Water Challenges in Oman (2023)

Water Challenges in Oman (1)

Photo 1: Wadi Bani Khalid, Omã (Fuente:Ride with the wind, Flickr).

The challenges in Oman's water sector are numerous.[1]Some of the main ones are: water scarcity; energy intensive desalination; high water consumption in the domestic sector; unsustainable use of groundwater in the agricultural sector; misdirected subsidies; and the lack of appreciation of the principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM) by decision makers.

Lack of water

Groundwater in Oman is overused. Continued extraction reduces the depth of the water table and, in some cases, deteriorates water quality due to seawater intrusion. For example, agricultural water demand increased from 1,152 MCM in 1990 to 1,546 MCM in 2011, and consequently the supply from groundwater aquifers increased from 899 MCM in 1990 to 1,269 MCM in 2011.

Figure 1: Past and projected water demand in millions of cubic meters (MCM) for the years 1990, 2000 and 2025.[2]

According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) data, the following are relevant to water demand in Oman in the years 1990, 2000 and 2025.

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Figure 2: Water demand in millions of cubic meters (MCM) for the year 1990.

Figure 3: Water demand in millions of cubic meters (MCM) for the year 2000.

Figure 4: Water demand in million cubic meters (MCM) for the year 2025.

The Government of Oman's data on water supply and demand is presented in the figures below.

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Figure 5: Water demand (MCM/year) in Oman for the period 1990-2000-2011.

Figure 6: Water supply (MCM/year) in Oman for the period 1990-2000-2011.

High water consumption in the domestic sector

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have the highest per capita water consumption in the world, while Oman has the lowest consumption within the group. Average annual household water consumption was estimated at 519 m3/year for the Qurm district in Muscat, for example, and 440 m3/year for the Seeb district.

Average per capita consumption was 289 L/cap/day and 173 L/cap/day for Qurm and Seeb, respectively, well above the international average[3] of 90 L/cap/day. The increase in domestic water demand can be attributed to a lack of conservation measures, low water prices, misdirected subsidies, and a lack of awareness.

Figure 7: Water deficit (MCM/year) in Oman for the period 1990-2000-2011.

Unsustainable use of groundwater in the agricultural sector

Groundwater withdrawal beyond safe production levels has resulted in contamination of existing groundwater aquifers due to seawater intrusion and the emergence of brackish and saline water sources from lower aquifers.

The use of groundwater for irrigation of low-value agricultural crops has resulted in the waste of nonrenewable and renewable resources that would be better reserved for current or future high-value uses. Use of treated effluents in agriculture,[4]A rapid expansion in the number of greenhouses, the use of salt-tolerant crops, higher yields, and the adoption of rainfed agriculture are some of the positive developments in Oman's agricultural sector.

energy intensive desalination

The total desalination capacity in Oman in 2010 was almost 600,000 m3/d. Today (2018), that number exceeds 1.3 MMC/d. Despite technological advances and successes in reducing energy requirements, particularly in membrane-based processes (which currently dominate the Omani market), desalination remains an energy-intensive process, which contributes to climate change. Energy-efficient methods for water desalination are being increasingly adopted as the growing number of projects could soon have an impact on the country's energy requirements, according to officials.

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misdirected subsidies

There are several grants available in the water sector that are intended to benefit residents, industries, and businesses. This has sometimes had unintended consequences that are negative for the environment. For example, subsidies have increased per capita domestic water consumption. Targeted social support is more effective than low rates (or no rates at all) in equalizing investment in water supply and sanitation systems and affordability for poor households.

Lack of appreciation of IWRM principles

Economic efficiency, equity and environmental sustainability, which are the basis of integrated water resources management (IWRM), are absent in water management in the region, as is the participatory approach. There are several reasons for this, including a lack of skilled manpower, a reliance on expatriate consultants and professionals, a reliance on engineering solutions as funding is relatively abundant, and a lack of stakeholder involvement in decision-making. .

Public education and awareness campaigns

The government, NGOs, international organizations located in Oman, as well as student groups, are at the forefront of public awareness and education campaigns. This includes direct communications; symposiums and conferences; exhibitions; educational tests; international conferences; school curriculum; radio and television programs; and articles in print and online media.

Mitigation and adaptation to climate change

The following policies have been recommended to result in a "greener" water sector and to help adapt to the potential impacts of climate change on Oman's water sector.8 The recommendations fall into three categories: demand side , demand side of supply and others .

Demand side:

I. The price of water must reflect the true cost of production.

ii. Subsidies provided to consumers must be targeted to those who need them and consumers must offer incentives for saving water.

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iii. The installation of water saving devices should be mandatory in all new residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

4. Urban water demand management should be given top priority, as this sector uses water that is produced and delivered at high cost. Fee structures should encourage conservation; Retrofit subsidies, mandatory installation of water-saving devices in new buildings, leak detection, and education campaigns should be part of a comprehensive water demand management action plan.

v. Groundwater extraction should be regulated even for farmers. Everyone must pay for this water depending on its use.

Supply side:

I. The controlled recharge of the aquifer should be promoted, with a strict control of the quality of the injected water.

ii. High priority should be given to the collection and use of treated wastewater. Such use may include not only irrigation, but also recharge of managed aquifers, industrial use, saline water intrusion control, and toilet flushing.


I. The use of renewable energy in the desalination industry should be encouraged. If it is not possible to use alternative energy sources directly in the desalination industry, then the energy use for water production must be offset by producing the same amount of energy through alternative sources and feeding into the grid.

ii. The maximum overall savings in the water sector will result from better water use in the agricultural sector. The use of good quality groundwater for uneconomic agricultural production with high water consumption should be avoided. Biosaline agriculture should be encouraged. The use of smart technology (hydroponics, drip irrigation, metering, controlled environment agriculture) should be encouraged and desalinated water for agriculture should only be allowed for high value crops that make economic sense.

iii. The adoption of water management plans that reflect IWRM principles should be mandatory. All cost-effective and environmentally sound alternative water resources should be included in integrated management plans.

4. A national water information system, including a decision support system, should be introduced to better assist water decision makers and monitor key performance indicators of the sector.


[1]Ahmed, M. et al., 2015. 'Green challenges and some technological solutions in the water sector of the GCC countries'. InThe Green Economy in the Gulf, Raouf, M. y Luomi, M. (eds.), Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, págs. 123-144.

[2]Available:http://www.un.org/esa/earthsummit/ecwa-cp.htm. Consulted on 11/04/2019.

[3]Available at: http://www.muscatdaily.com/Archive/Oman/Study-demonstrates-possibility-to-reduce-residential-water-demand-by-increasing-price-4up5. Consulted on 11/04/2018

[4]al-Khamisi, S. and Ahmed, M., 2014. 'Opportunities and challenges of the use of treated wastewater in agriculture'. InEnvironmental cost and face of agriculture in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Shahid, S. y Ahmed, M. (eds.), Springer.

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