Food security is essential for any country. Due to the lack of water resources, countries rely on food imports to satisfy the needs of millions. Oil rich countries, like Saudi Arabia, imports agricultural products for the same reason. This is a short-term solution to circumvent the issue of water scarcity and in future such policy will push the country to desperation.
Saudi Arabia withdraws 20 billion m3 of groundwater per year, while the annual recharge of groundwater is only 2.4 billion m3. This additional quantity of groundwater is extracted from non-renewable (fossil) groundwater from trans-boundary Saq-Ram sandstone aquifer of Mesozoic age, with a proven reserve of 103,360 MCM. An amount of about 394 MCM/y flows out of the country. The current 17300 km2 of irrigated area will shrink in future due to water shortage, thus reducing the GDP contribution below 3%.
The best option is to harness geothermal energy to operate the desalination plants. Saudi Arabia can generate desalinated water at the rate of 0.03 US$/m3 (without subsidy). Saudi Arabia cannot afford to overlook this option.
At present, Saudi Arabia uses energy intensive thermal multistage flash desalination process, using 12 TWh of electricity generated from fossil fuels to desalinate 1 m3 of seawater. The electricity cogenerated during this process is insignificant compared to the cost of production of fresh water. Moreover, nearly 13 Mt of CO2 is being emitted during this process.