Desalination in the Middle East

Growing Blue

Controversial Process is Sometimes the Only Option

In arid regions such as the Middle East, freshwater resources are often scarce and frequently, there are no easy solutions to obtain more water. Faced with such scarcity, some countries have turned to seawater desalination as their last resort and the only feasible solution for meeting their water needs.

Desalination is the process of converting seawater into freshwater, but concerted effort is needed to address its potential economic and environmental impacts. An environmental impact study is one option in the preliminary stages of all desalination projects, as the process can have disadvantages such as high costs, high energy consumption, and adverse environmental consequences for marine ecosystems if the resulting brine is improperly discharged.

But these challenges do not change the fact that people need water. And each day in the Middle East – in places such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi – nearly 850 million cubic feet of seawater undergo desalination. This represents 50 percent of the world’s total desalination capacity.

These disadvantages and impacts can be managed and minimized with innovative and prudent solutions, and the growth in desalination operations around the world has led to enhancements in the process which can be applied to future operations. However, despite these technology advances the fundamental problem remains: Water is so important and critical that in its absence, finding water requires hard choices. This fundamentally underscores the importance of careful planning and water management to minimize these hard choices.