How Saudi Arabia plans to meet the water needs of holy sites

How Saudi Arabia plans to meet the water needs of holy sites
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Pilgrims are offered Zamzam water after their arrival in Makkah. Millions of pilgrims visit the holy city’s Zamzam well each year to drink its water while performing the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. (AFP)
How Saudi Arabia plans to meet the water needs of holy sites
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Workers move to distribute water tanks at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA file photo)
Updated 11 August 2019

How Saudi Arabia plans to meet the water needs of holy sites

How Saudi Arabia plans to meet the water needs of holy sites
  • Six major projects recently launched with an estimated total cost of SR3.1 billion
  • The new projects include a desalinated-water pipeline and a desalination plant

DUBAI: As pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj, accommodation, transportation and the safety of more than 2 million people are some of the biggest issues the Kingdom’s authorities have to deal with. But there is another daunting challenge that does not attract the same amount of media attention: The water requirements of such a massive transient population.

Last year, the total number of foreign and local pilgrims who performed Hajj touched the 2.4 million mark. To cope with the ever-increasing demand for potable water in Makkah and other holy sites, particularly during Hajj and Umrah, Saudi authorities recently launched six major projects with an estimated total cost of SR3.1 billion.

Referring to the expansion plans, undertaken by the Saline Water Conversion Corporation, the National Water Company (NWC) and the Saudi Water Partnership Company, Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley, Saudi Minister for Environment, Water and Agriculture, said that they demonstrated the attention being paid to the water sector and services in Makkah and the holy sites.

The new projects will include a desalinated-water pipeline from the Shuaiba Water Desalination Plant and the second phase of the Shuaiba Water Desalination Plant project.




Water reservoir under construction in Makkah. (SPA file photo)

Al-Fadley said that his ministry has ensured that “all projects and water plans are based on the objectives of the National Water Strategy and the Comprehensive Water Plan in the Kingdom in order to reach a sustainable water sector that conserves water resources, preserves the environment, offers quality services and contributes to economic and social development.”

The number of pilgrims who will visit Makkah and other holy sites for Hajj and Umrah is projected to reach 15 million by 2020 — and 30 million by 2030. The planned desalination plants and pipelines are expected to go a long way toward meeting the anticipated rise in water demand.

“These projects have strategic importance for Saudi Arabia as it is a matter of national pride for the Kingdom to have Makkah and the holy sites within its territory,” Dr. Peng Wang, professor of environmental science and engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), told Arab News.

“Serving these places and their visitors with adequate amounts of water is understandably a priority.”

IN NUMBERS

  • 6 major water projects launched for Makkah and other holy sites.
  • 400,000 cubic meters of additional water to become available for seasonal consumption.
  • 41 million cubic meters of water expected to be distributed during Hajj season.
  • 184 million cubic meters of additional water consumed in Makkah between 2011-2018.
  • 15 million more pilgrims for Umrah and Hajj expected between 2020-2030.

The numbers are, to put it mildly, daunting. Water consumption in Makkah rose from 600 million cubic meters in 2011 to 784 million cubic meters in 2018. According to the NWS, in 2015 alone, the total volume of water distributed during the Hajj season exceeded 10 million cubic meters, with a daily consumption of 770,000 cubic meters in Makkah and the holy sites.

“Saudi Arabia has limited national resources, such as groundwater and water from the Zamzam well in Makkah,” said Dr. Khalil Ammar, principal scientist in hydrogeology and water resources management at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

“The quantities are not enough to satisfy the huge number (of visitors) who come to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj season and for Umrah the rest of the year. There is also a high demand for freshwater resources for drinking purposes.”

One way to meet this challenge, Dr. Ammar said, is to desalinate water since the cost of the process is falling. Saudi water authorities “need to sustain the resources there, which means that desalination could help them meet the peak demands during this period,” he told Arab News.




Water containers are accessible in every corner of the holy sites in Makkah. (SPA file photo)

“It’s a viable source for them as other sources cannot cover these peak demands. So it’s the best option.”

The NWC has said that it expects to pump and distribute about 41 million cubic meters of water during the Hajj season. 

NWC facilities will pump about 400,000 cubic meters of additional water for seasonal consumption, taking into account the need for pilgrims to perform Hajj rituals.

“Because the demand is not only for drinking water, it includes all the hotel uses, cooking as well as ablution, water should be provided in Makkah and other holy sites at the right time for such uses,” Dr. Ammar said.

“The quantities that are supplied on time are very important to keep the activities going on in these religious sites. As there is a higher consumption and use of water, we also expect there will be correspondingly higher wastewater discharge.”

Wastewater discharge could be optimized in the way it is collected, treated and reused, and perceived as a valuable resource as part of the Kingdom’s water budget. “Wastewater can be utilized for landscaping and urban agricultural production,” Dr. Ammar said.

“The more the Saudi authorities invest in studying how they can achieve a closed cycle and the more efficiently they use the water, with the right awareness on how not to overuse it, the better will be the outcome in their national policies, targets and objectives and compliance with the sustainability they are targeting.”

In this regard, the Kingdom is on the right track, said Dr. Najib Dandachi, CEO of UAE-based consultancy Al-Usul. The new Saudi desalination projects constitute a major advance toward the next phase of water sustainability, he said. “They will deliver greater water resource using improved technology at reduced costs and replace aging assets that ought to be retired,” Dr. Dandachi told Arab News.




Workers move to distribute water tanks at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA file photo)

“Additionally, these projects will satisfy the growing demand in the Kingdom, especially those needed for newly introduced strategic initiatives and developments that the Vision 2030 has embarked on.”

Although tariff systems to control water consumption have been introduced in different parts of the Gulf, water conservation has long been a challenge for the region. “Having more innovative methods of using designs and water-saving technologies can help,” Dr. Ammar said. “But it’s not always in place. So, it is crucial to further study the value of water and then inform people about the costs and how vital it is to conserve the commodity.”

Experts say the water sector in Saudi Arabia is undergoing massive changes that are critically needed to achieve greater security, sustainability and improved efficiency. “This does not just concern the production side,” Dr. Dandachi said.

“The sector could also do with comprehensive restructuring and change in its management approach that will introduce best practice in terms of governance, asset management, better regulation and business focus to optimize cost.”

To expedite much-needed improvements, Dr. Dandachi suggests a number of measures: Continuous rather than time-based supply; reliable billing; proactive customer engagement; quality and security; and the introduction of the private sector through some sort of outsourcing.




Workers cleaning water containers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (SPA file photo)

“The water sector in Saudi Arabia requires complete reform, restructuring, repositioning because it has been lagging behind in comparison to the rest of the region,” he said.

In the same vein, Dr. Peng of KAUST noted that Saudi Arabia not only has the largest seawater desalination capacity in the world, its average per capita water consumption (266 liters per day in 2017) is also very high.

“In a place with extreme freshwater scarcity like Saudi Arabia, water conservation, more efficient use of water and wastewater reclamation and reuse are strategies for long-term water sustainability,” he told Arab News.

“How to deliver safe and reliable freshwater to sustain a fast-growing population is a challenge to the country as well as to the rest of the world. For the Kingdom, water security is national security.”


First phase Saudi Arabia’s ‘Pulse of Alkhobar’ project launched

First phase Saudi Arabia’s ‘Pulse of Alkhobar’ project launched
Updated 22 January 2021

First phase Saudi Arabia’s ‘Pulse of Alkhobar’ project launched

First phase Saudi Arabia’s ‘Pulse of Alkhobar’ project launched
  • The project will help define the region’s culture and enhance its position as a tourist destination

RIYADH: The first phase of the “Pulse of Alkhobar” project has been launched as part of plans to develop an integrated cultural center in the heart of the city and transform the Eastern Province’s arts scene.
The project follows calls by architecture experts, social media activists and artists for a collaboration across multiple sectors to strengthen the province’s cultural impact.
According to Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abudllah bin Farhan, the project, centered on the site of the city’s old market, is the fruit of a partnership between the ministry and its municipal and rural affairs counterpart.
Acting Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs Majid Al-Hogail said that the project will build an artistic and heritage destination that will improve the lives of residents of Alkhobar governorate as well as visitors to the Eastern Province.
The project will help define the region’s culture and enhance its position as a tourist destination, he added.
Abdulhadi Al-Shammari, the province’s municipal chairman, told Arab News that the new project will also improve services at municipal facilities, while preserving Saudi heritage and culture.
The project introduces tourists and visitors to the culture of the province, and highlights Al-Olaya district as the center of the city’s culture and arts activities.
Al-Shammari said that the project will boost the city’s finances, driving sustainable development and growth as well an improvement in quality of life.
“It will create new investment opportunities for the private sector, and encourage small and medium-scale enterprises, which have an excellent and effective social impact,” he said.
Al-Shammari added: “The Saudi government supports all sectors to help them deliver lucrative investment opportunities and build a conducive environment for local and foreign investment, where new job opportunities are created for young men and women.”
Faisal Al-Fadl, secretary-general of the Saudi Green Building Forum, told Arab News that creating a cultural and arts destination that is open to a range of activities will add to the city’s tourist appeal.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The ‘Pulse of Alkhobar’ project follows calls by architecture experts, social media activists and artists for a collaboration across multiple sectors to strengthen the province’s cultural impact.

• According to Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abudllah bin Farhan, the project, centered on the site of the city’s old market, is the fruit of a partnership between the ministry and its municipal and rural affairs counterpart.

“Cooperation between the public sector and international organizations, as well as professional organizations, archaeologists and the public, is instrumental in preserving the cultural and architectural heritage of neighborhoods and cities,” he said.
Al-Fadl added that the collaboration between the two ministries reflects “the importance of architectural and cultural heritage, and the tangible and unique archaeological importance of the buildings as a key element in the history of peoples and relationships inside and outside the Arabian Peninsula.”
He thanked both ministries for their efforts.
Arafat Al-Majed, a Qatif Muncipal Council member, said the partnership is a step forward that falls in line with agreements concluded as part of Vision 2030.
“The agreement will increase interest in cultural heritage and the buildings and towns whose profound and ancient history should be brought out to the world to see and enjoy,” she told Arab News. “The agreement will also improve the urban landscape.”
She said that the joint committee should have branches in municipalities around the Kingdom in order to shed light on heritage sites that can be included in UNESCO. “The Kingdom is rich in such heritage sites.”
Al-Majed said that the project will introduce today’s generation to the ancient heritage of the province in a way that encourages investment opportunities.
“Nobody can deny the fact that some municipalities are still hesitant about what to do with heritage buildings and towns since some of these are abandoned or about to collapse. These municipalities want to tear them down. But these are historical treasures that should be preserved and invested in to become an important economic driver, and a source of arts and culture,” she added.
Maysoon Abu Baker, a Saudi poet and columnist, said the Saudi government attaches great importance to culture and heritage.
“Vision 2030 emphasized the significance of the culture existent in old cities,” she told Arab News.
“Arts, culture and heritage are at the top of the agenda for developing cities and preserving their culture. The cultural impact is important for the future of the Kingdom and is related to its history.”
Yousef Al-Harbi, director of Culture and Arts Society in Dammam, said that the partnership will lead to “new visual perceptions highlighting the Saudi, Arabian and Islamic identity.”
He highlighted the importance of nurturing Saudi art and architectural talent, and facilitating cooperation in order to “bring out the beauty of Saudi heritage and cities.”