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How Saudi Arabia Can Overcome Economic Water Crisis? Report


This report is about the measures that Saudi Arabia should take to mitigate economic water crisis. In spite of Saudi Arabia being among the countries that are blessed with enormous oil wealth, it encounters incessant water crisis. Consequently, the country’s continued existence is under immense threat, unless the Saudi government takes urgent measures to mitigate economic water crisis. The nation lacks lakes, waterfalls, or natural rivers.

Additionally, over 50% of Saudi Arabia is desert (DeNicolas, Aburizaiza, Siddique, Khwaja, & Carpenter, 2015, p. 345). Economic water crisis refers to a condition where people are unable to meet the demand for water due to the absence of infrastructure. In Saudi Arabia, the water sector has undergone significant transformation as the government tries to mitigate water crisis. Initially, people relied on renewable water sources for both domestic and agricultural uses. Today, the country uses groundwater and desalinated water for industrial, commercial, agricultural, and domestic purposes.

The problem of the economic water crisis in Saudi Arabia cannot be attributed only to natural causes. In 1973, the country adopted a self-sufficiency policy in a bid to meet food demand (DeNicolas et al., 2015, p. 343).

People started to cultivate different varieties of crops like fruits, grains, and wheat. Despite the policy helping Saudi Arabia to meet the basic food demands, it depleted the country’s water reserves. In 2013, a study conducted by World Resources Institute found that Saudi Arabia experienced immense strain on its water resources (Ouda, 2014, p. 336). The country spends over 80% of its usable water on industrial, commercial, and domestic uses annually. (Ouda, 2014, p. 339)

The report is limited to discussion how recycling of wastewater, outsourcing of food production, and reduction of subsidies can help to overcome economic water crisis in Saudi Arabia. It will also discuss the factors that contribute to economic water crisis in Saudi Arabia. The report will be of significant help to the government of Saudi Arabia in its effort to come up with water management strategies. Additionally, it will help the ordinary people to understand the importance and ways of using water responsibly.

Causes of Economic Water Crisis

Research indicates that Saudi Arabia is bound to face grave water shortage in the next two decades. Among the factors that have contributed to the current water crisis are poor government policies and natural causes. The government of Saudi Arabia provides subsidies, making water affordable to all citizens. Ouda (2013) argues, “The Saudis have become used to paying virtually nothing for their water” (p. 68).

Consequently, they are among the world’s highest water consumers. Studies show that individual Saudis spend at least 350 liters of water per day (Ouda, 2014, p. 340). Apart from the subsidies, the adoption of self-sufficiency programme exerted pressure on the available water resources. The Farmers use primordial irrigation methods that deplete groundwater. The country spends a lot of water to produce wheat. Mismanagement of water use, coupled with changes in lifestyle has led to depletion of water resources.

The government is in the process of abandoning the self-sufficiency programme after realising that it has played a role in the current water crisis. Other factors that have exacerbated water crisis in Saudi Arabia include the country’s explosive population growth, increased investment in physical and social facilities, and expansionary economic plans.

Addressing Economic Water Crisis

Reduction of Subsidies

In Saudi Arabia, the government has subsidised the majority of the essential commodities. They include gas, electricity, the staple food, education, water, and housing. The move helps to reduce the cost of living in most households. Additionally, it helps to avert potential social unrest in Saudi Arabia. Implementation of water subsidies is a crucial contributor to the water crisis in the country. People do not bear the cost of using water.

Consequently, they engage in irresponsible ways of water consumption. In Europe, individual households spend about 130 liters of water per day. Conversely, a family in Saudi Arabia consumes at least 350 liters of water per person daily (Ouda, 2014, p. 340).

Water subsidies have resulted in the majority of the affluent families that manage numerous estates not being conscious of their water consumption practices. Reduction of subsidies would shift the cost to such households, therefore compelling them to be responsible. Additionally, medium- and low-income families would check on their water use practices as a measure to reduce costs. One may argue that reduction of water subsidies would have a high toll on low-income families. However, it is imperative to note that the move would instill discipline amid people.

Recycling of Wastewater

Adoption of water conservation measures alone cannot help to resolve the economic water crisis in Saudi Arabia. Ouda (2015) posits, “Saudi Arabia is the third largest consumer of water per capita after the United States and Canada” (p. 2827). Depletion of groundwater through farming heightens the country’s water crisis. At least 80% of the country’s underground is spent on Agriculture (Ouda, 2015, p. 2829). The nation requires coming up with novel water management strategies to mitigate the crisis. Today, 50% of the water used for household purposes comes from desalination plants (Ouda, 2015, p. 2831).

Even though the country has invested heavily on desalination, it should come up with ways to recycle wastewater to meet most domestic needs. The cost and energy attributed to desalination process are higher than that associated with wastewater recycling. The Orange County, California has proved that reuse of wastewater via groundwater recharge is feasible and cost-effective. The county uses wastewater recycling techniques to provide water to over 600,000 people. (Ouda, Shawesh, Al-Olabi, Younes, & Al-Waked, 2013, p. 691)

Recycling wastewater could help to alleviate economic water crisis in Saudi Arabia. The country can use recycled wastewater for domestic purposes like cleaning and watering lawns. As aforementioned, Saudi Arabia spends about 80% of its groundwater on irrigation. Recycled sewage could be used for irrigation, thus helping to protect the country’s underground. It would also go a long way towards facilitating aquifer restoration. The Saudi government continues to create awareness of water scarcity amid the public. Thus, there are high chances that most people will not be opposed to the use of recycled wastewater.

Outsourcing Food Production

Saudi Arabia uses a lot of water in food production. Even though the country continues to adopt modern methods of irrigation, some farmers still use traditional techniques that waste a lot of water. In spite of the adoption of advanced farming techniques, the country continues to experience water crisis as it does not receive heavy rainfall. The amount of water required to produce one tone of wheat is untenable (Jagerskog & Kim, 2016, p. 1341).

Moreover, overreliance on desalination techniques to provide water for irrigation is costly. Saudi Arabia requires coming up with alternative ways of food production that would not exert pressure on its water resources. Currently, the country outsources the production of alfalfa to the United States (Jagerskog & Kim, 2016, p. 1343). The move helps it to reduce water usage in agriculture. The Saudi government should outsource the production of wheat and other food crops to countries with an adequate supply of water. Moreover, it should purchase land in nations that receive sufficient amount of rainfall and use it for food production.

Apart from outsourcing food production, the government of Saudi Arabia requires encouraging farmers to adopt efficient farming methods. It should help farmers to stop investing in crops that need a lot of water. A blend of outsourcing and adoption of suitable farming methods will go a long way towards ensuring that Saudi Arabia overcomes economic water crisis. The government’s move to abolish production of wheat in Saudi Arabia is a positive step towards mitigating water crisis.


Adoption of self-sufficiency programme, implementation of subsidies, and lack of adequate rainfall are some of the factors that contribute to the economic water crisis in Saudi Arabia. Application of water subsidies has added to families engaging in irresponsible water usage practices. Even though the government has invested heavily on desalination, it is difficult for the country to meet all its water needs because of the costs associated with this technology. Reduction of subsidies will go a long way towards encouraging families to use water responsibly. Overuse of groundwater for farming and domestic needs have resulted in the depletion of aquifers.

The government of Saudi Arabia should invest in wastewater recycling. It will help to minimise consumption of groundwater. Recycled wastewater can be used for irrigation, cleaning, flushing toilets, and watering flowers. Agriculture is one of the activities that contribute to the water crisis in Saudi Arabia. The government should look for alternative ways of food production. Outsourcing food production to African countries can go a long way towards resolving economic water crisis. Moreover, farmers should be encouraged to adopt efficient farming methods and grow crops that do not require a lot of water.


The Saudi government requires implementing numerous strategies to guarantee water security. The costs associated with desalination process show that the technology cannot ensure water security for a long time. Among the policies that the government should use to avert economic water crisis include;

  1. Implementation of a pricing system that makes sure families use water responsibly. It is the high time that families appreciate the value of water and adopt economic water consumption practices.
  2. Investing in novel ways of producing water instead of relying on groundwater and rain. Wastewater is readily accessible compared to desalinated water. Therefore, the government should come up with measures to recycle wastewater and use it for irrigation and domestic needs.
  3. Educating families on the significance of conserving water to mitigate the shortage. People should learn how to use the available water resources responsibly to avert a potential crisis.
  4. Diversifying the country’s economic activities to minimise overreliance on agriculture as the main source of income for most families. Families should be encouraged to look for alternative sources of livelihood that do not require a lot of water.


DeNicolas, E., Aburizaiza, O., Siddique, A., Khwaja, H., & Carpenter, D. (2015). Climate change and water scarcity: The case of Saudi Arabia. Annals of Global Health, 81(3), 342-353. Web.

Jagerskog, A., & Kim, K. (2016). Land acquisition: A means to mitigate water scarcity and reduce conflict? Hydrological Science Journal, 61(7), 1338-1345. Web.

Ouda, O. (2013). Review of Saudi Arabia municipal water tariff. World Environment, 3(2), 66-70. Web.

Ouda, O. (2014). Water demand versus supply in Saudi Arabia: Current and future challenges. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 30(2), 335-344. Web.

Ouda, O. (2015). Domestic water demand in Saudi Arabia: Assessment of desalinated water as strategic supply source. Desalination and Water Treatment, 56(11), 2824-2834. Web.

Ouda, O., Shawesh, A., Al-Olabi, T., Younes, F., & Al-Waked, R. (2013). Review of domestic water conservation practices in Saudi Arabia. Applied Water Science, 3(4), 689-699. Web.

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"How Saudi Arabia Can Overcome Economic Water Crisis?" IvyPanda, 5 Oct. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/how-saudi-arabia-can-overcome-economic-water-crisis/.

1. IvyPanda. "How Saudi Arabia Can Overcome Economic Water Crisis?" October 5, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-saudi-arabia-can-overcome-economic-water-crisis/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "How Saudi Arabia Can Overcome Economic Water Crisis?" October 5, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-saudi-arabia-can-overcome-economic-water-crisis/.


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