The country’s daily water consumption exceeds its storage capacity, and millions of people could go thirsty if the sprawling desalination plants on which the desert nation depends were put out of action.
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The government will seek bids in the first quarter to install new water tanks at major cities, said Amer Al Rajiba, vice president for capacity planning and analysis at state-run Saudi Water Partnership Co. The plan calls for a six-fold increase in storage capacity by 2022.
Crippling attacks on oil facilities in September hammered home the nation’s vulnerability to potential strikes on other vital infrastructure, like the plants that make drinking water from the sea for most of its population. Saudi Arabia has no permanent rivers or lakes and one of the world’s stingiest rates of rainfall.
Saudi desalination plants are “incredibly vulnerable to an attack like this,” said Seth Jones, director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. The September 14 strikes on oil giant Saudi Aramco’s processing plants at Abqaiq and Khurais temporarily curbed more than half of the state company’s production.
Saudi Arabia’s reliance on desalinated water has concerned policy makers for years.
A leaked US diplomatic cable from 2008 warned that residents of the capital Riyadh would need “to evacuate within a week” if the desalination plant at Jubail on the Persian Gulf coast was seriously damaged or destroyed.
The Jubail plant ranked second, after Abqaiq, on a US list of critical Saudi infrastructure, according to the cable, which came to light in a WikiLeaks disclosure in 2011.
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