Nov 21, 2019 - 7:45am

Middle East Water Scarcity is a Public-Private Partnership Opportunity


Senior Director, Turkey and Middle East Affairs
Executive Director, Middle East Commercial Center

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Business H2O Water Innovation Summit 2019
Business leaders, water experts, and government officials gathered at U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. on October 30 for the Business H2O Water Innovation Summit 2019. (Photo by David Bohrer / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

The Middle East has a host of water-related challenges. With less than six times the available renewable water resources than the world average, the region faces unprecedented levels of water scarcity with regional water resources projected to be reduced by half by 2050. Climate change and increasing populations only exacerbate this issue.

In order to address this growing strain on the region, the World Bank has estimated that the Middle East will need $500-600 billion of investment in water supply infrastructure by 2030. Should the issue of water scarcity go unaddressed, all economic sectors will be impacted, with a decrease in regional GDP of at least 6%.

Despite these challenges, however, there are also significant business opportunities. American companies are creating solutions, especially through the introduction of new water technologies.

On October 30, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AmCham MENA hosted BusinessH20: Water Innovation Summit, which brought together a range of business leaders, water experts, and government officials to discuss policy, technology, and projects focused on water resources in the Middle East.

One topic highlighted was the positive impact of American water technology. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker explained how the introduction of U.S. technology to monitor leaks in Jordanian water infrastructure lead to a 50% decrease of water loss in pilot areas. Companies Watergen and Fluence additionally presented their innovative solutions of extracting clean drinking water from the air and decentralizing infrastructure to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Water leaders from across the Middle East called for considerable investment and business opportunities as they look to modernize and expand their water infrastructure. Khaled Al Qureshi, CEO of the Saudi Water Partnership Company, emphasized this while outlining the Saudi Arabian government’s commitment to expanding the country’s water infrastructure from one to three days’ worth of state water reserves to seven days. With a convergence of interests of the region’s governments and U.S. businesses on the problem of water scarcity, summit participants expressed optimism at the ability of public-private cooperation to address the region’s challenges.

Participants raised a number of issues that could be addressed in a Middle East-oriented water taskforce, including:

  1. Sharing technological know-how with water-challenged countries. Foreign governments who are developing water policy frameworks need to understand the latest best practices, and the U.S. has the expertise needed by the Middle East.
  2. Supporting the export of innovative American water technologies globally. The global water and wastewater market exceeds $700 billion annually and introducing more U.S. technology and products to markets around the world supports jobs and economic growth domestically. Assistant Secretary Schenker highlighted the importance of U.S. exports by pointing to the increased access to American investment and technology provided by free trade agreements.
  3. Expanding U.S. private sector involvement in multilateral bank projects. The World Bank alone manages hundreds of projects and deploys billions of dollars, yet U.S. companies are under-represented in these ventures. Working with our government and multilateral organizations to reduce transaction costs and points of friction will ensure more U.S. firms of all sizes can engage with global markets. The level of investment in water infrastructure the World Bank estimates to be required in the Middle East cannot come from the public sector alone, and multilateral organizations such as the World Bank need to support companies who are seeking to invest in this area.
  4. Serving as a platform for American companies – both large and small firms  – to connect with U.S. development and financing agencies to understand market and programmatic opportunities.  It is important to have a regular dialogue with U.S. agencies supporting global water infrastructure projects on country and area priorities. U.S. government representatives at the summit outlined their commitment to developing and financing water-related projects in the region, and coordination with U.S. business will ensure their success.

We would welcome additional feedback from members about additional needs in this sector.  As we approach 2020, the U.S. Chamber is exploring sustained engagement and a focused work plan based on member interest.  Please contact Josh Kram, Executive Director, Middle East Affairs, at jkram@uschamber.com to get involved.

The BusinessH20 Water Innovation Summit highlighted the increasing need of investment to address the Middle East’s growing water scarcity, as well as the vital role of public-private partnerships in addressing regional challenges. The U.S. Chamber remains committed to its role of advancing these partnerships and the economic development which they bring to the U.S. and the world.

About the Author

About the Author

Josh Kram photo
Senior Director, Turkey and Middle East Affairs
Executive Director, Middle East Commercial Center

Joshua M. Kram is senior director for Middle East Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he oversees programs and policy initiatives to broaden commercial relationships between the United States and markets in the Middle East.