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Water Challenges in Kuwait

Kuwait sunset
Photo 1: A view of Kuwait during sunset. (Source: hamad M, Flickr)

The main water challenges that Kuwait faces is rising water scarcity and the increasing financial, economic and environmental impacts associated with meeting sectoral water demands. These challenges are expected to grow because of rapid population growth and urbanization, increasing food demands, climate change impacts, unsustainable consumption, water losses, inadequate water reuse and the continuous deterioration and depletion of the groundwater resources.[1]

Increasing water demand and acute lack of natural water resources

Meeting the ever-increasing water demands resulting from rapid population growth and urbanization and high per capita consumption patterns is becoming increasingly challenging. Meeting these demands will require the construction of more desalination plants and more exploitation of groundwater.[2] It is predicted that the freshwater demand could range between 722 MCM/yr (2 MCM/d) and 3,036 MCM/yr (8.3 MCM/d) by 2025. [3]

Dependency on desalination

Kuwait has established a policy of providing municipal water from desalination because of the scarcity of freshwater resources and to reduce pressure on groundwater resources. This has led to a large share of drinking water being supplied by desalination plants. 84.8% of municipal water demands were supplied by desalination (Figure 1).[4]According to the Ministry of Electricity and Water, the installed capacity of desalination plants is expected to reach 3.85 MCM/yr by 2024.[5]

As a result, the costs associated with desalination expansion have also increased. These costs include the required energy (oil and gas) (55% of the total energy consumption in the country); the cost of operating the water system (i.e. production, transmission and distribution); and environmental costs in terms of thermal brine and their impacts on the marine environment; and air pollution from burning fossil fuels and their impacts on human health and the environment.[7]

Figure 1: Trends in desalinated water share in the municipal water supply in Kuwait (1990, 2000 and 2010).[6]

Inefficient water use and water networks leakage

On the demand side, per capita water consumption is high (447 L/capita/d). The existence of a general subsidy system makes the use of economic incentives difficult. The current tariff is not effective in influencing water consumption and water savings. On the other hand, Kuwait experiences high non-revenue water (water losses due to leakage) in the distribution network.[8]

Exploitation of groundwater aquifers

Brackish groundwater is exploited for agricultural and greening purposes and for mixing with desalinated water for domestic uses. For detailed information, see the Water Resources and Water Use sections.

Limited wastewater treatment and reuse

The reuse potential of the generated wastewater is not fully developed. In addition, the absence of an explicit wastewater tariff (collection and treatment) causes the very low-cost recovery of the wastewater. Such cost-recovery ratios increase the wastewater sector’s financial burden on the budget, makes the sector captive to government allocations and deprives the water sector of an enforcing mechanism in water conservation.[9]

Institutions and legislation

The current institutional arrangements of the water sector are fragmented, which leads to the dominance of sub-sectoral water management approaches and impedes integrated management of the water sector. The coordinated planning between the water sector and other related sectors, particularly agriculture and energy, are informal and limited. Moreover, much legislation is outdated or missing.[10]

[1] Al-Zubari, W et al., 2017. An overview of the GCC Unified Water Strategy (2016-2035). Desalination and Water Treatment 81: 1-18.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Burney, N et al., 2001. Forecasting of freshwater demand in Kuwait. The Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering, 26(2B): 99-113.
[4] Al-Zubari, W et al., 2017. An overview of the GCC Unified Water Strategy (2016-2035). Desalination and Water Treatment 81: 1-18.
[5] Statistical Yearbook Water Edition 2019, 2020. Ministry of Electricity and Water.
[6] Al-Zubari, W et al., 2017. An overview of the GCC Unified Water Strategy (2016-2035). Desalination and Water Treatment 81: 1-18.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.