SEATTLE — While the Middle East is known for its abundance of oil, water is a great scarcity particularly in the Arab states surrounding the Persian Gulf. Talking about the Gulf countries often conjures up two extreme images: smoldering deserts and radiant opulence.
Despite the barren environment, many areas of the Persian Gulf feature fountains, brightly colored flowers and plants, and even water parks, which serve as a welcome escape from the desert heat. This lack of conservation, however, has led to the current water crisis in the Persian Gulf region.
To put it in perspective, GCC (the Gulf Cooperation Council composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman) member countries consume 816 cubic meters of water annually (as of 2014) per person compared to the world average of 500.
As of 2014, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the biggest consumers in the region and major contributors to the water crisis in the Persian Gulf region. The same year, Oman was closest to balancing water demanded with renewable resource levels.
However, these luxuries come at a cost of more than just money. In addition to the natural fresh water shortage in the Gulf, the high amount of water usage is starting to greatly harm the environment.
Much of the water in the Gulf must be desalinated or distilled before drinking. Unfortunately, these processes require the burning of fossil fuels as well as increased saline waste entering the sea. The byproduct of CO2 could even increase temperatures in the already hot region.
Ironically, the process of purifying salt water can in turn make the ocean water more salty as a result of waste products. Columbia University anthropologist Gokce Gunel warns that if the waters reach “peak salt” levels, the purification process may become too expensive as well as cause harm to the marine environment. It is safe to assume that a rising cost of purification would only increase the price of suitable drinking water, leaving those in poverty thirsty.
However, there is hope for the future. Some GGC members are looking into alternative solutions to both increase the water supply, and encourage their citizens to cut down on water usage. Governments in the area are adamant about solving the water crisis in the Persian Gulf and invested around $100 billion to research possible solutions.
Chemical engineering professor, Farid Benyahia from Qatar University believes he has invented a game-changing method, which would create solid (as opposed to liquid) waste from the water purification process meaning byproducts could be disposed of outside of the water. In the UAE, there is some talk of creating artificial rain as a possible solution to create drinking water. GCC countries have also been considering raising taxes on drinking water.
In Qatar and Saudi Arabia, officials are promoting a decrease in water usage through new policies and penalties. In Saudi Arabia, the government has even worked to distribute more water-efficient shower heads.
In truth, fresh drinking water is not an unlimited resource. While working to increase the water supply in the GCC is important, sustainability is key. Citizens and governments alike also need to cut back on water wastage in order to balance supply and demand.
– Carrie Robinson