(MENAFN - Arab News) Minister of Water and Electricity Abdullah Al-Hussayen yesterday raised the alarm by saying the Arab world would witness a severe water crisis by the year 2025.
Al-Hussayen, who is also chairman of the National Water Company, attributed the alarming situation to the growing consumption at the opening ceremony of 10th Water Desalination Conference in the Arab Countries (ARWADEX 2012) at the InterContinental Hotel in Riyadh.
He said most Arabs are neither conscious of the acute problem nor of the magnitude of the looming disaster. The minister inaugurated the event on behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, who conveyed his greetings to the participants and guests of the Kingdom. The four-day conference will discuss the latest techniques and methods of water desalination in the region.
The minister warned of an impending environmental disaster as a result of climate change and global warming. He cited a reliable report which indicates that the major cause of climate change was the uneven distribution of rain, leading to heavy rainfall or flooding in some areas and scant or no rainfall elsewhere.
He said that as a result of the situation Arab countries will face by the end of this century a decline of up to 25 percent in precipitation due to a high rate of evaporation. Another major concern was that global warming could lead to a decline in agricultural productivity of up to 20 percent.
The great challenge is how to address the problem of water scarcity in the Arab world, concurrent with the great population explosion, which is the highest growth in the world, he said, adding, "We should give the issue of water resources development and maintenance the highest priority, and the subject of 'water security' must be at the top of the list of priorities."
He pointed out that many experts said the solution to the problem lies in rationalization of consumption of available water resources, development, and finding new water resources.
Al-Hussayen explained that the methods of conservation could be used to raise efficiency, maintenance and development of transmission networks and distribution of water. It could lead to the development of the irrigation system as well as raising the efficiency of the irrigation field, and change in the crop structure. Further, there would be development of strains and new varieties of crops that consume less water, and assume higher levels of salinity.
As well as the diversion of water transport networks, it can add new water resources for nontraditional suppliers by utilizing two important methods, "sewage" and "water desalination", the minister said, adding: "This is one of the topics that many countries should focus on - the basis of a renewed source of water, especially the poor countries, including Arab states, struggling for water resources."
He added that progress in reducing radically the cost of desalination of seawater will be the greatest achievement in human history and will overshadow inventions and discoveries in the past. He explained desalination of seawater is no longer a strategic option only for the countries bordering the coast, such as the Gulf Arab states, but also for other countries "We do not rule out that the desalination industry in the coming decades would be one of the most important global industries, especially as more than 115 countries have plans to desalinate seawater," he said, adding that the prohibitive costs of the technology was standing in the way of its utilization.
Governor of the General Organization for Water Desalination (GOWD) Abdul Rahman Al-Ibrahim said the Kingdom is the largest producer of desalinated water in the world accounting for 18 percent of the global output. He said GOWD, which operates 15 desalination plants and 12 co-generation plants (which produce water and electricity), is playing a leading role in this regard.
The governor stated the total production of desalinated water has about 3 million cubic meters a day, which represents 50 percent of the drinking water needs in the Kingdom, in addition to the establishment, operation and maintenance of a network of pipelines for transporting water over a distance of 4,500 km.
Al-Ibrahim pointed out that skilled manpower was the main driver for industrial growth. Accordingly, the company has drawn up strategic plans for developing a "think tank" consisting of experts who will work and learn as a team with a shared vision.
The institution is undertaking giant multibillion riyal projects, including Ras Al-Khair station project, the largest desalination plant in the world, and the Yanbu plant project - in Madinah (third phase) - will provide additional production capacity and power.