EXPLAINER: World Cup host Qatar relies on desalination

Nov 9, 2022, 3:11 PM | Updated: Nov 10, 2022, 5:53 am
FILE - A water sprinkler on the corniche, overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Oct. 1...

FILE - A water sprinkler on the corniche, overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. World Cup host Qatar is among the world's most water-stressed countries. But it's a problem the tiny, wealthy Persian Gulf emirate has largely paid its way out of, thanks to expensive technology known as desalination that makes seawater drinkable. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

(AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

              FILE - A man sleeps on a bench before his early morning shift, in front of Khalifa International Stadium, in Doha, Qatar, on Oct. 15, 2022. World Cup host Qatar is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. But it’s a problem the tiny, wealthy Persian Gulf emirate has largely paid its way out of, thanks to expensive technology known as desalination that makes seawater drinkable. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
            
              FILE - A boy plays football in a park in Doha, Qatar, on May 4, 2019. World Cup host Qatar is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. But it’s a problem the tiny, wealthy Persian Gulf emirate has largely paid its way out of, thanks to expensive technology known as desalination that makes seawater drinkable. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
            
              FILE - A water sprinkler on the corniche, overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. World Cup host Qatar is among the world's most water-stressed countries. But it's a problem the tiny, wealthy Persian Gulf emirate has largely paid its way out of, thanks to expensive technology known as desalination that makes seawater drinkable. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arid and surrounded by the salt waters of the Persian Gulf, World Cup host Qatar is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. The nation of 2.9 million people has no rivers, and receives less than four inches (10 centimeters) of rain per year on average.

It’s a condition the wealthy Persian Gulf emirate has largely paid its way out of, thanks to expensive technology known as desalination that makes seawater drinkable.

In doing so, Qatar isn’t alone. Fellow Gulf Arab monarchies Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates also lack freshwater and depend on desalination. Israel does too. But the solution comes at a cost: Removing salt from seawater is energy-intensive, burning lots of fossil fuel. It also creates a byproduct that, when discharged into the ocean, can affect marine ecosystems.

Here’s a look at the country’s water supply and the role of desalination.

WHAT IS DESALINATION?

A process that makes freshwater, which humans can consume, from seawater.

Desalination plants draw water from the ocean through large pipes and blast it through fine membranes that allow water molecules to pass, but keep the salt out. That process is known as reverse osmosis.

There are other types of desalination but reverse osmosis is the most common. Inland brackish waters can also be desalinated.

WHERE IS IT USED?

Desalination plants are scattered along coastlines across the world, but the highest-capacity plants are located in high-income, water-starved Middle Eastern countries with ample coastline, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Saudi Arabia is home to the world’s largest plant.

Reverse osmosis technology has been around since the 1950s. Gulf Arab nations were among the first to embrace it. After soaring oil revenues in the 1970s and ’80s transformed them into some of the world’s wealthiest countries, they began investing heavily in the infrastructure. Israel got serious about desalination in the late 1990s following a severe drought.

There are nearly 16,000 desal plants worldwide, according to a 2019 estimate by researchers at the United Nations’ Water and Human Development Program. About half the water they produce is in the Middle East and North Africa.

Qatar is highly reliant on desalinated water from the Persian Gulf. The desalted water makes up about 60% of its total supply and nearly all of its household water, according to 2019 data from the country’s planning and statistics authority. The government heavily subsidizes water for its residents. Groundwater makes up an additional quarter of the country’s supply and is mostly used by farms. It is over-pumped and rapidly depleting.

WHAT ARE THE ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS?

Desalting ocean water at scale uses a good amount of energy. Often, the electricity comes from burning fossil fuel.

“It simply takes a lot of energy to pull salt out of water,” said Peter Gleick, president emeritus of the California-based Pacific Institute, who has studied water resources for decades.

The process has become more efficient in recent decades. But it still takes between 3.5 and 4.5 kilowatt hours of electricity to desalinate 264 gallons (1,000 liters) of water, according to an 2019 analysis by Korea University researchers of more than 70 large-scale facilities. A U.S. refrigerator uses about 4 kilowatt hours of electricity per day.

Then there’s the brine, or highly salty sludge left behind by the filtration. Some facilities dispose of it on land or inject it underground. But most desalination plants send it back into the ocean. Some dilute it before doing so.

Brine also often contains heavy metals and chemicals used to treat seawater on the front-end. Its high salinity and temperature can hurt seaweed, coral reefs and seagrass habitats. Worldwide, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar account for 55% of desalination brine, according to researchers at the U.N. Water and Human Development Program.

WHAT ABOUT WATER FOR THE WORLD CUP?

Qatar expects to increase its water supply by 10% during the World Cup, a spokesperson from Kahramaa, the country’s water and electricity utility said. That means it will draw from its large desalinated reserves and could even increase how much ocean water it filters each day, said Amin Shaban, a hydrologist at Lebanon’s National Council for Scientific Research and expert on Middle East water systems.

That water will be used to accommodate an expected 1.2 million fans and maintain thousands of acres of grass grown for soccer fields and training sites.

The energy cost of desalination and Qatar’s heavy reliance on it add to questions about Qatar and FIFA’s promise that the World Cup will have almost no effect on the climate.

Officials respond that toilets and dust control in the eight World Cup stadiums are using recycled water. But the actual soccer fields that groundsworkers have been watering for months — including through the country’s blistering hot summer — are using desalinated water.

“The water footprint will increase,” for the World Cup, said Mohammed Mahmoud, director of the climate and water program at the Middle East Institute think tank. He said the increase would still not rival the water used by Qatar’s farm sector, however. “They’re nowhere near the same scale.”

___

Follow Suman Naishadham on Twitter: @SumanNaishadham

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Reports: At least 8 dead in landslide on Italian island

MILAN (AP) — A landslide triggered by a storm on the southern Italian island of Ischia has killed at least eight people, Italian Vice Premier Matteo Salvini said Saturday. The news agency ANSA reported that at least 10 buildings had collapsed and more people are missing, including at least three children. At least 100 people […]
1 day ago
Nancy Faeser, Federal Minister of the Interior and Home Affairs talks to members of the press in Em...
Associated Press

German government seeks to ease rules for naturalization

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s socially liberal government is moving ahead with plans to ease the rules for obtaining citizenship in the European Union’s most populous country, a drive that is being assailed by the conservative opposition. Chancellor OIaf Scholz said in a video message Saturday that Germany has long since become “the country of hope” […]
1 day ago
Lilia Kristenko, 38, cries as city responders collect the dead body of her mother Natalia Kristenko...
Associated Press

Ukraine works to restore water, power after Russian strikes

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities endeavored Saturday to restore electricity and water services after recent pummeling by Russian military strikes that vastly damaged infrastructure, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying millions have seen their power restored since blackouts swept the war-battered country days earlier. Skirmishes continued in the east and residents from the southern city […]
1 day ago
FILE - Palestinian soccer fans wave Qatari and Palestinian flags as they watch a live broadcast of ...
Associated Press

Flashes of Arab unity at World Cup after years of discontent

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — For a brief moment after Saudi Arabia’s Salem Aldawsari fired a ball from just inside the penalty box into the back of the net to seal a World Cup win against Argentina, Arabs across the divided Middle East found something to celebrate. Such Arab unity is hard to come by and […]
1 day ago
FILE - MGM Grand Macau casino resort is closed in Macao on July 11, 2022. Macao has tentatively ren...
Associated Press

Macao awards casino licenses to MGM, Sands, Wynn, 3 others

BEIJING (AP) — Macao has tentatively renewed the casino licenses of MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and three Chinese rivals after they promised to help diversify its economy by investing in non-gambling attractions, the government said Saturday. The announcement is positive news for owners who have invested billions of dollars to build the […]
1 day ago
FILE - Local authorities inaugurate the Christmas lighting in the streets of Vigo, Spain, Nov. 19, ...
Associated Press

Sober or bright? Europe faces holidays during energy crunch

VERONA, Italy (AP) — Early season merrymakers sipping mulled wine and shopping for holiday decorations packed the Verona Christmas market for its inaugural weekend. But beyond the wooden market stalls, the Italian city still has not decked out its granite-clad pedestrian streets with twinkling holiday lights as officials debate how bright to make the season […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
EXPLAINER: World Cup host Qatar relies on desalination