Despite the extreme 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 faced with major challenges manifested by increasing financial, economic and environmental costs associated with providing water supplies. These challenges are expected to grow with time under the current policies and management approaches driven by many external and internal drivers, which include rapid population growth, changing consumption patterns, low management efficiencies, and the expected impacts of climate change.
In the municipal sector, to meet escalating water demands under the current rapid population and urbanization rates and changing consumption patterns the GCC has to resort to desalination which is financially and energy-intensive and is associated with many environmental externalities including greenhouse gases emissions. These challenges are exacerbated by two factors, the first is the relatively high subsidies of water supply which impact the financial sustainability of the sector, and the second is that the GCC are still importers of desalination technology. In the wastewater sector, although the GCC countries have been providing commendable rates for sanitation services and are operating modern treatment facilities, reuse of treated wastewater is not fully developed, which represents a major lost opportunity under the prevailing water scarcity conditions. Despite the fact that GCC countries are among the poorest in the world in renewable water resources, the agricultural sector consumes more than 85% of the total water uses, and is the main cause for the mining and quality deterioration of groundwater resources in the region. Water uses in the agricultural sector are exaggerated due to low irrigation efficiencies, cultivating high water consuming crops, unrestricted abstraction rights, and absence of water metering and tariffs. Finally, the industrial sector has been expanding rapidly due to GCC economic diversification policies, and its water consumption as well as its wastewater discharge is increasing at an alarming rate.
The current water policies addressing these challenges in the GCC countries will require major shifts if we want to have a sustainable water sector to continue to serve the socio-economic development needs of the region. What is needed is to mainstream innovation in the water sector at strategy, management, and operation levels. In this context, investments in technological and non-technological (financial, institutional, management) innovation will be essential. Innovative proactive solutions are necessary to address the water challenges we are facing now and in the future and to keep the long-term cost of the solutions viable and cost-effective.
The WSTA 13th Gulf Water Conference will focus on identifying innovative sustainable solutions for the major water challenges facing the GCC countries. The conference will invite top keynote speakers and experts in the conference theme and sub-themes to address the sustainability-innovation nexus and share their knowledge and transfer their experience. The Conference will be held in Kuwait in collaboration with Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) represented by the Water Research Center during March 2019. The conference will be organized in close coordination with the GCC Secretariat with potential sponsors like Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science (KFAS), Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), Ministry of Electricity and Water of Kuwait (MEW) and others.