Saudi: The management crisis

Zoe writes*

Over the past fifty years, Jeddah has experienced rapid and varied growth. The negative side effect of the development areas was environmental degradation due to a lack of effective maintenance. There are numerous integrated management and environmental issues today which concern Jeddah’s water resources as well as its air, land, and marine resources.

According to Magram, concerns about the environmental quality of the city are relatively new, meaning there is an overall lack of awareness and common information both from authorities and civilians, which in turn makes it challenging for the country to adopt and execute solutions/ plans, especially when this field is not of their priority.

The management of water is one of Jeddah’s most challenging problems, reports Al-Juaidi. There are numerous needs, including providing home and industrial water supplies for a sizable population, cleaning and disposing of sewage, draining water from both natural and man-made sources, and managing a sizable marine environment for both commercial and recreational uses.

With the expansion of the city, the supply, usage, and removal of water in the Jeddah region have undergone fast change. A reliable water supply has been developed for city residents across the infrastructure. According to Haddadin, however, the volume and composition of the water utilized in Jeddah today which must be disposed of, is larger than the environment’s capacity to remediate it naturally.

According to Bradbury, 98% of freshwater supply to Jeddah comes from desalination plants, a process which creates several environmental issues. Two main impacts are of concern: the impact on the marine ecosystems due to thermal pollution and the elevated levels of salt and chlorine in the return waters. Likewise, these plants are expensive to construct and manage, as well as running on fossil fuels, thus contributing to the ever-increasing greenhouse gasses and impacting the air quality in the city.

There are also major issues with sewage removal and treatment. As seen in the figure, a significant area (approximately 66%) does not have access to central sewage treatment facilities. As mentioned by Magram, sewage is gathered on-site in tanks or vaults, hauled out to collection lakes or dumped in the desert. On-site disposal methods include direct dumping in the sea, treatment through leaching systems, and disposal through deep wells. Magram concludes that the capacity of the current lake/disposal site has been reached, there is a rise in the level of the groundwater in the area of north Jeddah said to be caused by this supply of water, and the groundwater has been contaminated as a result of these disposal techniques, among other issues.

The cost of treating these conditions are high, and increasing. Future disposal strategies must be organized, taking into account the ongoing urban expansion. Future environmental and socioeconomic effects of actions about development must be anticipated, notes Lee.

Bottom Line: Jeddah’s rapid evolution has led to many environmental problems, and all of these impacts will only be magnified as the population continues to grow. As a water-scarce nation heading into a future of climate change conflicts and uncertainty, there is an urgency to adapt.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “Saudi: The management crisis”

  1. Hello Zoe!

    I enjoyed reading your blog post on Saudi Arabia! Having lived in the Middle East for some time myself I found it very interesting to read about how some of the Middle Eastern countries are dealing with water scarcity and what may be causing it in the first place.

    Being situated in a desert, you would expect the management of water in such an environment to be of top priority. Yet, as your blog has clearly explained, due to rapid growth, environmental concerns have only recently become apparent resulting in the water demand today being larger than the environment’s capacity to replenish itself naturally.

    What I found most interesting to read about was how Jeddah has chosen to gather water; the use of a desalinization plant. On the one hand, it is understandable as Jeddah is located by the coast along the Red Sea thus there is a continuous access to salt water. However, it is also possibly a little hypocritical because despite becoming more concerned about the environment, Saudi Arabia continues installing desalinization plants leading to as you have stated: impacts on the marine environment and increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and air pollution in the city. It makes me wonder, whether there could be a more environmentally friendly water system/facility that could be implemented in a desert region without the same degrading impacts on the environment that a desalinization plant has (maybe you have already found an answer to this!).

    Something which I have learned from reading your blog and was not aware of before in the Middle East and now am wondering whether this system is also carried out in other neighboring countries is the removal and treatment of sewage in Jeddah. By dumping sewage from the city into deep wells or directly into the sea, the problem of water scarcity in essence worsens as previously drinkable groundwater becomes contaminated. Do you possibly know why the government or water regulators may be continuing this practice despite the contamination levels it creates? Has the government of Jeddah already tried to implement new treatments for this contamination or are they focusing on combatting this problem later on, assuming economic growth to be of top priority?

    Overall, I enjoyed reading your blog and learning more about a region in the world wherein I have lived 🙂

    Good luck with further research!

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