Water is at the center of economic and social development; it is vital to basic human needs, manage the environment, and sustain economic growth. Despite water’s importance, the Kingdom is facing serious challenges due to unsustainable use of water resources. The kingdom has limited reserves of nonrenewable groundwater which are being rapidly depleted. Due to arid climate conditions, renewable water is extremely scarce. The high water demand in the agriculture sector is exacerbating the water scarcity situation in the kingdom. Urban water and sanitation services incur a high cost to the government, yet the service levels are sub-optimal. The sector is further impeded by inadequate institutional setting and governance mechanisms.
MEWA developed a unified framework for the Saudi water sector that includes a comprehensive water strategy and integrates directions, policies, regulations and practices in the water sector at the national level, with the principal objective of addressing the key challenges and restructuring the sector. The scope of the project has several components including stakeholder engagement and an assessment of the current state of sector along several dimensions such as water demand, water resources, sector operations, and enablers. It sets out to identify the nature and scale of the gap between supply and demand, as well as sector economics under different scenarios.
Current State Assessment
The current state assessment of the kingdom’s water sector was conducted using a comprehensive
framework comprising of several components, addressing the critical areas in the sector. The assessment
was informed by several previous studies, interviews with key stakeholders, benchmarks from relevant
The kingdom has limited reserves of exploitable non-renewable groundwaterand low recharge rates (2.8 bcm in Arabian Shield )
due to arid conditions.
The water requirements of the kingdom (24.8 bcm in 2015) is steadily growing annually at 7%. Agriculture is the foremost consumer of water in
the Kingdom, accounting for 84% of total water requirements. In the context of KSA, Agriculture water use
represents an environmental challenge given its high reliance on non-renewable resources, which account
for 90% of total water supplied to Agriculture.
The high Agriculture water abstraction is principally driven by gaps in water sector policies and regulations
and general inefficiencies in usage. Fodder alone constitutes 67% of total Agriculture water requirement,
while irrigation efficiency stands at around 50% today compared to the best practice of more than 75%.
Despite the high water scarcity, TSE is not utilized to its full potential due to limited infrastructure, challenges in overcoming perception, and
limited regulatory oversight and pricing incentives. Urban water consumption per capita also presents opportunities for improvement, this can be driven
mainly by reduction in losses in the network (est. more than 25% if different regions) and within buildings,
and by instituting price signaling and incentives to conserve water.
Given the heavy reliance on desalination (60% of total Urban water supplied), and current subsidies this sector is imposing a heavy
burden on the Saudi economy. Relatively high production unit cost is further exacerbated by significantly
high transmission costs of pumping water from the coasts to inland. The sector is also highly depended on
fuel, and desalination also has a large environmental footprint.
The Saudi National Water Strategy 2030 aims to work towards addressing all the key challenges, leveraging
previous and on-going studies, and reform the water and wastewater sector to ensure sustainable
development of the kingdom’s water resources while providing affordable high-quality services.
The National Water Strategy is composed of a vision, strategic objectives, programs and associated
Vision and Objectives
The sector’s vision statement cites: “A sustainable water sector, safeguarding the natural resources and
the environment of the Kingdom and providing cost-effective supply and high-quality services,” as the
central goals. This vision statement can be further detailed into five strategic objectives, as follows:
1. Ensure continuous access to adequate quantities of safe water, under normal operations and
during emergency situations.
2. Enhance water demand management across all uses.
3. Deliver cost-effective and high quality water and wastewater services, accounting for affordability.
4. Safeguard and optimize the use of water resources, while preserving the local environment for the
highest benefit of the Saudi society in this generation and the future.
5. Ensure water sector competitiveness and positive contribution to the national economy through
promoting effective governance, private sector participation, localization of capabilities and
Strategic Programs and Initiatives
The strategic programs and initiatives were derived from the sector’s five strategic objectives and from
a thorough analysis of the different components of our framework. A total of 10 programs are presented in this report, each comprising multiple strategic initiatives.
Program 1: Water Law and Resource Management Regulations
The program aims at introducing a comprehensive set of policies and implementing an adequate legal
and regulatory framework for water resource management. This program will be implemented by MEWA.
Program 2: Water Resource Management
The water resource management program is designed to implement integrated resources management
and planning at the national level in Saudi Arabia. It also aims to optimize the use of available water
resources through the rationalization of current resources such as renewable groundwater, surface
water and TSE. Another objective is the reduction of current consumption rates in the urban and
agricultural sectors. This program will be sponsored by MEWA Water Affairs and includes 15 initiatives.
Program 3: Sector Resilience
The sector resilience program is designed to ensure that the water and wastewater sectors are
continuously prepared to meet any disruption to normal day-to-day operations. This program ensures
that MEWA and the utilities are factoring in all the possible risks that could disrupt normal operations
at every step of the water supply chain. This program will be sponsored by MEWA Water Affairs and includes three initiatives.
Program 4: Innovation and Capability Building
This program aims at promoting research and development and localization and enhancing leadership
and water management capabilities. The program will be sponsored by MEWA water affairs and
includes three initiatives.
Program 5: Supply Chain Efficiency and Service Quality
Numerous operational and service quality challenges persist today across the water sector value chain
in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The strategy proposed a program to improve sector operations and service delivery, this program will
be sponsored by MEWA distribution and will comprise seven initiatives.
Program 6: Water Services Regulations
The water services regulations program aims at ensuring that the economic regulator, namely ECRA,
fulfills its role to regulate water services, alongside electricity and cogeneration. This program is directly
linked to the Policies, Laws and Regulations program, since the economic regulator will oversee (1) the
granting of licenses and permits to service providers, (2) review of municipal and industrial tariffs and
(3) the implementation of proper commercial agreements and balancing of accounts. This program will be sponsored by ECRA and will include four initiatives.
Program 7: Saline Water Conversion Corporation Reconstructing
This program was developed as part of the SWCC privatization strategy. It Entails the restructuring and
transformation of SWCC to achieve its revised mandate. The program will be sponsored by SWCC and
will include three initiatives.
Program 9: Distribution Restructuring and Privatization
The distribution restructuring program aims at transforming the structure of the distribution sector, by
streamlining distribution utilities and preparing them for privatization. This program will be sponsored
by NWC and will include four initiatives.
Program 10: Saudi Irrigation Organization Restructuring and Irrigation Improvement
This program Designed to restructure and enable Saudi Irrigation Organization (SIO) previously known
as the Al Hasa Irrigation Development Authority (HIDA) to achieve its expanded role. This program will
be sponsored by SIO and will include three initiatives.
The Saudi National Water Strategy 2030 file will be available soon.