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Madinah’s Desalinated Water Isn’t Enough

The amount of desalinated water pumped to Madinah from desalination plants in Yanbu cannot meet the increasing demand of Madinah people on this natural resource, said the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture in explanation to water cuts in numerous neighborhoods.

The City of the Prophet has seen over the past years a massive urban development and a large increase in population.

Madinah City Water Authority Director Salih Jablawi said there were no water cuts; what happened was simply a redistribution of water supply based on the needs of each neighborhood and according to the amount of water pumped from the Yanbu desalination plants.

“We pump water to neighborhoods based on how densely-populated a neighborhood is. Vital sites such as mosques, universities, schools, and hospitals are constantly supplied with water. We did receive complaints about water cuts but they were few and only a small number of people complained about the shortage of water in their neighborhoods. We handled all complaints right on the spot without any delay,” Jablawi explained.

The authority is working round the clock to provide all neighborhoods suffering from water shortage with water and, dispatching its water trucks to these neighborhoods.

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It also explained that there are two types of water tankers: The first is the licensed ones, which are permitted by the authority to transport water.

The second is the unlicensed ones and are run by individual persons. The latter aren’t allowed to use the authority’s water supply points nor are they approved by the authority.

The public are urged not to use unlicensed water tankers and to report violators to the authority.

Water supply and sanitation in Saudi Arabia is characterized by challenges and achievements. One of the main challenges is water scarcity. In order to overcome water scarcity, substantial investments have been undertaken in seawater desalination, water distribution, sewerage and wastewater treatment.

Today about 50% of drinking water comes from desalination, 40% from the mining of non-renewable groundwater and only 10% from surface water in the mountainous South-West of the country.

The capital Riyadh, located in the heart of the country, is supplied with desalinated water pumped from the Persian Gulf over a distance of 467 km. Water is provided almost for free to residential users. Despite improvements service quality remains poor, for example in terms of continuity of supply.

Another challenge is weak institutional capacity and governance, reflecting general characteristics of the public sector in Saudi Arabia. Among the achievements is a significant increase in desalination and in access to water, the expansion of wastewater treatment, as well as the use of treated effluent for the irrigation of urban green spaces and for agriculture.

Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of desalinated water in the world. In 2011 the volume of water supplied by the country’s 27 desalination plants at 17 locations was 3.3 million m3/day (1.2 billion m3/year).

Six plants are located on the East Coast and 21 plants on the Red Sea Coast. 12 plants use multi-stage flash distillation (MSF) and 7 plants use multi-effect distillation (MED). Both MSF and MED plants are integrated with power plants (dual-purpose plants), using steam from the power plants as a source of energy.

Eight plants are single-purpose plants that use reverse osmosis (RO) technology and power from the grid. By far the largest plant in 2012, Jubail II on the East Coast, is a MSF plant built in subsequent stages since 1983 with a capacity of almost 950,000 m3/day that supplies Riyadh.

The largest RO plant in 2012 was located in Yanbu on the Red Sea. It supplies the city of Madinah and has a capacity of 128,000 m3/day.

The MED plants are much smaller. Mecca receives its water from plants in Jeddah and Shoaiba, just south of Jeddah. Ras al Khair, the largest plant of the country with a capacity of 1 million m3/day was opened in 2014, using RO technology.