Bahrain’s name comes from the Arabic al-bahrayn, which means two seas. Two kinds of water surround the country, sweet water and salty water. Meanwhile, Bahrain is located in the Arabian Gulf – one of the largest oil-producing regions of the world.
Despite the surrounding countries’ high oil supply levels, Bahrain has small stores of oil. Instead of oil drilling, the country imports crude oil from its surrounding countries. The country processes crude oil and exports the refined product.
Bahrain has gained increasing wealth from its refined oil exports. This wealth attracts migrants to come and settle in Bahrain as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council states including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman. The level of migration resulted in a 48 percent migrant population and the growing population is increasing strains on the country’s freshwater and other sanitation resources.
Despite the struggle to keep pace with migration, Bahrain’s government says it is making strides toward improving, upgrading and expanding sanitation facilities for its growing population. Below are 10 facts about freshwater and sanitation in Bahrain.
10 Facts About Freshwater and Sanitation in Bahrain
- Improving Sanitation: Ninety-five percent of Bahrain’s populace connects to a central sewage network. This is because the country adopted sanitation facilities before many of the other countries in the region. Bahrain’s sewage system structure is old with sanitation facilities dating to the 1970s and making the facilities for wastewater treatment inadequate. To combat this inadequacy, Bahrain added new treatment plants and expanded existing ones. Bahrain plans to construct a deep gravity sewer project to cover large areas of the country. Gulf Construction online stated that the country is making progress with its sewage treatment plant in Muharraq and that it was in the commissioning phase as of 2014.
- Oil Pollution: Bahrain developed its oil industry without concern for its fertile land. This lack of concern resulted in the oil pollution of natural groundwater reservoirs. Pollution from this oil development increased during the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in damage to oil facilities in the Gulf Region.
- Freshwater: Bahrain contains the lowest endowments of freshwater resources in the world, which affects its freshwater availability. Bahrain’s average annual rainfall hovers around 80 mm and its evapotranspiration hovers around 1850 mm. There are no rivers, continuously flowing streams or lakes. The country obtains groundwater from the lateral underflow of the Dammam aquifer. Freshwater share among Bahrain’s populace is in decline. The share went from 525 m3 per year in 1970 to 100 m3 per year in 2001, placing the country’s freshwater share less than the 500 m3 per year capita water poverty line. These levels are likely to further decline and even halve due to the country’s continual population increase.
- Water Salination: Bahrain’s groundwater suffers from degradation in quantity and quality from over-extraction, seawater invasion, oil spills and other industrial discharges. The over-utilization of the Dammam aquifer by Bahrain’s agricultural and domestic sectors causes water salination. As a result, desalination provides at least 60 percent of Bahrain’s freshwater.
- Desalination: Desalination plants pose a threat to the environment. The seawater used contains high quantities of boron and bromide. The process used to desalinate removes calcium and other essential minerals. The salt leftover from desalination goes into the ocean increasing the salinity of the water. The increased salinity causes harm to the environment and is among the costliest ways to produce water because of the high amount of energy required. Therefore, higher water and energy costs can also pose a challenge to the people who need it.
- Basic and Improved Sanitation Availability: Ninety-nine percent of Bahrain’s population uses basic sanitation resources. Bahrain’s government claims 100 percent of its population is using improved and safe drinking water sources, 100 percent of the population benefit from improved sanitation services and 100 percent of the wastewater receives safe treatment. The CIA said Bahrain improved sanitation access for 99 percent of its population. Index Mundi claimed that the country’s freshwater access improved from 94 percent of the country having access in 1990 to 100 percent having access in 2015.
- Unequal Freshwater Access: The Bahraini people’s access to freshwater is unequal. The cleanliness of the water is dependent upon how close or far away the water sources are from the Alkalifa family, the ruling family of Bahrain. East Riffe, the location of the Alkalifa family palace, contains cleaner water than Sitra, Ma’ameer, Duraz and Bani Jamra. These are areas where the Baharna community, a community that has faced a long history of discrimination in the region, live. When the people of these areas drink the water there is a high chance of contracting long-term diseases and other health-related problems.
- Water Scarcity and The Green Climate Fund: Since Bahrain is located in an arid environment, estimates determine that water scarcity will increase as the temperature of the planet increases due to sea-level rise. Sea-level rise causes surrounding seawater to intermix with the ground freshwater, which decreases freshwater availability. Bahrain applied to the Green Climate Fund – a fund within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to assist developing countries to take steps to prevent climate change – to address the problems that climate change poses.
- Rising Population: Bahrain contains one of the highest population densities in the world and its population is increasing. Eighty-nine percent of Bahrain’s population lives in urban areas. The population level and the continual population increase created a demand for freshwater that exceeds the country’s natural resources.
- Waste Generation and Government Initiatives: Bahrain generates above 1.2 million tons of solid waste per year making the country one of the world’s leading per capita solid waste generators. Estimates determine that daily garbage production exceeds 4,500 tons. Waste accumulation increases at a rapid pace. The waste is likely to affect the quality of air, soil and groundwater in Bahrain. Bahrain’s government launched recycling initiatives, a waste-to-energy project and a public awareness campaign in response to combat waste accumulation.
While the rising population and aging sewage system strain the availability of resources, Bahrain’s government is making efforts to address a number of the 10 facts about freshwater and sanitation in Bahrain. Bahrain’s works ministry invited companies to bid for a contract to build new sewage treatment plants in the country in 2014. U.S. companies could also help build effective waste management facilities by bringing ideas on how to improve each of the 10 facts about freshwater and sanitation of Bahrain.
– Robert Forsyth