EGA’s RO water desalination plant at its Al Taweelah aluminium refinery site in the UAE

EGA’s RO water desalination plant at its Al Taweelah aluminium refinery site in the UAE

Big projects ahead

2019 is shaping up to be a big year for Middle East water projects as major water projects are moving ahead with renewed vitality and with an eye to greater investment in the sector, says a report

May 2019

If the opening months of 2019 have shown anything, it’s that the enthusiasm for improving water security and sustainability in the Middle East has been taken up and carried onwards from 2018. In key Middle East territories, from sustainability leaders like the UAE, to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and others, major water projects are moving ahead with renewed vitality and with an eye to greater investment in the sector, a WFES (World Future Energy Summit) Insight report said.

Not only are we seeing more instances of 2018-tendered water projects moving forward in these countries, there are also more reports of new projects of even greater ambition being proposed by leading water authorities. Overall, this is quickly creating an atmosphere of dynamism and gathering confidence for the Middle East water industry in early 2019, precisely at a time when focus is sharpening on the threat of climate change and the exacerbation of regional water scarcity, which looms large for millions of people living in arid and semiarid areas.

A recent World Bank report suggests that a “business as usual” attitude of over utilising existing freshwater and groundwater supplies would result in 60 per cent of the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region facing high to extremely high water stress by 2040. Already, inadequate supply of water and sanitation is estimated to cost the region approximately $21 billion every year in economic losses related to lost productivity and sickness, amongst other issues. In 2019, governments across the Middle East are renewing their commitment to breaking the cycle of water scarcity through heightened investment and tangible actions.



Saudi Arabia: As its national economic diversification plan gathers momentum, 2019 is predicted to be a pivotal year for water in Saudi Arabia, with plans announced to tender or award at least six major water projects by the end of the year. While some are still in the nascent pre-tender phase, others are already accepting or reviewing bids from both foreign and domestic firms.

“We expect to see at least three wastewater treatment plants with a total capacity of one million cubic metres per day (cmd) and three-to-four seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plants totalling two million cmd capacity to be tendered in Saudi Arabia this year,” said Julio De La Rosa, Acciona Agua business development director for the Middle East, in a recent interview.

The 900,000 cmd Taweelah desalination plant is the largest in the UAE

The 900,000 cmd Taweelah desalination plant is the largest in the UAE

January 2019 saw plans released for a 250,000 cmd Haddah wastewater treatment plant as well as a much larger 600,000 cmd Arana facility. In the same month, Saudi Arabia’s Saline Water Conversion Company (SWCC) opened bids for the 600,000 cmd Rabigh 4 desalination plant. This development comes less than a month after ACWA Power was awarded the right to construct Rabigh 3, which will also yield a 600,000 cmd

UAE: 2019 has started with a flurry of completed projects and bids for future developments in the UAE. Seven separate bids for the 900,000 cmd Taweelah desalination plant, the largest in the country, have been received and are being assessed. Meanwhile, in February, the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) completed a two water transmission lines project costing $4.63 million with a capacity of 60 million gallons per day.

Solid progress is also being made on The Dubai Deep Tunnel Storm Water System, a first-of-its-kind project which will be able to successfully capture, collect and redirect storm water runoff and groundwater at a 110 c m per minute

Perhaps most eye-catchingly of all, the UAE’s project to tow icebergs from Antarctica to its shoreline is gathering pace. Announced as a concept in July 2018, this plan to leverage a wholly new source of water for the region will see a pilot phase initiated in mid-2019, with an estimated cost of $50-60 million for the
whole project.

Kuwait: In terms of major water projects, both the Al-Khairan Phase 1 and Az-Zour North 2 and 3 Independent Water and Power Projects (IWPP) are up for tendering in 2019. The Kuwaiti Government has also released a request for procurement for smart water meters. This aligns with Kuwait’s stated desire to reduce water wastage in its urban areas while increasing its citizens awareness on the subject.

Oman: Both the 300,000 cmd Al Ghubrah III Independent Water Project and the 100,000 cmd Barka V IWP are due to be tendered this year, while February saw Oman sign five agreements to create the $480 million Duqm Integrated Electricity and Water Station joint project, with phase one due for completion in 2020.



MEED recently forecast that water demand in the GCC territories alone is going to increase by 60 per cent within the next six years. This is going to require an estimated 65 per cent increase in desalination capacity from 2017 levels, purely in order to meet rising demand. To actually go beyond keeping pace with demand and make water security a reality for the region, vast improvements in overall wastewater treatment and reuse, water saving measures and other water-based innovations will be needed in a rapid yet sustained manner.

“What we’re seeing in early 2019 is a step up in commitment towards solving a near-perennial threat to the Middle East’s long-term socioeconomic stability. It sets the right tone for the rest of the year, with more to come as the Middle East countries aim to advance their respective water strategies as outlined in their national development programmes,” the report concluded.

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