By Adam Gonn, The Media Line,
Falling water tables and a salinization of underground aquifers is leaving the Gulf in a critical situation.
While the Gulf has seen tremendous economic development since the discovery of oil, there’s one important resource, which has not been able to keep apace: fresh water.
“Most of the groundwater can not be used for direct utilization as drinking water or even agriculture, without treatment,” Professor Waleed K. Al Zubari, Editor-in-Chief of the Arab Gulf Journal of Scientific Research, Arabian Gulf University in Manama Bahrain, told The Media Line.
Located in the arid zone, the Gulf relies almost entirely on underground water sources, which accumulated when the region had a wetter climate and are now not being sufficiently replenished by seasonal rainfall.
“The shortage has been exacerbated by a very fast development in the past four decades with oil exploration, high immigration, and the expansions in almost every aspect of life such as agriculture, industry urbanizations and so on,” Al Zubari said.
The rising demand for water is further depleting the aquifers.
“There is not a single groundwater source in the Gulf that has not been depleted or been salinized by seawater flowing in due to low water levels,” Al Zubari said.
“First all types of water in the Gulf are very salty, even the Arabian Gulf water is much saltier than open water or ocean water. This is due to weather condition and very low circulation of the Arabian Gulf water,” Mohammed A. Raouf, Program Manager of Environmental Research at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, told The Media Line.
“The over-extraction of groundwater beyond safe levels has caused the existing problem,” Raouf said, while pointing out that though most of the water in the aquifers was always brackish, it’s much saltier now.
“This is due to the intrusion of saline water from the sea and the inflow of brackish water and saline water from lower aquifers,” Raouf said.
This is notable in various Gulf countries especially Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE.
The extensive use of fertilizers, pesticides and intensive agriculture has further exacerbated the problem, while the use of high saline brackish water in irrigation on the remaining farms is causing further problems.
Underground water is becoming more saline, and once used for irrigation is accumulating in the soil, and affecting the growth and yield of plants. A high evaporation rate in the summer is also a major contributor.
Most of the water being used for human consumption is coming from desalination. Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain depend on desalinations for almost all of their household water supply.
New desalination plants are now being built in underground aquifers, as the intrusion of seawater salinizes the supply.
According to the environment agency in Abu Dhabi, current consumption rates of underground water are 24 times higher than a sustainable level, said Raouf.
“We have to do studies on how to make our water use sustainable. The fact we don’t have much agricultural land means we need to identify our agricultural capacity accurately and if required, import food,” Raouf said.
Raouf called for an improvement of the policy regarding groundwater and more quality monitoring to detect the changes in the groundwater in all GCC countries as many of the underground aquifers are shared by the six GCC countries (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE).
“When the situation with the water [is as it is] it’s better to cooperate [with each other] and not to exploit the groundwater individually,” Raouf concluded.bahrain, desalination plants, energy, food supplies, ground water, gulf, Kuwait, Middle East, oman, Qatar, saudi arabia, UAE, water crisis, water scarcity