Saudi Arabia to Join Bahrain in Drive for Desalination

The Middle East takes its water shortages with anything but a grain of salt. Saudia Arabia plans to spend more than $3 billion on its newest desalination project. The new operation in Jubail Industrial City should be in working order by 2010, a Saudi official recently announced.

Not only is the plant expected to produce 800,000 cubic meters of water per day, it also should generate 2,750 megawatts of electricity. More power plus more water equals a winning combination for the water-scarce nation, but is energy-intensive desalination the answer for a country caught in the shift from oil to water?

In nearby Bahrain, desalination already rules the tap. Salt-stripped ocean water provides the island state with 143 million gallons daily. Residents of Bahrain, however, complain that the environmental price of the desalinated water proves too high.

Despite treatment regulations preventing chemical-laced discharge, some Bahraini scientists warn of future harm to marine ecosystems.

“All desalination plants use chlorine or other biocides – which are hazardous to marine resources – to clean pipes and other equipment and sometimes to pre-treat the feed water,” environmental economist Dr Ali Al-Hesabi explained to the Women’s International Perspective.

“The Environmental Authority in the Kingdom of Bahrain does not permit chlorine or other biocides to be discharged directly into the marine environment. Consequently, these chemicals would have to be neutralized before discharge.”

For many Bahrainis, who once worshiped a God of Fresh Water and built temples to honor their sacred supply, the current dependence on desalination is disconcerting. As countries across the Middle East declare seawater alchemy as the solution to their water crises, Bahrain serves as a ready example of the region’s changing resource politics.

Read more here and here.

Sources: International Herald Tribune, Women’s International Perspectives

3 replies
  1. Robert Cox says:

    Inhabitants of Bahrain are known as “Bahrainis” not “Bahrainians”.
    Semantic, but important.

    When I was a child growing up in Bahrain, I often used to swim out to the Dhows anchored off the causeway and dive off them with the other kids. We found that there was a permanent layer of ice-cold fresh water – separated from the hot saline sea at about 20 feet down. We later discovered that this way the basis for Bahrains freshwater pearl industry, now almost defunct.

    The construction of Mina Salman and Sitra terminals basically destroyed the subterranean aquifers, and it is sad to see the natural (not the newly planted and irrigated) palm trees dying as you drive South along the various causeways.

    The Bahrainis are right to be concerned about desalination – the gulf is highly stressed as it is, and increasing salinity is not going to help.

  2. Khalid Alkhayat says:

    It is very interesting to see such article about my country and my company at once !

    I am the Head of Corporate Communication at Tharawat Investment House which is an Islamic investment house in Bahrain, and we are joining another two companies to establish an environmentally friendly company to maufacture a water filters. one of the companies is PMI.

    Anyway, I liked Mr Roberts Cox comments about the scarcity of sweet waters in Bahrain, and that’s why I wanted to add this piece of information whcih is the name Bahrain means in Arabic “TWo SEAS”, referring to the Arabian Gulf salti water where the other Sea is the fresh water laid underneath it, and this is what Robert mentioned in his comments.

    The sweet water was available in huge quantities to the limit that even Bahrain was named after it.

    One of the most well known fresh water springs beneath the Sea in my childhood was called ” Um Al Sowali” located in the eastern part of HIdd, now ruined by the Dry Dock!
    We, the kids and people of Hidd City, used to wait for the tie to start so we can go enjoy sweet water and take our showers as source of fun.

    Unfortunately, this type of fun is not available any more, but in the books or this site as you are reading it.

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