As pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj, accommodation, transportation and the safety of more than 2 million people are some of the biggest issues the Kingdom’s authorities have to deal with.
But there is another daunting challenge that does not attract the same amount of media attention: The water requirements of such a massive transient population.
Last year, the total number of foreign and local pilgrims who performed Hajj touched the 2.4 million mark. To cope with the ever-increasing demand for potable water in Makkah and other holy sites, particularly during Hajj and Umrah, Saudi authorities recently launched six major projects with an estimated total cost of SR3.1 billion.
Referring to the expansion plans, undertaken by the Saline Water Conversion Corporation, the National Water Company (NWC) and the Saudi Water Partnership Company, Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley, Saudi Minister for Environment, Water and Agriculture, said that they demonstrated the attention being paid to the water sector and services in Makkah and the holy sites.
The new projects will include a desalinated-water pipeline from the Shuaiba Water Desalination Plant and the second phase of the Shuaiba Water Desalination Plant project.
Al-Fadley said that his ministry has ensured that “all projects and water plans are based on the objectives of the National Water Strategy and the Comprehensive Water Plan in the Kingdom in order to reach a sustainable water sector that conserves water resources, preserves the environment, offers quality services and contributes to economic and social development.”
The number of pilgrims who will visit Makkah and other holy sites for Hajj and Umrah is projected to reach 15 million by 2020 — and 30 million by 2030. The planned desalination plants and pipelines are expected to go a long way toward meeting the anticipated rise in water demand.
“These projects have strategic importance for Saudi Arabia as it is a matter of national pride for the Kingdom to have Makkah and the holy sites within its territory,” Dr. Peng Wang, professor of environmental science and engineering at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), told Arab News.
“Serving these places and their visitors with adequate amounts of water is understandably a priority.”