Water in the Middle East – tackling a chronic shortage

A large-scale desalination and power plant in Dubai.

The issue of water scarcity is an ongoing concern in the Middle East. Substantial capital investments in the region are establishing robust infrastructure to ensure a consistent water supply. Essential strategies encompassing conservation, desalination, and advanced storage mechanisms are pivotal in effectively addressing this challenge.

By Joanne McIntyre, Stainless Steel World

According to UNICEF, four billion people – almost two-thirds of the world’s population – experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year. More than two billion people live in countries where the water supply is inadequate. As populations grow, the need for sustainable water sources becomes urgent. In the Middle East, countries including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Palestine and several of the Gulf States lack access to plentiful, clean water. The key is to increase water conservation and desalination while reducing waste and boosting storage capacities.

Conserve, desalinate, store

Stainless steel tanks provide long-term, maintenance-free, hygienic water storage. By Oscar Arky, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Stainless steel tanks provide long-term, maintenance-free, hygienic water storage. By Oscar Arky, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Creative Commons

According to Orient Planet Group (OPG), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) trade bloc comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates is doubling down on its efforts to both conserve water and increase capacity. While over half of the world’s total desalination output originates from GCC states, the region’s desalination capacity will increase by 40% in the next five years. The southern coasts of the Gulf are dotted with more than 300 desalination plants – mostly in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain.
The region’s water demand is heavily impacted by several factors. A booming population and steady economic growth make the region one of the highest consumers of water in the world. “There are more than 50 million inhabitants across the GCC today, and the figures could increase by approximately 14 million by 2050,” said Nidal Abou Zaki, Managing Director, Orient Planet Group. “The water-intensive lifestyle prevalent in the Gulf countries, as well as their steady economic progress, will widen the demand-supply gap in the future further.”
Some industry estimates put the GCC’s annual water demand at over 50 billion cubic meters by 2030. The combined desalination capacity of GCC countries is expected to increase dramatically by 40% from the current 18.18 million m3/day to over 25 million m3/day within the next few years. An enormous amount of power is required for desalination, and the GCC countries are looking to renewable energy to help fuel their water needs.

Advanced water projects in the region

Saudi Arabia: In 2023, the Kingdom announced USD14.58 billion of investments in water projects for desalination, transmission, strategic reservoirs, and wastewater treatment.
Seven new Independent Water Plant desalinisation projects will be built beginning in 2024.
Four Independent Water Transmission Pipeline projects are planned to transport potable water.
The Kingdom also announced ten new Independent Strategic Water Reservoir (ISWR) projects and six new wastewater treatment projects to treat wastewater for reuse.
In 2022, Saudi Arabia had already launched sixty water projects worth USD 9.33 billion. Once completed, these projects will increase the desalination capacity from 2.54 million m3/per day in 2021 to 7.5 million m3/ per day by 2027.
UAE: The UAE Water Security Strategy 2036 aims to reduce CO2 emissions associated with water desalination by 100 million metric tons and ensure sustainable access to water during both normal and emergency conditions. The strategy will reduce total demand for water, increase water productivity, reduce water scarcity, increase the reuse of treated water and increase national water storage capacity.
Dubai: Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is increasing Dubai’s water storage capacity by 2030 with three massive reservoirs. “We aim to increase the storage capacity of Dubai to 1002 MIG compared to the current capacity of 815 MIG,” said HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD & CEO of DEWA. The reservoirs add to the Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) project for desalinated water. Once completed in 2025, the ASR project will be the largest in the world.

Stainless steels for water desalination

The saline conditions of desalination plants, in combination with the high pressures, require strong, corrosion-resistant materials. It is standard to apply duplex (type 2205) and super duplex (SAF 2507) stainless steel in the most severe applications, such as the casing and impellors of high-pressure feed pumps, booster pumps or seawater intake pumps. In less severe applications, lean duplex grades such as 2304 or Outokumpu’s LDX 2101 have been successfully applied. To avoid over-specifying, NSSC has developed NSSC 2120 (21Cr-2Ni-N), a grade with corrosion resistance similar to type 304 but twice as strong.

Hadera in Israel is one of the world’s largest SWRO desalination plants, with a maximum capacity of 160 million m3/year.
Hadera in Israel is one of the world’s largest SWRO desalination plants, with a maximum capacity of 160 million m3/year.

Jordan: The World Bank reports that Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. This is exacerbated by huge water losses: over 50% of municipal water either leaks from pipes or is not paid for by the consumer and is considered non-revenue water (NRW). The Jordan Water Sector Efficiency Project addresses three areas: sustainable reduction of NRW by rehabilitating water supply infrastructure, modernising water supply systems, and engaging customers and communities. In June 2023, the project received a USD 200 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and a USD 50 million grant from the Global Concessional Financing Facility.
Oman: Several major Independent Water Projects (IWPs) are in the pipeline for Oman Power and Water Procurement Company (OPWP), especially in the Barka region. Barka IWP 2024 is a new water scheme with a capacity of 100,000 m3/day.
OPWP is also building a new IWP, North Al Batinah, sized at 150,000 m3/day, planned for commercial launch in 2026. Oman’s largest IWP – a 300,000 m3/day capacity desalination plant – should be operational by 2025.
Qatar: The desalination plant at Umm Al Houl in Doha is part of a large-scale Integrated Water and Power Project (IWPP) that produces approximately 2,500 MW of electric power. Designed, built and operated by ACCIONA, the reverse osmosis desalination plant has a total daily capacity of 894,000 m3 (in two phases).

The ACCIONA reverse osmosis desalination plant in Qatar has a total daily capacity of 894,000 m3.
The ACCIONA reverse osmosis desalination plant in Qatar has a total daily capacity of 894,000 m3.

Bahrain: This year, Bahrain successfully launched the second phase of the large Al-Dur 2 Independent Water and Power Project (IWPP), valued at USD 1 billion. The plant generates 1500 MW of electricity and processes 50 million gallons of desalinated water daily, increasing the Kingdom’s daily production capacity to 5044 MW of electricity and 204 million gallons of desalinated water.
Israel: The country has seven mega-size desalination plants built or planned along its single coastline, producing 80% of its potable water. In 2022, Israel announced plans to pump excess output from its desalination plants into the Sea of Galilee, depleted by overuse and threatened by climate change.

Looking for technical information?

In November 2022, Stainless Steel World published the technical paper ‘High-alloy stainless steel in seawater desalination processes’ by Centro Inox. Access this article in our online technical archive:
Click to go to the article!

In 2022, Israel announced plans to pump excess output from its Hadera desalination plant into the Sea of Galilee, depleted by overuse and threatened by climate change.
In 2022, Israel announced plans to pump excess output from its Hadera desalination plant into the Sea of Galilee, depleted by overuse and threatened by climate change.

Emergency desalination in Gaza

UNICEF, the European Union, and local partners worked together on the Seawater Desalination Plant project to provide safe drinking water for 75,000 Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. The project was launched in response to the impending collapse of Gaza’s groundwater aquifer, which is affected by prolonged drought, seawater intrusion, sewage and fertiliser infiltration. The immediate solution was the construction of seawater desalination plants. Three relatively small capacity reverse osmosis plants referred to as Short Term Low Volume (STLV) were rapidly implemented to provide relief until a large-scale plant could be built.

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This Featured Story appeared in Stainless Steel World October 2023 magazine. To read many more articles like these on an (almost) monthly basis, subscribe to our magazine (available in print and digital format) – SUBSCRIPTIONS TO OUR DIGITAL VERSION ARE NOW FREE.

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