Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya has his work cut out for him: His home, Qatar, has found itself a newly oil-rich country with an economy growing at an average rate of 15 percent a year, with a rapidly expanding population. That burst in population has been accompanied by a huge surge in water consumption. So what’s so strange about that? Qatar has virtually no water. In comparison to Brazil’s annual 1782 mm of rain, Qatar’s annual rainfall is 74 mm.
Al-Attiya is the Chairman of Qatar’s National Food Security Programme, and his main task is making Qatar food secure, and keeping it that way. Bear in mind that Qatar has no water and imports over 90% of its food. He is developing innovative programs in sustainable agriculture, especially in arid regions, which can help Qatar and other countries deal with dwindling food supplies due to extreme climate change.
The economy of Qatar is growing at a rate of 15% annually and this has resulted in a surge in water consumption. With over 90% of its food supplies being imported and vitrually no water, what is driving Qatar’s growth? Al-Attiya says to understand this, one has to look back in time.
Al-Attiya takes us back to the pre- 1940’s in Qatar when there were just 11,000 people living there. There was no water, no energy, no oil and no cars. The populance lived in coastan villages, fishing or were nomads who were trying to find food and water. The life expectancy was also short. Most people died around the age of 50.
Post 1940, Oil was discovered in Qatar and there began its journey towards urbanization. All those people who roamed around the desert looking for water, looking for food, trying to take care of their livestock, sought to urbanize.
Today, the population of Qatar is about 1.75 million. From 11,000 to 1.75 million in just about 70 years. The average growth of the economy is about 15 percent for the past five years. Lifespan has increased to 78. Water consumption has increased to 430 liters. And this is amongst the highest worldwide. From having no water whatsoever to consuming water to the highest degree, higher than any other nation. This is history being made in this region. Not only cities that are being built, but cities with dreams and people who are wishing to be scientists, doctors. Build a nice home, bring the architect, design their house. These people are adamant that this is a livable space when it wasn’t. But of course, with the use of technology. So Brazil has 1,782 millimeters per year of precipitation of rain. Qatar has 74, and yet has that growth rate.
This was possible simply because of this gigantic, mammoth machine called desalination. Energy is the key factor here. It changed everything. This is the best technology that this region could ever have: desalination.
Qatar has however covered the risks which a nation having no water and importing 90% of its food has. They do not run the desalination plants on fossil fuel and ad to the CO2 emissions. They have over 300 days of sun each year and so they use that renewable energy to produce the water that they need. And they will probably put 1,800 megawatts of solar systems to produce 3.5 million cubic meters of water. And that is a lot of water.
That water will go then to the farmers, and the farmers will be able to water their plants, and they will be able then to supply society with food. But in order to sustain this development, Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya says, legislation, policies & regulations are required. Without these, he says nothing can happen.
Qatar’s objective is to be a millennium city, just like many millennium cities around: Istanbul, Rome, London, Paris, Damascus, Cairo. Qatar is only about 75 years old, but the Qataris want to live forever as a city, to live in peace.