As one more World Water Day exhorts us to save the elixir of life that can save our life, disturbing questions remain. Questions are raised not just by the residents of Cape Town, South Africa, who are bracing for Day Zero — at some point next year, when residents will be forced to queue up at water collection points under the watchful eyes of the military to avoid untoward incidents, as the city’s municipal water supply will be cut off for most households and businesses.
Day Zero can happen in major cities across the world, with demand for water rising exponentially driven by population growth and climate change making regions dryer, and the current 1 per cent annual growth in global demand for water is expected to rise significantly in the next two decades.
Is Oman safe? Yes, even as threat looms.
Oman’s water sector is experiencing strong demand, which is anticipated to continue to rise at the rate of 7 per cent through 2021. As noted by Sinéad Lehane of Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme, despite comprehensive water management, Oman faces a high risk of water shortages and is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world.
That precisely is the reason why Oman has designed the National Water Resource Management Master Plan, which is working on developing sustainable solutions to tackle water insecurity. The country’s water consumption is estimated to be 25 per cent more than the natural recharge of existing water resources.
Oman holds the distinction of being a regional leader in the assessment and management of water resources. The major focus of the government has been on desalination, which takes care of almost 90 per cent of the national potable water supply.
It was His Majesty’s vision that ensured availability of sufficient water for the whole population of the Sultanate. Way back in 1988, a Royal Decree declared all water resources in the country to be a national resource. The country’s water management system focuses on enhancing data collection, detailed assessment of water resources and studies of water demand and spatial distribution.
The National Water Resource Management Master Plan heavily focuses on maintaining traditional irrigated agriculture, along with boosting efficiency of irrigation through subsidies, extension of waste water collection methods and enhanced wastewater reuse, and increasing desalination capacity to provide potable water for municipalities.
The state-owned Oman Power and Water Procurement Company has taken major steps to increase the desalination capacity of independent water projects by 123.6 million imperial gallons of water per day in the next six years. The increase will take the capacity to almost 310 million gallons, a 66 per cent increase from the current 186 million gallons per day.
Oman doesn’t boast abundant water resources. Its mean annual rainfall is low nationally, with little over 350mm in the mountainous north, and nearly 100mm in the foothills. It trickles down to less than 50mm in coastal and desert interior governorates.
The Sultanate has recently made major investments in water resource development and management, including an agreement with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to finance 86 per cent of the cost of the water supply project linking Wadi Dhaiqah to Muscat and Qurayat.
Rapid population growth, increased water demand and limited alternative water resources has necessitated the excess extraction of groundwater, and there has been a consistent decline in groundwater levels since the late 1990s, mainly due to heavy dependence on non-renewable fossil aquifers and uncontrolled withdrawal.
According to the UN, the agricultural sector accounts for more than 87 per cent of Oman’s total water consumption. The government offers support and subsidies for farmers to modernise irrigation systems so as to reduce groundwater use and water wastage.
Analysts think that institutionally Oman is one of the best-placed countries in the region to successfully address potential threats to its water security.
At the same time water awareness campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of the need to value water and to use it wisely need to be promoted. Changing people’s attitude and thus their behaviour to use water more wisely, though not so easy, can work wonders, and ensure that we all have access to that elixir of life.
Oman launched a national water campaign called iCommit in 2016 aimed at educating communities about the optimal water usage methods and importance of rationalising consumption.
The government has long-term plans to expand the country’s water resources through further desalination plants and the development of wastewater treatment. Population growth and urban expansion projects mean urban planners can’t take the focus off from water for a long time.
T V Sarnga Dharan Nambiar