Saudi Arabia outlines desalination strategy as part of economic reforms

Saudi Arabia is to increase the proportion of desalinated water produced by private operators from 16 to 52 per cent by 2020.

The target is among the strategic objectives for the water and desalination sectors that form part of the country’s National Transformation Plan (NTP), a sweeping programme of economic reform that aims to reposition Saudi Arabia away from its reliance on oil.

Two of 16 strategic objectives set for the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture refer to desalination. The objective on organisational development and privatisation also challenges the Ministry to increase the share of treated water produced by private operators from zero to 20 per cent, and to extend water and sewage services to 70 per cent of cities, up from 42 per cent, by 2020.

Privatisation of Saudi Arabia’s Saline Water Conversion Corporation was first mooted in January 2015, and received the green light on approval of the NTP on Monday 6 June. A big part of the NTP’s thrust on economic reform is to reduce levels of public ownership across the board, as well as to develop local manufacturing and to reduce imports.

The NTP additionally sets an objective to boost water storage resources and security, including raising available capacity of surface and underground water from 4.1 to 6.1 million m3/d; increasing available capacity of desalinated water from 5.1 to 7.3 billion m3/d; and extending the duration of strategic water storage from 0.4 to 3 days, by 2020.

The NTP is underpinned by a raft of other initiatives that include reducing water leakage, localising water technology, and increasing local spare parts capacity.