By Yousef Nasr
Qatar is one of the major developed and industrialized countries in the Arabian Gulf region. In the last few years, its dependency on petrochemical products has increased dramatically, which in turn has put more pressure on the surrounding environment and water resources.
Our water is facing several threats: petrol spills, and drastic changes in the ocean’s ecosystem caused by chemicals and pollution.
One example of this is the massive oil spill triggered by the Iraqi – Kuwaiti conflict, which spread to the Western coast of Qatar. A survey conducted by the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute found that this area was also contaminated by the disposal of oil byproducts in Saudi Arabia.
Pollution has caused an increase in harmful algal bloom, which further degrades water quality and poses additional risks to desalination plants. Mohamed Darwish, one of the study’s authors, stated “Qatar is facing a critical water security issue, the restraints of water resources along with the infrastructure and demands are pushing the country to complex challenges of water distribution and management”.
Clearly, dependence of petroleum products, anywhere in the region, is fraught with environmental consequences.
Red Tides and Drinking Water
It is abundantly clear that disturbing our planet’s delicate balance results in an aggressive response. In 2013, Qataris observed a redish tint to the water around coastal areas, and a large number of dead fish. Five years before that, Professor Abdulrahman Al-Muftah of Qatar University conducted a study on red tides, or what is known locally as the ocean bleeding. He found that these harmful algae blooms are caused by an overgrowth of toxic microscopic plants that result in the mass deaths of invertebrates, wild fish and cultured/farmed fish; as well as the degradation of water quality, clarity and purity.
There are over 80 species of aquatic plants that cause harmful algae bloom. In high concentrations, some of these can turn the water a reddish color. Others can turn the water green, or purple, while some do not change the water’s color at all. Scientists believe this phenomenon is caused by costal pollution from human sewage, contamination by industrial agriculture, as well as the rise in ocean temperatures. These microscopic algae produce neurotoxins that damage the ocean’s wildlife, and can even have detrimental effects on humans.
This in turn leads to serious economic and social consequences. Harmful algae blooms are associated with seafood contamination, and consumer fears compound the economic loss caused by mass fish deaths. Qatar depends mainly on seawater desalination for drinking water, but the massive growth of these algae can block the pipes used for treatment, causing some serious issues. Most red tide incidents in the region take place between August and October, which is considered as the transition period between summer and winter.
Let’s Care for Our Water
To continually throw our waste products into our oceans is already having devastating consequences; and these will only get worse unless we do something. Whether from toxic microorganisms like harmful algae bloom or devastating oil spills, we need to protect our precious sea water. Water security is an important issue in Qatar. Like many arid countries in the Gulf Region, Qatar is seeing a rapid growth in water demand. Desalination technologies must be used in conjunction with water education and public awareness, and reasonable prices need to be maintained.
An Alternative to Desalination?
One proposed alternative to seawater treatment is the treatment of wastewater; which first has to meet the following requirements:
- Reliable treatment of wastewater to meet strict quality requirements for the intended reuse applications.
- Protection of public health.
- Achievement of public acceptance.
- Long term research programs on the impacts of wastewater reuse on soil, groundwater and agriculture.
Greener Lifestyle Tips
Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: we all need to reduce our reliance of fossil fuels. We can do that by pushing for greener energy sources and adopting a more sustainable lifestyle. Check out these tips and start reducing your environmental impact today:
- Save water: Turn off the tap while you’re brushing your teeth. Also time your showers to under 3 minutes. Install water-saving taps in your kitchen and bathroom.
- Buy local: Focus on locally grown produce and locally made products that have a lighter carbon footprint than imported goods.
- Invest in solar power: Install solar panels, or use an energy company that obtains its electricity via green technologies.
- Reduce your reliance on plastics: Take a cloth bag with you when you go shopping, and favor shops that use less plastic packaging.