Demand from global energy is draining water resources, warns UN

Effective management of water resources is particularly vital for the states of the GCC, with already scarce ground water supplies set to dwindle further.

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Global fresh water resources will suffer from efforts to meet growing demands for energy, the United Nations has warned.

States need to better manage the relationship between water and energy sectors, according to the United Nations 2014 World Water Development Report.

Such effective management of water resources is particularly vital for the states of the GCC, with already scarce ground water supplies set to dwindle further.

“Demographic growth, along with accelerated socio-economic development, has led to a substantial increase in water demand, placing further stress on scarce and mainly non-renewable water resources in the region,” the report found.

Declining groundwater reserves have led to an increasing reliance on desalination processes, often via cogeneration power desalting plants that produce both water and electricity, such as Fujairah’s F1 Independent Water and Power Plant.

Such plants, however, claim a sizeable portion of GCC states’ hydrocarbon resources given their energy intensive nature, according to the UN.

The report noted that 25 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s domestic oil and gas production is used to produce water via cogeneration power desalting plants, a figure which which may rise to as high as 50 per cent by 2030 if current trends continue.

In Kuwait, projections show that the energy demand of desalination plants in 2035 will be equal to the country’s entire oil production of 2011-12 if current trends continue, the report found.

GCC heads of states have increasingly engaged with such challenges, since the signing of the Abu Dhabi declaration at the GCC summit of 2010.

The declaration recognised water and energy security as crucial strategic priorities, and consisted of many recommendations on using water and energy efficiently.

Embracing of alternative energy sources such as solar energy may be the key to decoupling the expansion of desalination projects from hydrocarbon energy sources, according to the UN.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Initiative for Solar Water Desalination, which will desalinate water using reverse osmosis technology powered by solar energy farms, was cited as an example of such a project.

The UN’s World Water Development Report was released to coincide with World Water Day, held yesterday.

The report highlighted that 768 million people worldwide have no access to clean water, while 2.5 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation.

The UN further highlighted that places where people do not have adequate access to water largely coincide with those where people have no electric power, and how closely the two sectors are inter-connected.

Some 1.3 billion people internationally are not connected to an electric power grid and close to 2.6 billion use solid fuel for cooking purposes.

The UN also highlighted the rise in spread of shale gas extraction, especially in the US, as putting further strain on water reserves.

The extraction of shale gas via hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, requires large quantities of water and poses the risk of contaminating water tables, the report said.

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