In mid-July 2013, the GCC Secretariat General said that GCC member states are planning a joint water supply system that takes seawater from outside the Gulf and will distribute drinkable water across the Arabian Peninsula. GCC Assistant Economic Secretary Abdullah J. al-Shibli said: “The water link is to build a line from the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Oman to Kuwait passing through the GCC countries. With the Iranian nuclear plant in Bushehr, if something goes wrong the water in the Gulf would be polluted.”
Following a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck close to the Iranian nuclear power station earlier this year, GCC national emergency officials of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries met in Saudi Arabia on April 14 to discuss the potential crisis that could arise from radiation spreading throughout the Persian Gulf. GCC Secretary-General Abdulatif al Zayani, said Gulf Arab states “must have a joint plan to collectively deal with any possible leakage from the Iranian nuclear plant.”
This development goes to the heart of unifying the GCC as proposed by King Abdullah in 2011. Indeed, water security is paramount along the 3,240km Arabian Gulf coastline and is a major concern regarding the health security of GCC citizens and expatriates.
In case of an accident…
The risk of radiation from Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, if there is an accident, is extremely high to the GCC states. Studies and analyses suggest that any leak from the plan will affect the GCC’s water supplies especially desalinization plant operation. In the event of a radiation leak, clouds of radioactive material will drift to the GCC states in just 15 hours. While the radiation would affect only about 10 percent of the Iranian population, in the GCC states, 40 to 100 percent of the population would be affected. Not only would drinking water be affected, but also the environment and the shipping of oil and natural gas and other maritime goods and services.
Not only would drinking water be affected, but also the environment and the shipping of oil and natural gas and other maritime goods and services.Dr. Theodore Karasik
Bushehr’s long and sorted history comes into play when discussing water security in the Arabian Gulf. Iran’s only nuclear power plant began construction began nearly 35 years ago and “second-grade” engineers worked on it, while the technology used was sub-par German and Russian equipment, according to The Times of London. Two more reactors are reportedly to be built at the site. In addition, the Bushehr plant is located in a major earthquake zone prone to many large, damaging shifts in the earth’s crust. Given the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster after a massive earthquake, one can assume that any such event at Bushehr would be catastrophic and the impact would last for years. Finally, Iran’s nuclear power plant does not belong to the Convention on Nuclear Safety.
The GCC, based on a unifying principle of mutual cooperation in the face of such a water-borne radiation threat, are looking at solutions for tainted Gulf waters. Efforts are under way to link the Gulf Cooperation Council states with a water pipeline at a cost of $1 billion. Officials say the project, similar to the GCC power grid, is expected to be ready by 2020.
GCC states depend heavily on desalinated water. Due to a lack of natural water resources, the GCC states depend almost entirely for potable water. GCC governments are taking the issue of high water consumption seriously from desalinization and have initiated measures to rectify the issues. With fresh groundwater sources dwindling, the focus has shifted to the supplementary non-conventional sources, including desalination of sea water and treatment of recycled waste water. At present, more than 45 desalinization plants are operating in the six GCC countries, producing two-thirds of global desalinization capacity. In addition, desalinization also discharges salt back in the Arabian Gulf so any radiation accident from Iran’s Bushehr would halt these operations.
GCC governments—at the state level- are taking the issue of high water consumption seriously and are initiated measures to rectify potential, catastrophic problems. Recent reports state that 80 percent of water is used for agricultural purposes in the rural areas of GCC countries and also holds very less percentage of GDP to the economies. For instance, Saudi Arabia is making plans to phase out the purchases of locally produced wheat by 2016 to reduce the burden of farming imposed on the Kingdom’s water resources. The UAE Ministry of Water and Environment is taking a national initiative in water conservation by the construction of 68 more recharge dams. These recharge dams are designed to replenish the groundwater reserve during rain storms and collect more freshwater that comes from natural springs and wadi flooding. Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain are instituting other measures as well.
Consequently, the idea for a unified water supply system reliant on alternative water sources outside of the Arabian Gulf itself is a viable and necessary solution. Planning and construction of such a pipeline is in the works and hopefully will be online before any possible radioactive accident at Iran’s Bushehr plant. The GCC, is moving forward at the inter-state level coupled with state by state resource programs helping to boost water resource protection and security for all inhabitants.
Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.