ESCWA Series on Water Development

2412-1088 (online)
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This series aims to enhance the application of integrated water resources management (IWRM) concepts in the region, with the explicit objectives to: (a) provide regional water practitioners and decision makers with concise, but comprehensive reports on specific topics related to the sustainable management of available water resources; (b) establish an authoritative basis for managing the available resources; and (c) secure potential input of updated information and data on the ESCWA region to the United Nations WWDR series.
ESCWA Water Development Report 3

ESCWA Water Development Report 3

Role of Desalination in Addressing Water Scarcity You do not have access to this content

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01 Mar 2013
9789210557818 (PDF)

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There is a growing concern among the international community that a pending water crisis is threatening the entire global population, not only those living in arid to semi-arid areas. This Report, the second in the series of the United Nations World Water Development Report (WWDR), gives and overview of the water resources in the ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) region based on the most recent data and information obtained from member countries. The state of water resources in the region is analyzed and assessed on the basis of data and indicators selected from available information and within the context of integrated water resources management (IWRM). The Report provides a comprehensive summary of the current situation of water resources in each member country in term of availability, accessibility and sustainability.
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  • Abbreviations and explanatory notes
  • Executive summary
    The water supply and demand balance of most countries in the ESCWA region is in serious deficit. Specifically, the average share of renewable freshwater in eight out of 14 ESCWA member countries is 500 cubic metres per capita per year (m3/c/yr), which represents half the internationally accepted water poverty threshold of 1,000 m3/c/yr. Furthermore, the regional average supply of freshwater per capita per year is significantly less than the world average.
  • Introduction
    Desalination is very important to the ESCWA region. Almost half of the global desalination capacity is concentrated within the region and many countries rely almost exclusively on desalinated water for their freshwater supply in order to meet growing water demand in the face of increasingly scarce water resources.
  • Review of water resources: Supply and demand
    The water supply and demand balance in most ESCWA member countries is in serious deficit. Countries in the region that are not already facing a water balance deficit are steadily heading towards that direction. The availability of conventional water resources is affected by growing water demands and the deterioration of surface and groundwater quality. Moreover, studies indicate that climate change pressures are further exacerbating the situation. In order to meet this deficit, ESCWA member countries can manage their existing water resources more efficiently through demand side management tools or by increasing their supply of freshwater through the development of conventional and non-conventional water resources. A combination of both water supply and demand side options is often pursued in order to fill the gap in the water balance.
  • Desalination capacity and future prospects
    Desalination has been practised on a large scale for more than 50 years in the ESCWA region. During this time, there have been continual improvements in desalination technology, and the most commonly used technologies are now mature, efficient and reliable. Desalination represents the largest source of non-conventional water for ESCWA member countries, especially where renewable freshwater is extremely limited. Population growth, socioeconomic development and climate change have led to an increase in water demand, and desalination constitutes one way for countries to bridge the gap between water demand and supply.
  • Overview of desalination technologies
    This chapter reviews the most widely used desalination technologies and assesses their regional and global use as a viable and reliable option to prevailing water shortages.
  • Examining the full cost of desalination
    Desalination is one of the supply side options that decision makers should consider when balancing water supply and demand. Cost is a critical factor in deciding whether or not to pursue desalination, and the cost considered must be the cost of desalinated water delivered to the consumer’s tap. Too often only the capital cost and operation of the desalination plant, that is the supply cost, is considered without regards to the cost encountered to bringing the water to the consumer. Supply cost is only part of the overall cost of desalination.
  • Reducing the cost of desalination
    Reducing the cost of desalination could greatly benefit the water-stressed countries of the ESCWA region in addition to providing those countries that are already using desalination with significant savings. Cheap and abundant desalination has been a long standing goal of science and society, and measures up to many of the greatest scientific objectives and accomplishments of humanity. While the vision of cheap desalination has not yet been achieved, the cost of desalination can be reduced in many ways. Some of these options are explored in this chapter, focusing on the supply cost of desalination. It is important to note that while these options are not intended as a silver bullet to solve completely the issue of cost, desalination has gone from being prohibitively expensive to merely costly. In the future, some of the suggestions or technologies discussed in this section could mature enough to become a reality.
  • Conclusions and recommendations
    The ESCWA region has a great deal of experience and capacity with desalination. The cost of providing desalinated water can be high in certain cities, especially cities far from the coast. For example, the cost of delivering desalinated water to Sana’a, which is a city that is far from the coast and at a high altitude, is approximately $3.71/m3. On the other hand, the cost of providing desalinated water to Gaza City, which is a low-lying coastal city, is approximately $1.47/m3.92 These costs vary considerably depending on the type of desalination technology employed and the cost of energy.
  • Models produced for estimating desalination cost
    ESCWA produced a model to calculate desalination costs based on a large database of desalination plants available from the International Desalination Association (IDA). The intended goal of the model was to produce an equation with which an estimate of the cost of desalination could be made using simple inputs such as capacity, online date, feedwater and technology. As noted in chapter IV, the model developed did not succeed given data gaps and inconsistencies. Therefore, other methods to calculate desalination costs have been used in the main text. The following are the details of the model presented for completeness and transparency of the process used by ESCWA.
  • Water lifting calculations
  • Water lifting calculations for the California state water project
    The State of California transports large amounts of water from Northern California to the southern cities in the State. California publishes an annual bulletin on the management of the State Water Project (SWP) responsible for this water transportation.
  • Calculation of carbon abatement costs
    In order to obtain the cost of carbon emissions per m3 of desalinated water, three pieces of information are needed, namely: (a) the thermal and electric energy consumption of various desalination processes (MJ/m3 thermal and kWh/m3 electric); (b) the amount of carbon emitted per unit energy (in order to estimate carbon emissions per m3); and (c) the cost per kg CO2.
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