© 2020 All rights reserved to Maaal Newspaper
Publisher: Maaal International Media Company
By: Kamal Aldihan
In a groundbreaking development, the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman made an important announcement in September of this year that has captured the global spotlight. He unveiled the kingdom plan to create a Global Water Organization (GWO) to be hosted in Riyadh. This remarkable initiative signifies a serious step in tackling the urgent global water crisis. The commendable efforts of the Kingdom to establish a global water conservation organization and protect the water droplet for future generations have effectively brought together diverse stakeholders, enabling a more efficient approach to the global water scarcity and security. This article highlights the various rationales and merits behind the establishment of this organization, as well as the numerous advantages that come with being a member of it.
It is clear that human actions have influence on the climate change, thereby placing considerable strain on water resources. In a recent study conducted by the United Nations found that for every 1°C increase in the global average temperature, there is a decline of 20% in renewable water supplies. According to the World-Wide Fund for Nature, 1.2 billion people are currently facing the devastating reality of lacking access to clean water. Furthermore, it is deeply concerning that 2.7 billion individuals experience water scarcity for at least one month annually. Equally troubling is the fact that 2.4 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities.
In the MENA region, there is a notable challenge when it comes to water availability, as the region receives less rainfall compared to other areas. Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge the significant impact of rapidly expanding and densely populated urban areas in this region, which only serves to aggravate the already high demand for water resources.
In our beloved kingdom, we find ourselves dealing with the urgent issue of declining non-renewable groundwater resources, a consequence of the continues scarcity. The recharge rates in the Arabian Shield region are cause for concern, as they are low, amounting to a mere 2.8 billion cubic meters. In 2015, a study highlighted the water demands of the kingdom, which is around 24.8 billion cubic meters. These needs have been consistently rising at a steady pace of 7% annually. In the Kingdom nearly 84% of our non-renewable water resources are being utilized by the agricultural sector. The heavy dependence on these water resources presents a substantial environmental concern. As we are planning ahead for the year 2050 zero-carbon and for our projected population of around 39 million, the demand for clean water is expected to double. These concerning statistics not only bring attention to the significant obstacles that communities around the globe are dealing with, but also emphasize the potential for pandemics to emerge as a result of insufficient sanitation conditions.
Therefore, a need for an organization that will passionately unite and strengthen the efforts of governments to safeguard the world’s water resources in a way that ensures long-term sustainability is warranted. The main goals of this organization are to encourage the flow of knowledge, support the spread of technology and innovation, utilizing the concept of circular economy, and facilitate the collaborative exchange of research and development experiences. Moreover, it would act as a powerful driver to make vital actions that seek to ensure the fair access and distribution of water resources.
Without adaptation, it will not be long before nations facing water scarcity witness a substantial decrease in their water supply and quality. This, in turn, will lead to grave health risks. Water scarcity is a pressing issue that affects us all, both in terms of how much water we have and the quality of that water. It is a matter of great concern, as it has a profound impact on the well-being of individuals and communities alike. In Saudi Arabia, it is truly remarkable to witness a much-needed reaction to the harmful consequences of years of unsustainable irrigation practices.
One could wonder the reasons behind Saudi Arabia’s involvement in such actions, and here we have the answers. During the 1930s, the founding king understood the significance of accessing water resources and therefore sought the guidance of international geological experts. Unfortunately, the report has revealed a harsh reality – the current state of agriculture’s economic sustainability in light of the water crisis is anything but promising. Since then, numerous institutions have emerged with the noble purpose of ensuring universal access to the resource of fresh water. In 1953, a transformative Royal Decree was issued, leading to the transformation of the Directorate-General for Agriculture into the Ministry of Agriculture and Water. Transporting icebergs to Saudi Arabia was just one of the many bold ideas that emerged in the 1970s and left a lasting impression on the Kingdom. It serves as a powerful example of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to tackling water challenges through creative and forward-thinking solutions. In that very same year, a milestone was reached in the realm of desalination, as the Desalination Affairs Agency was established. In 1974, this agency experienced a remarkable transformation and emerged as the Saline Water Conversion Corporation, reflecting a significant shift in its purpose and direction.
In the context of water sustainability, the kingdom has established research centers like the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water. These centers serve as strategic hubs for exploring alternative water sources and nurturing scientific research in this crucial field. In addition, the kingdom has chosen to invest in research and development to find ways to make water treatment more affordable and improve the production of components used in desalination plants. These initiatives are focused on advancing the economic feasibility of desalination as a widely adopted water supply solution across the kingdom.
The water-related projects in Saudi Arabia are in line with the government’s commitment to being responsible agent of the environment. It is worth acknowledging the commendable efforts undertaken by the Kingdom in the areas of water production, transportation, and distribution. By harnessing the power of locally conceived and innovative approaches, significant steps have been made in these vital areas. These remarkable achievements have received widespread acclaim on a global scale. Among the esteemed recipients, it is worth mentioning that the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture was recognized as the finest government agency in the water industry on a global scale in the year 2021. This remarkable achievement was celebrated during the esteemed Global Water Summit, held in Madrid. The outcome we witness here is a direct result of the kingdom’s dedicated efforts to implement the National Water Strategy. Through restructuring the industry, issuing a new water system, integrating management and partnership roles, innovating financing solutions, and engaging the private sector, we have achieved this remarkable outcome. In our country, we have embarked on the construction of cogeneration plants that not only generate electricity, but also address the pressing need for fresh water. Saudi Arabia, a country known for its commitment to water-related conferences and events, has consistently shown a deep dedication to being actively involved at the most influential levels of representation. In the early spring of 2023, the Kingdom was presented with a remarkable chance to participate in a momentous water conference. The delegation, headed by Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Shyabani, who serves as the Deputy Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, showcased the Kingdom’s dedication to tackling the various challenges associated with water. Furthermore, it is worth noting that the Kingdom hosted a workshop during the United Nations Water Conference, titled “Water for Sustainable Development: The Saudi Experience”. I am eager to emphasize the importance of this conference as a pivotal in accelerating our path towards attaining universal access to safe water and sanitation by the year 2030, per the kingdom’s vision.
The issue of groundwater depletion and the growing population, along with the ongoing process of urbanization, present considerable obstacles to ensuring water security in Saudi Arabia. To effectively address water security, the Kingdom has implemented hydro-policies that prioritize the management and conservation of water resources, ensuring a sustainable approach to this vital issue. These policies are designed to create alternative water sources in order to guarantee a water supply that is both sustainable and secure. Saudi Arabia, a country known for its strong economy and steadfast political stability, has become a significant force in the pursuit of water security and promoting fair access to this resource. Currently, many countries, including Saudi Arabia, depend on desalination as a means to fulfil their water requirements and ensure long-term water security. However, it is absolutely imperative for these nations to concurrently embrace sustainable water management strategies that address the problem of excessive and wasteful water usage. The management of water demand and supply in the MENA region is an urgent challenge that necessitates attention, given the region’s swiftly growing population. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to forge partnerships with countries that have ample water resources but may not have the necessary financial means, tools, or technology to maximize their efficient use. Even areas in Europe, North America, and Australia, traditionally known for their relative abundance of water resources, are not immune to this growing problem.
The Kingdom’s dedication to water and sanitation projects across four continents is truly remarkable, with a commitment of $6 billion. In 2022, the OPEC Fund for International Development, an organization sister to OPEC and based in Vienna, Austria, with Saudi Arabia as its main member and contributor, made a noteworthy commitment of US$15 million. This generous pledge aims to provide crucial support to the water and sanitation sector in the least developed countries. The Kingdom possesses significant political and economic influence, which has a beneficial effect on various countries. Moreover, it has been given the responsibility of addressing numerous pressing global matters. Furthermore, it is worth noting that Saudi Arabia has garnered a significant level of trust from a multitude of countries.
Given the imminent challenge at hand, it is imperative that we emphasize the importance of collaboration. The Kingdom and its potential member countries are dedicated to uniting their efforts to make a meaningful contribution to the attainment of the sustainable development goals. Their primary focus lies on water security, which is commonly referred to as the 6th United Nations’ SDG goal. Given the compelling factors mentioned earlier, it is evident that Saudi Arabia emerges as the optimal choice and the most fitting country to serve as the headquarter for the global water organization. The overarching goal of this organization is to cultivate worldwide cooperation and collaborate with the global community to guarantee the enduring sustainability of water resources, benefiting all of humanity. By aligning with GWO, countries interested in participating can collaborate towards achieving sustainable development goals, guaranteeing ample access to water, and generating a holistic water security impact. This incredible collaboration is poised to establish a solid and sustainable water future, not just for the Arab world, but for our planet as a whole. The noble nature of this organization serves as a powerful call to action, leaving no room for governments to make excuses for their reluctance to join.
Kamal Al Dihan
An independent researcher specializing in sustainability and socio-economic issues