Experts discuss innovative ways to address water security at QSTP webinar event

Qatar’s per capita use of water is one of the highest in the world – estimated at over 500 litres per person per day, according to experts who recently spoke on the topic of Water in a Dry Land: Can Innovation Drive Water Security?

The discussion, which formed part of a series of events for Catalyzing the Future held at Qatar Science & Technology Park, will also be aired this week on Science Mag.

QSTP Panel Discussion_WaterAs Qatar continues its journey of self-sustenance – growing its own food, building its own industries and hiring a larger workforce –  the demands on water is also growing rapidly. Local agriculture production has jumped by 400% since 2017, and the October population statistic stands at over 2.7 million. Despite being a dry land, Qatar is expected to keep up with the rising demands for water.

Dr Samer Adham, Manager of ConocoPhillips Water Solutions – Qatar, said that Qatar, along with the other Gulf states will always be dependent on desalination as the prime solution for a drought-free situation. However, he said that this is an energy intensive process. The question remains: what other alternatives can be developed in the country?

QSTP Panel Discussion_Water Although 75% of the earth is covered in water, only 3% is fresh water, and only less than 1% of this water is accessible. There is enough water in the world, but it is saline; therefore, desalination should be given the highest priority in research and development, says Dr Ahmed Abdel-Wahab, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University at Qatar.

Countries that depend primarily on rain can also benefit from desalination as we experience the effects of climate change in our weather patterns. A major goal of water security is to be able to produce usable water in a cost-effective manner.’

While the physical amount of water available on our planet is known, it is also known that economic security can influence water security. Although Qatar has a very small natural resource base, and because it is a wealthy country, it is able to generate water.

Everybody in Qatar has water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We don’t think of Qatar as being water insecure, says Dr Rachael McDonnell, Strategic Program Director for Water, Climate Change and Resilience at the International Water Management Institute. Dr McDonnell highlighted the advantages of generating water in a way that can benefit the water-energy-food nexus.

Our religious texts urge us to manage water because it is such a precious resource. It is more of a mental rather than a technological barrier when it comes to treated waste water.’

Dr Abdel-Wahab said that instead of saying treated waste water is fit to be consumed directly, he suggested that, as a first step, treated waste water can be used to irrigate agricultural crops. He said that this will mitigate the backlash.

Large investments are being made in the research and development of desalination and other technologies that are not only being used for Qatar, but for the rest of the world.

According to Dr Huda Al Sulaiti, Director of the Water Sciences and Technology at Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute under Hamad Bin Khalifa University, international companies are interested to demonstrate their technologies in Qatar. If these technologies work in Qatar’s harsh environment, they will most likely work elsewhere in the world.

With the current geo-political situation, it has become imperative for us to look at ways in self-sustenance. Before the blockade, we would import much of the livestock feed, but now we need to grow it within the country. And to grow this, we can’t use our reserves of ground water; we must use treated waste water. We must change the way we perceive and think about water.’