Despite the scarcity of water resources in the region, the GCC countries have done well in providing water for their ever-increasing population and rapidly expanding economic base and activities. However, the GCC countries are at a critical juncture with regard to managing their water and financial resources in a sustainable manner and securing the balanced socio-economic development and environmental conditions for today’s and future generations without overburdening the natural resource base and the environment.
Being an important factor for the GCC socio-economic development, there is a need for an efficient and sustainable water management to ensure that the water sector can continue to serve the region's development needs. However, currently the GCC countries are facing several major challenges in managing the water sector and ensuring its sustainability and security for the future. These challenges are manifested by many factors, including increasing water scarcity, increasing costs for infrastructure and service delivery, resources deterioration, increasing environmental and economic externalities of the water sector, and many others. The main driving forces of these challenges are population growth and changing consumption patterns (end-use efficiency), as well as low supply efficiencies, lower rates of water reuse and recycling, and low energy efficiency in the water sector. The intensity of these challenges is expected to increase with time due to additional driving forces, the most important of which is climate change. Climate change is expected to add another pressure on water demands and infrastructure in the various consuming sectors, specially municipal and agricultural.
The persistence of these challenges and problems can be attributed to the dominance of sectoral approaches adopted in the management of water resources. In the last two decades, formulated and implemented water strategies, or rather primarily technical master plans, in the GCC have been mainly sectoral, with little integrated and coordinated planning between the various water sub-sectors; e.g., municipal water supply, wastewater treatment, and water use in agricultural or industries (including energy production, petroleum, and natural gas). Moreover, water master plans and strategies often missed the coordination and integration with the other water-related sectors, especially the energy, agricultural/food, industries, and environment sectors.
Fortunately, the GCC countries have recently realized that water sustainability will require integrated strategic planning and management, which is manifested in the Abu Dhabi 2010 declaration by the 31st summit of the Supreme Council of the GCC, which recommended that "… serious and speedy steps should be taken and endorsed by the GCC Supreme Council towards a long-term comprehensive Gulf water strategy". The Declaration stressed the importance of linking between guaranteeing water security and diversification of energy and food security as vital prerequisite and key strategic priority for the future of the GCC states. Moreover, it recognized that the GCC countries are home of more than 50% of the world's desalinated water to meet demand of population for development, and acknowledged that need of desalination for huge sources of energy. The Declaration called on that the strategy to consider all relevant issues, the most important of these are the possible impact of climate change on water resources, rationalization of water consumption in different development sectors, strategic water supply reserves, unsustainable use of groundwater, reciprocal relation between the agriculture and water sectors, and potential impacts of desalination on the quality of sea water and living creatures and on climate change.
The recommendations of the Supreme Council for a long-term comprehensive Gulf water strategy has been pursued by the GCC Secretariat General (SG). In early 2016, the SG has finalized the "Unified Water Sector Strategy and Implementation Plan for the Gulf Cooperation Council of Arab Members States 2015-2035” (The GCC Unified Water Strategy), which is looked at as a landmark by the GCC countries towards achieving water sector sustainability. The GCC Unified Water Strategy will need to be translated for implementation at the GCC countries levels.
Through addressing the topic of sustainable water management in the GCC countries, the WSTA Twelve Gulf Water Conference focuses on the formulation of integrated, comprehensive water strategies. Moreover, the conference will address the many relevant approaches and instruments used in the various water-consuming sectors for enhancing the level of security and sustainability of the water sector. The conference will present and share the experiences and best practices from different countries in improving water sustainability and overcoming the water challenges in the arid GCC and Arab countries.