Review of domestic water conservation practices in Saudi Arabia
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabian (KSA) has a substantial water shortage problem where water demand far exceeds water resources sustainable yields. This fact has motivated the Ministry of Water and Electricity (MOWE) to launch a massive water conservation awareness program to enhance water-using efficiency in the country. The MOWE among other water awareness activities has introduced a four-stage program of free distribution of water conservation tools. This research reviewed the domestic water conservation awareness program in Saudi Arabia and assessed the program performance through conducting questionnaire surveys. The latter was designed and implemented in Al-Khobar city in the Eastern Province to measure public awareness regarding water issues. The survey started on April 28, 2012, and continued for 3 weeks. A total of 197 questionnaires were completed. The survey results showed a relatively low awareness among respondents about water shortage problem in the Kingdom. A low percentage of respondents have water conservation tools installed in their houses, but a high percentage is willing to buy and install water conservation tools. The majority of respondents consider the water price low and are willing to pay more for water. The respondents’ feedback highlighted the need to improve the current water conservation awareness program.
KeywordsSaudi Arabia Water shortage Water conservation program Questionnaire survey
KSA sustainable water resources yields and water demand in the year 2010
Quantity (million m3/year)
Water resource sustainable yields
Total conventional sources
Total non-conventional sources
Total water resource yields
Water demand per sector
Total water demand
2010 Water demand vs. supply gap
The world water community has agreed on four governance principles for country level water resources management during the International Conference on Water and the Environment (ICWE) in Dublin, Ireland, January 1992. The second principle stated “Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policymakers at all levels” (International Conference on Water and Environment 1992). Intensifying general public and policy maker awareness of water shortage problem is an integral component of the participatory approach (International Conference on Water and Environment 1992). The general public and policy maker awareness of water shortage problem will facilitate water conservation practices and implementation. Water conservation in countries with extreme water scarcity problem such as KSA is not an option anymore; it is a must. Saudi Ministry of Water and Electricity (MOWE) is the governing authority of water services sector in the Kingdom. MOWE has initiated and implemented a challenging general public water conservation awareness program in 2004.
This research reviews MOWE program towards promoting water conservation practices among general public and assessing the program performance to-date based on literature review and questionnaire survey.
The water conservation program in Saudi Arabia
The current use of the Kingdom’s water resources is unsustainable. This issue can be seen from two viewpoints: the unrestricted and uneconomical use of irrigation water and the fiscal burden generated by the water supply and sanitation. The current level and tariff structure for urban water paid by consumers provides no incentive to conserve water and causes an inconsistent level of per capita consumption with the water scarcity condition in the Kingdom. Moreover, the low pricing of water is a disincentive for utility companies to diminish water loss along the pipe networks. Other evidence of the lack of incentives to conserve water is the imbalance between the treated waste water supply and its minimum reuse, disregarding an important supply of water that can be reused for irrigation in industry and even in urban areas. Important, too, is that fact that the sector where conservation efforts are most needed is irrigated agriculture—the sector which is the largest water consumer but also the one with the lowest water efficiency.
Unless corrective measures are taken, the long-term viability of these resources will be jeopardized. The main challenge that faces decision makers is to stop the degradation of the natural resource of water while materializing the national vision that demands “Sustainable development and management of the Kingdom’s water resources” (MOWE 2012). These factors have motivated the Ministry of Water and Electricity (MOWE) to restructure the water sector and to prepare a National Water Strategy (NWS) to be used as a roadmap towards sustainable water usage.
Identifying the current and future water situation and emphasizing on the importance of conservation for sustainability;
Taking practical measures and adopting a clear and direct approach to inform and educate the public about conservation and addressing all sections of society;
Highlighting the Kingdom’s high per capita consumption and the low tariff paid by consumers for water compared to other countries;
Acquainting the public with the conservation tools and encouraging them to use them.
In an effort to achieve the objectives of the national campaign, the NWS has introduced a four-stage program of free distribution of water conservation tools. The first three stages targeted the residential sector, government/public sectors, and private sector. Moreover, the fourth stage is aimed at the distribution of water saving showerheads at nominal prices (MOWE 2012). Parallel with the introduction effort, the government has mounted a widespread media campaign to increase the awareness of the public regarding water conservation. Also, a woman’s permanent exhibition for water conservation has been established. The aim of the exhibition is to convey the message of the necessity for water conservation to the women in the Kingdom. Documentary films on water conservation have been screened and practical demonstrations of conservation tools held. A women’s symposium on water conservation was organized on November 22, 2005 (MOWE 2012). The symposium received considerable media coverage and public recognition.
The first stage of the campaign was announced and the first conservation tools bag handed out on February 10, 2004. A total of more than 34 million conservation tools were distributed to around 18 million residents, which is equivalent to 80 % of occupied residences (MOWE 2012). The water conservations tools bag includes water saving showerheads and faucets, 3-l sized toilet-tank-bank replacement bags, and leak detection pills. This campaign is considered to be the largest water conservation campaign of its kind in the world in terms of quantity and quality. The average savings have been 30 % of house water consumption, which is estimated to be 524,000 m3/day (MOWE 2012). The expected annual financial saving resulting from the installation of these tools is estimated at about SAR 900 million (MOWE 2012). The second stage that targeted public sector facilities such as government buildings, schools, mosques, parks, and airports was inaugurated on March 15, 2005. Almost 2.1 million conservation tools were distributed and installed (MOWE 2012). The third stage that targeted the private sector facilities such as hotels, furnished flats, and residential compounds was inaugurated on September 21, 2005. More than 2.5 million conservation tools were distributed and installed (MOWE 2012). In the fourth stage, private sector facilities such as hotels, furnished flats, and residential compounds were targeted. A number of sale points were opened for distributing the water saving showerheads at a nominal price to encourage their usage by the public. More than 592,000 water saving showerheads have been distributed and installed (MOWE 2012).
The contribution of private sector and non-governmental organization (NGOs) to water conservation programs in the Kingdom is very limited. Saudi Aramco, the largest crude oil producer in the world, which is located in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom, has initiated a water conservation program in their facilities and residential compound. Saudi Aramco’s program is the only noticeable private sector contribution to the water conservation program in the Kingdom.
The recently issued Saudi Building Code sanitary section (2007) recommends the installation of water conservation tools including an efficient toilet flushing system, faucets, and showerheads. Being recently issued, the code does not require installing water meters in new buildings. However, it is recommended extending the code requirements to all maintenance and renovation activities and to amend the code to include the enforcement of advanced water meter installation. The code amendment should be prepared based on participatory approach, where key stakeholders such as real estate developers, government officials, and engineering associations should be consulted. Their feedback and recommendations should be incorporated in the code amendment. The generated code amendment implementation should be coupled with a comprehensive consumer education campaigns.
In sum, then the MOWE has exerted substantial efforts towards enhancing domestic water conservation practices in the Kingdom but with limited private sector and NGO contributions. Private sector and NGOs should be encouraged to contribute to the water conservation program. The main challenge that remains is how to make sure that the policy options and instruments provided by the NWS reach inside and outside the water sector, so as to integrate water resources management with all water-consuming sectors of the Kingdom.
Survey design and distribution
A questionnaire survey is an appropriate method to gain insight and to measure public awareness regarding water issues, ultimately to assist in the development of an effective water awareness program for the country. Survey results will establish a baseline understanding of the key issues involved in implementing the current water awareness program. The results may be used to provide a benchmark when monitoring the effectiveness of the MOWE efforts to raise residents’ awareness of water conservation initiatives.
On this appreciation, a questionnaire survey was developed and distributed to residents of Al-Khobar city in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, a copy of the utilized questionnaire is included in the “Appendix”. Al-Khobar is a middle-sized city with a population of about 580,000 consisting of both Saudi citizens and international expats. Indeed, the latter form 56 % of Al-Khobar population, while 44 % of the population are Saudis. Most of the international expats are singles making 60 % of Al-Khobar’s population male (Saudi Central Department of Statistics & Information 2012).
The municipal water consumption in Al-Khobar is about 400 l per capita per day which is much higher than the KSA national average of 205 l per capita per day (Ouda 2013b). Al Khobar is the hometown of Prince Mohamed Bin Fahd University; this fact facilitated the students’ conducting of the questionnaire survey. The survey distribution goal was to collect as much feedback from the public as possible. The survey was distributed to Al-Khobar residents using two methods: online and in person. The survey was made available online. A digital link was made available to the public and university employees through e-mail distribution. The same survey was conducted in person at a university campus, two shopping malls, three hospitals, and various construction sites, to ensure a diversity of respondents. The survey questions were designed in multiple choice formats. The questions were divided into two main groups to measure the public awareness of the water shortage problem in the KSA and their access and usage of water conservation tools at their residence.
Results and analysis
The survey started on April 28, 2012, and continued for 3 weeks. Out of a total of 197 questionnaires completed, 157 were in person and 42 received online. Collected questionnaires were compiled into a PASW SPSS Statistics 18.0 database and Excel Spread Sheet software for analysis and interpretation.
Men constitute 60 % of Al-Khobar residents. Saudi culture is conservative and it is hard to conduct a questionnaire with women respondents. The research team tried its utmost to conduct the survey with women but there was a low return of female respondents (13 %), where male returns were 87 %. These are acceptable returns if we consider male-dominant Saudi culture.
Domestic water sources
The respondents were asked if they think the KSA has a water shortage problem. About 52 % of respondents answered Yes, 37 % answered No, and 11 % did not know. This result shows a very low respondents’ awareness of the country’s water shortage issue. The respondents were asked about the best solution for water shortage problem among three options: increase sea water desalination plant capacities, expand the utilization of groundwater, or water conservation. Most of respondents (52 %) considered water conservation the best option. This is considered a reasonable starting point for water conservation campaigns but not a good result if we consider the fact that the water conservation program has been in place for the last 9 years in Saudi Arabia. Increasing sea water desalination plant capacities was considered the best solution by 35 % of respondents; the remaining 12 % considered expanding the utilization of groundwater as the best option.
Water meters and water bills
Water conservation practices
Conclusions and recommendations
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a substantial water shortage problem where water demand far exceeds the sustainable yields of both conventional and non-conventional water resources. This fact has galvanized the Ministry of Water and Electricity to restructure the water sector and to prepare a National Water Strategy (NWS) to be used as a roadmap towards sustainable water usage. This research has reviewed the water conservation awareness program in Saudi Arabia and assessed the program performance through conducting questionnaire surveys.
A questionnaire survey was designed and implemented in Al-Khobar city in the Eastern Province to measure public awareness regarding water issues and ultimately to assist in the development of an effective water awareness program for the country. Furthermore, the results of the survey we conducted can help establish a baseline understanding of key issues regarding the currently implemented program. The survey started on April 28, 2012, and continued for 3 weeks. Out of a total of 197 questionnaires completed, 157 were done in person and 42 received online. The survey results showed a relatively low awareness among respondents about the water shortage problem in the Kingdom. Although a low percentage of respondents have water conservation tools installed in their houses a high percentage are willing to buy and install water conservation tools. The majority of respondents consider the water price low and are willing to pay more for water. Overall, the respondents’ feedback highlighted the need to improve the current water awareness program.
In conclusion, water conservation program is very important to the country and it is economically justified where the only accessible source of potable water is the costly desalinated sea water. In the future, water conservation programs should be locally tailored to meet Saudi cultural, socioeconomic, religious, political and legal characteristics. This includes scientifically identifying historical water conservation practices in the Kingdom and encourages its implementation; and highlights the religious value of water and water conservation practices. Awareness campaigns should be expanded through school programs, via the media and other means. Awareness is the responsibility of the private sector and NGOs too—their contribution is crucial. The Saudi Building Code promotes water conservation and should be implemented strictly and amended based on participatory approach to include water metering requirements. Also, a periodic review of water conservation programs is highly recommended. The review should include a questionnaire survey to assess the program performance on which basis modifications suggested.
The authors would like to thank their colleagues at Prince Mohamed Fahd University, Khaled Fawagreh and Dr. Alex Gordon, for their help in reviewing and editing this paper.
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