Qatar relies on desalination for the majority of its water supply as there are minimal fresh ground and surface water resources. If anything were to disrupt the desalination process, the Gulf nation would feel the thirst quickly. As in 48 hours soon, as the country is believe to only have a 2 day supply of stored, potable water.
Last year, Qatar’s General Electricity and Water Company Kahramaa reported that on average the country uses 595 liters of water per day per resident. This number is up from the 430 liters reported in 2012.
As these numbers suggest, Qatar has been ranked as one of the least energy efficient nations in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund, with the largest ecological footprint per capita in the world. That report was issued in 2012, before the dramatic increase in water consumption was reported last year.
In light of World Water Day, a United Nations initiative that took place yesterday, Qatar's excessive consumption seems particularly problematic.
For the time being, Qatar hopes to at least address the small reservoir water supply issue by investing 17 billion Qatari riyals ($4.67 billion) into a project to build mega-reservoirs, which Kahramaa says is the biggest water storage enlargement project in the nation’s history. It aims to extend Qatar’s two days supply of stored water to a one week supply of potable water.
Details such as contractors and deadlines are still unclear; however, previous reports have suggested that the goal for completion would be 2017. Solar panels will reportedly top the new facilities as well.
In addition to the reservoir expansion, Qatar also granted a $500 million contract to Japanese company Mitsubishi to build the nation’s first reverse-osmosis desalination plant. While desalination normally involves a great deal of energy consumption, reverse-osmosis generally requires comparatively less energy than other processes.
Currently, Qatar has three primary desalination plants that utilize thermal technology. An additional thermal desalination plant is under construction by Mitsubishi and Toyo Thai Corp., with an expected completion later this year. The new reverse-osmosis desalination facility should be completed in 2016.
A growing population coupled with a dramatic increase in water usage has lead the government of Qatar to try to curb consumption through awareness campaigns and the threat of fines for excessive usage. Discussions are in progress about increasing penalties for wasting water; however, existing penalties regarding excessive consumption of water and electricity have rarely been enforced.
With large government subsidies for water and electricity, residents often see little reason to limit their usage, as it does not affect them financially. Making changes to these subsidies is thus understandably a politically sensitive issue.
One thing is certain though: By the time of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar will need to figure out a way to dramatically increase its water supply for the influx of tourists and fans. With massive construction plans for stadiums, hotels and infrastructure for the international event underway, if the water usage issue does not improve, the nation may remain near the bottom of the WWF’s energy efficiency ranking for years to come.