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Need for water great, spending huge

Middle East, Latin America and the United States commit varying resources to infrastructure spending

May 01, 2014
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<photocredit>Irina Belousa/iStockphoto/Thinkstock</photocredit>

McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the world needs to spend as much as $2.7 billion a year to upgrade global infrastructure and support growing population. Water provision, as well as roads, power grids and telecom networks are the greatest needs.

Below are some emerging and current global water projects in the news.

Saudi Arabia has commissioned construction of the world's largest desalination plant, according to the state-owned Saudi Press Agency, which quoted Abdullah Al-Hussayen, the country's minister of water and electricity. The facility is expected to produce more than one million cubic meters of desalinated water (264 million gallons) and 2,600MW of electricity daily.

The $7.2 billion facility in the Ras Al Khair Industrial City and should create 15,000 jobs. The plant will supply about 800,000 cubic meters of freshwater to Riyadh city and another 200,000 cubic meters elsewhere in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of desalinated water globally and its government places importance on desalination to meet drinking water demand from a population that has soared fourfold to 30 million people in four decades. This year alone, the government set aside $4.4 billion for desalination projects. Water projects with a wider scope are planned, as the government also intends to give a boost to the kingdom's energy industry, Bloomberg recently noted.

South American way

Latin America will invest $17.6 billion in water and wastewater projects in the short term, according to a recent report by consultancy firm CG/LA. This figure includes the estimated value of water-related projects in development or planned for the next three to 18 months.

The firm's “Strategic Top 100 Latin America infrastructure” report looks at the most important projects to be developed across various sectors, ranging from energy to logistics. The total value of the projects listed in the report reaches $139 billion, CG/LA calculated.

Among the most important water and wastewater projects the report mentions are the $15 billion development of the Aquatacama water pipeline in Chile, which is the highest ranking water project in the Top 100. The pipeline will run 1,600 kilometers and carry freshwater from rivers in the south of Chile to the northern part of the country, where water resources are insufficient to meet demands of the booming mining industry and increasing population.

Other projects listed include a $400 million upgrade to the drinking water supply system in Lima and the $487 million expansion of the El Salitre wastewater treatment plant in Bogota. Among the largest projects in Brazil the report identified is the $1.5 billion public private partnership for Belo Horizonte's municipal solid waste system.

The rural U.S.

United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that 116 projects aimed at improving water and wastewater services in rural areas across the United States will receive government financial support.

It’s the largest ever investment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in rural water and wastewater systems. A statement released by USDA said that some $387 million will be allocated to 116 projects in 40 states and Puerto Rico. Of the total amount, $237 million will be made available through loans and grants from USDA's Water and Environmental Program, while the remaining $150 million will be offered in the form of grants through the 2014 Farm Bill.

USDA says it prioritized areas that are in greatest need of help. Of this year’s 116 projects, 16 are focused on improving water services in areas with persistent poverty, while a further 29 are in communities that are part of USDA’s StrikeForce initiative, which aims to reduce poverty by improving business opportunities.

Among the areas which are set to benefit most from the funding is the city of McCrory, Ark., which will get $2.1 million for the construction of a water treatment plant and two water supply wells, as well as Paintsville, Kentucky, which will receive a loan worth $4.9 million and a $2.1 million grant for an upgrade of its sanitary and stormwater sewer systems, USDA said.

Work to be done

Even with the commitments on the part of peoples, governments and corporations to better water and wastewater, much work needs to be done.

For example, it’s been recently reported that more than half of China's water reserves are moderately or heavily contaminated, based on the latest annual report released by the country's Ministry of Land and Resources. The findings confirm previously raised concerns over the condition of China's water and soil, despite large-scale cleanup programs that have cost billions of dollars.

The report revealed that nearly 60% of the country's water was polluted last year. These figures are similar to those from a 2010 report, which found that the proportion of contaminated water was around 57%. This suggests that even though the government has made significant investments in cleanup efforts, the most it has been doing is keeping pollution at the same level.

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