All it takes is just a few molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. But the 2:1 combination is terrific, and is powerful enough to decide the fate of our existence. Even the next world war — oh no, please — has been ominously predicted on it. Water, we know, is not like any other liquid. And, one of the most daunting challenges at the global level is to provide clean water to the people. Over the world, more than 3 billion people lack basic access to clean water and proper sanitation, and nearly 663 million people are doomed to live without any access to drinking water.
An assessment by the US government’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that global water challenges can threaten stability in many countries and this water-driven destabilisation can severely cripple food production and increase the risk of terrorists weaponising water.
Obviously, the Middle East, with its weak groundwater resources, looks at water in the most strategic way.
The region’s rising population pressure has led to an alarming depletion of its water reserves over the years.
As noted by James Famiglietti from the University of California, groundwater use has historically not been monitored.“Groundwater is our money in the bank, and we better keep track of the account balance,” he suggests.
Turning the focus to the Sultanate, the country boasts of as many as 68 water springs and 167,000 wells.
Not that bad for a Middle East country.
Conventional water resources, including surface and underground water, constitute 85 per cent of Oman’s water resources, while desalinated water and treated wastewater make up the rest. However, the demand for water exceeds supply.
The demand for potable water in its northern region is growing at six per cent.
Across the Sultanate, the demand for water is estimated to grow 15 per cent annually, and desalinated sea water serves as the major source of water for its people.
There are over 90 desalination plants in the Sultanate and half of them are designed to treat seawater. Last year, Oman produced 378 million Cu M of water.
But, according to Public Authority for Electricity and Water (PAEW), 30 per cent of the country’s water is lost, either through leakage, overflow of reservoirs, or inaccurate recording of data.
Our own carelessness and irresponsible attitude too aggravate water wastage, as we happily keep our taps wide open during brushing, shaving and bathing.
PAEW works to implement the government’s policy of reducing the Sultanate’s reliance on groundwater wells for drinking water supplies, by focusing on large-scale desalination.
Mega desalination facilities account for 76 per cent of produced water, while small desalination plants and wells contribute four per cent and 20 per cent respectively.
Wells are considered a strategic long-term reserve, mainly used as alternative resources during peak consumption or plant shutdowns.
The Sultanate has been using desalinated water since 1976 when the first desalination plant in Ghubrah was commissioned.
Since then giant strides were taken.
The Barka desalination plant, Oman’s largest desalination plant, is set to commence operation by April next year.
It will ensure water security in the Sultanate by pumping out a whopping 62 million gallons of potable water daily.
The RO115 million Barka plant is expected to boost Oman’s water capacity by 20 per cent.
In the Sultanate, public drinking water network plays a leading role, and a significant section of the population depends on it for drinking water, making it the most preferred source of water for drinking and household uses. On the other hand, people are increasingly turning to bottled water nowadays, especially in the urban areas, and usage is steadily going up.
The Sultanate’s falaj (water management and irrigation system) deserves special mention in this context.
Falaj networks have been the main source of irrigation water in Oman since 2370 BC (kingdom of Magan). They are used for domestic purposes as well.
Oman has over 4,000 falaj systems, of which some 3,000 are still in use, which account for nearly 700 million cubic metres of water annually.
Falaj channels continue to be the only water supply for many villages even today.
While some of the canals exploit natural springs, others capture water in wadi beds.
But the most magnificent are those that fetch water down from the mountains.
But unregulated pumping of groundwater is depleting aquifers causing many of the falaj networks to die.
Reports also suggest that the use of falaj is on the decline.
This is quite a cause for concern, as falaj systems represent a strong legacy of traditional Omani lifestyle and water engineering.
T V Saranga Dharan Nambiar