GCC – Gulf Cooperation Council is a conglomerate of six different nations which are situated along the Arabian Gulf. These 6 countries together form an economic region and have a lot in common with respect to their location, socio economic situation and most importantly crude oil exploration is the foundation of their economies, which dates four decades back. 90% of the region’s exports are from oil and its by-products. A hindrance to the faster development of this region is the water scarcity of natural water resources as compared to the soaring demand.
The increased population growth and economic development has led to exhaustion of surface water resources.
Apart from this, the region is located within in an arid eco system. The area surrounded by the region is 2.55 million km2 and it has the least fresh water resources with which comes to less than 370 cubic metres. It is predicted that by the year 2030, with an estimated population of 56 million people, the water resources in these GCC countries will reduce by more than half the current capacity.
To tackle this issue, these countries have resorted to desalination plants to overcome the water scarcity and meet the increasing demand.
Desalination is the process of removing the salts from the seawater and make it potable. Desalination process started in the GCC area in the country of Kuwait in the late 1950s. With a number of Desalination plants across the region, this has proven to be the dependable source of water with a price of water comparable to conventional sources.
The domestic water supply requirements in GCC countries are met by desalination plants. Its popularity in these countries has grown to an extent that the cumulative capacity of the desalination plants commissioned in GCC has increased to 5000 million cubic metre per year by 2012.
Though the technology is promising, it has its negative effects which has risen concerns over the detrimental effects on the environment. The crucial issues are the discharge of the concentrated by product called brine and other chemical discharges to the marine environment. The others are air pollutants emitted and the energy demand of the processes. This leaves us with the need to find methods to mitigate the impact on the environment by the existing desalination plants, develop new approaches to the desalination techniques which are more sustainable and more environment friendly, which leads us to a balance between the benefits and negative impacts on the scale of regional development strategies.
This paper presents the study of desalination plants in the GCC area, their capacities, the socio-economic costs of these plants, the nature of the brine discharged, and presents the emerging approaches to desalination which reduces the negative minimal impact on the environment.