The Middle East: Leaders in Water Stress and Water Reuse

27 May 2021  |  Charlie Suse

The Middle East region has faced water scarcity for a number of years. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, along with the rest of the Middle East region, falls almost exclusively into extreme baseline stressed conditions. This fact is not new. In 2016, NASA cited the Middle East drought as the worst in 900 years. Population growth in the region has only exacerbated the issue. At the same time, the region has taken great strides in addressing wastewater treatment and investing in water reuse.

GCC countries—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE)—face a unique combination of water-related challenges that include a need for greenfield wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure and a need to expand alternative water supplies including water reuse. However, the region is taking proactive steps to address its water-related needs:

Implementing policies and ambitious targets to drive change: GCC countries have set regional targets to increase the use of reclaimed and treated sewage effluent to 90% by 2035 through the GCC Unified Water Strategy. All GCC countries agreed, through the GCC Unified Water Strategy, to increase reuse capacity to 90% of treated effluent and to increase wastewater collection networks to 60% by 2030. All six GCC countries have announced planned spend on wastewater infrastructure investment averaging a combined US$5.21 billion annually.

Taking advantage of the need for greenfield wastewater treatment and collection development to add reuse capacity: Many developed countries must necessarily consider retrofits of existing wastewater systems for reuse, but GCC countries have set initiatives and targets to not only retrofit but also build out significant new capacity of wastewater treatment and collection networks. In doing so, they simultaneously address critical wastewater management issues while developing alternative sources of water.

Alternative water supplies to meet growing demand: While wastewater management—collection and treatment—is of growing concern in the GCC region, demand for access to reliable water supplies is increasing in parallel. The GCC has long relied on groundwater supplies to meet water demand. Increasingly though, groundwater supplies are over-abstracted, forcing countries to look to alternative supplies. Through technology advancements, reclaimed water is more cost-effective than desalination.

Reuse is highly cost-effective in the GCC compared to the high-cost alternatives. In many places, including most parts of the U.S., reuse can struggle to compete solely on a cost basis with other water supplies, like new groundwater sources or long-distance water transfers via new pipelines. However, in the GCC, the alternative to reclaimed water supplies is desalinated seawater, which is more expensive than reclaimed water projects. The economics of reclaimed water as compared to desalination is playing out in new U.S. markets in California and Texas where water supplies struggle to keep up with demand and desalination projects are under consideration.

Corporates are taking measures into their own hands: Proctor and Gamble has announced that by the of end 2022, 100% of P&G’s manufacturing sites located in high water stress areas including the Jeddah and Dammam, Saudi Arabia plants will develop a water stewardship action plan.

  • How will this region continue to meet its water goals and needs?
  • What can California and others learn from the Middle East?
  • What trends, like distributed reuse, do we expect to see more of?

These are the kinds of questions Bluefield answers for our clients. Get in touch at to learn more.