Qatar, the host country of the long-awaited 2022 World Cup, is facing a serious problem, related with its dependence on desalination, which is highly costly for the environment, affecting the region’s marine environment.
For the World Cup, each stadium pitch will need at least 10,000 liters of water per day. This represents a challenge for Qatar, being a region with relatively no access to fresh water, relying directly on desalination which involves removing salt from seawater to make it drinkable.
It is estimated that in the next five years, desalination will increase by 37% in the Gulf region, and the consequences of this will be borne by the environment.
The countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are mostly water-scarce, yet they account for 43% of the world’s desalination capacity and, ironically, are among the world’s largest water consumers.
In addition, the United Arab Emirates has one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world. With inhabitants using approximately 500 liters per day (50% above the world average).
It is important to consider that the desalination process requires a significant amount of energy, and that Saudi Arabia is the largest producer, accounting for one-fifth of world production, with 30 plants burning 300,000 barrels of crude oil daily.
But to what extent do desalination plants affect the environment?
The answer is that they are significantly damaging because they operate with fossil fuels, including oil and gas, and operate with thermal processing technology, or reverse osmosis technology.
These processes are considered the worst drivers of marine pollution and produce brine. Which is a highly saline waste fluid released into the sea, but saltier, more toxic and warmer.
Therefore, despite Qatar’s efforts to minimize its impact on the environment, and being carbon neutral, environmental organizations are skeptical.
Considering that eight stadiums and more than 130 training grounds will need to be managed, water demands will be extremely high. This in conjunction with winter weather conditions that will be simulated by blowing cold air onto the turf and irrigating with more than 10,000 liters of desalinated water.
This is without considering the emergency turf reserves that are not recorded.
However, as environmental concerns increase, GCC countries are looking for alternatives, including solar energy. These plans include the creation of a solar dome in Saudi Arabia. Which would be the world’s first zero-brine discharge desalination plant, cheaper to build and operate compared to conventional plants, but will produce less water.
Today, solar-powered desalination plants are not considered practical and are still under investigation. As the demand for desalinated water is enormous, even before the World Cup was considered in the region.
In short, the World Cup is causing controversy as we debate whether the economic, infrastructure, transportation and technological services benefits it brings will outweigh the harmful effects on the environment.
Syal, R. (2022). 10,000 litres a day for each pitch: water strain in the Gulf and the Qatar World Cup. The Guardian. Recuperado de https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/oct/07/10000-litres-day-pitch-qatar-world-cup-huge-impact-gulf-waters