advantage; (iv) launching a study to assess the possibility of collecting, treating and reusing wastewater for irrigating green areas and supplying the agricultural and industrial sectors and establishing the necessary infrastructure; and (v) developing sustainable desalination capacity. Moreover, in April, the government offered six wastewater treatment projects under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model that will be procured by the Ministry of Environment, Water & Agriculture under Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) contracts. The five Independent Sewage Treatment Plant (ISTP) projects and the sole Small Sewage Treatment Plant (SSTP) and Collection Network project will treat wastewater for reuse in non-agriculture municipal and industrial applications, providing an aggregate wastewater treatment capacity of 650,000 cubic meters per day (m3/day).

Based on these investments, Saudi efforts to prevent and adapt to climate-related water scarcity are highly effective.


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Saudi Arabia Country Managers Abeer Abdulkareem and Amgad Ellabouty.


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