Water challenges in Oman (2023)

Water challenges in Oman (1)

Photo 1: Wadi Bani Khalid, Omán (Those:Ride with the wind, Flickr).

The challenges in Oman's water sector are numerous.[1]Some of the most important are: water scarcity; energy intensive desalination; high water consumption at home; unsustainable use of groundwater in agriculture; wrong subsidies; and the lack of recognition of the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) by decision makers.

Lack of water

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

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

Based on data from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA), the following information on water needs in Oman in 1990, 2000 and 2025 is relevant.

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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 Omani government data on water demand and supply is given 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 consumption of water in the domestic sphere

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

Average per capita consumption was 289 l/capita/day and 173 l/capita/day for Qurm and Seeb respectively, well above the international average[3] of 90 l/capita/day. The increase in demand for domestic water is due to the lack of austerity measures, low water prices, misguided 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 agriculture

Groundwater withdrawal beyond safe yield levels has resulted in contamination of existing aquifers due to seawater intrusion and the buildup of brackish and saline water supplies from lower aquifers.

The use of groundwater to irrigate low-value agricultural crops has resulted in the waste of renewable and non-renewable resources that are best reserved for current or future high-value uses. use of treated wastewater in agriculture,[4]A rapid expansion in the number of greenhouses, the use of salt-tolerant crops, higher yields, and the introduction 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/day. Today (2018) it is more than 1.3 Mm3/d. Despite technological advances and achievements in reducing energy demand, mainly in membrane-based processes (which currently dominate the Omani market), desalination remains an energy-intensive process and therefore Therefore, it contributes to climate change. Energy-saving water desalination methods are being used more and more, as the growing number of projects could soon affect the country's energy needs, according to authorities.

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misdirected subsidies

There are various subsidies available in the water sector to benefit the local population, industries and businesses. This has sometimes led to unintended consequences that have a negative impact on the environment. For example, subsidies have increased per capita household water consumption. Targeted social support is more effective than low fees (or no fees at all) in combining investment in water and sanitation systems and affordability for poor households.

Lack of recognition of IWRM principles

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

Public education and awareness campaigns

The government, NGOs, Oman-based international organizations and student groups are at the forefront of public awareness and education campaigns. These include direct communication; symposiums and conferences; exhibitions; educational tests; international conferences; school curriculum; radio and television broadcasts; and articles in print and online media.

Climate protection and adaptation to climate change

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

Demand side:

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

ii. Consumer subsidies should be targeted to those in need and incentivized to encourage water conservation among consumers.

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

IV. Urban water demand management should be given top priority, since this sector consumes the water that is produced and supplied at a high cost. Fee structures should encourage conservation; Subsidies for redevelopment, the mandatory installation of water saving devices in new buildings, leak detection and awareness campaigns must be part of a comprehensive water demand management action plan.

v. Groundwater extraction must be regulated, including for farmers. Everyone should pay for that water according to usage.

Supply side:

I. The controlled replenishment of the aquifer should be encouraged, strictly controlling the quality of the injected water.

ii. High priority should be given to the collection and use of treated wastewater. Such uses may include not only irrigation but also controlled aquifer recharge, industrial uses, saltwater intrusion control, and toilet flushing.


I. The use of renewable energy in the desalination industry should be promoted. If it is not possible to use alternative energy sources directly in the desalination industry, the energy consumption for water production must be compensated by generating the same amount of energy from alternative sources and feeding it into the network.

ii. The maximum overall savings in the water sector are obtained as a result of better water use in agriculture. The use of good quality groundwater for water-intensive and uneconomical agricultural production should be avoided. Biosaline agriculture should be promoted. The use of smart technologies (hydroponics, drip irrigation, metering, controlled environment agriculture) should be encouraged and desalinated water for agriculture should only be allowed for economically viable crops.

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.

IV. A national water information system, including a decision support system, should be established to better support water decision makers and monitor key sector performance indicators.


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

[2]Available in:http://www.un.org/esa/earthsummit/ecwa-cp.htm. Consulted on 11/4/2019.

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

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

Related topics

Oman water challenges Agriculture climate change Training Surroundings water efficiency


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