Alongside the rapid expansion of Jeddah’s area and population in recent decades is a raft of environmental problems, including the spill of both solid and liquid waste. Over the last decades, limited government funding, inadequate planning and low public awareness have combined to pose a serious threat to the city’s environment. But the past few years have seen a new sense of urgency in dealing with these issues – in part motivated by the unusually severe flooding in Jeddah in 2009 and 2011, which exposed the limitations of existing infrastructure. Aided by substantially increased public spending, the authorities are looking for increased private-sector participation in the waste sector.
Littering and unregulated dumping of waste have tarnished Jeddah’s natural beauty. “We have a system for collecting and disposing of domestic waste, but it is clearly inadequate,” said Turky Abdulmajeed, mayor-counsellor for business development and investments at the Jeddah municipality, “and our recycling and treatment capabilities are currently very limited.”
The government has begun to address these problems. A large landfill site at Braiman being used as a dumping ground for much of Jeddah’s municipal waste, was closed off at the end of 2011, and gases emitted from the site had been collected. In its place, the municipality hopes to create a golf course and several public parks. Public-awareness campaigns have also been launched. More fundamentally, however, the Jeddah Strategic Plan 2009 recognises that the city remains in serious need of further waste disposal systems.
This is one area where the private sector could help. “We are about to establish the Kingdom’s first for-profit municipal environmental company,” said Abdulmajeed. By forming joint ventures to address the full range of environmental issues Jeddah currently faces, the company hopes to bridge the gap between the government and the private sector. “Take solid waste, for example. We are currently conducting a study on the potential for segregating recycling at origin, but ultimately we could form a venture to carry out such a project,” said Abdulmajeed. Other potential ventures include the transferral of surface solid waste underground.
Like other cities in the region that experienced construction booms, Jeddah has grown faster than its sewage capacity. Sizeable landfills used for sewage disposal and discharges from septic tanks have polluted the governorate’s groundwater. Many thousands of households remain unconnected to a sewage network. And while water sanitation projects have been on the agenda for some time, the National Water Company (NWC) said as recently as 2008 that insufficient funding had been allocated to projects.
Some residents have noticed significant improvement in the past several years. For instance, the practice of dumping sewage in Musk Lake east of Jeddah since the 1980s had by 2010 produced some 10m cu metres of foul water. That year, the municipality oversaw a SR95m ($25.3m) contract to drain the lake, removing its contents for treatment and evaporation.
By the end of 2011, the first phase of the NWC’s wastewater project in Jeddah was completed ahead of schedule, adding 950 km of underground infrastructure and four sewage treatment plants. The aim was to connect 52,000 residents to sewage networks in 2012, raising this to 132,000 by 2014. Public funding continues to be directed at the sector; in September 2012, Zawya reported that $2.4bn had been allocated for water and sanitation projects in Jeddah through 2015. This includes digging further tunnels and household connections to the sewage network, and constructing a sewage treatment plant to the north.
The Saudi authorities have now begun to think about privatising the wastewater sector on a much larger scale, according to Global Water Intelligence. A public-private partnership would own, operate and maintain an entire wastewater system and, in return, would have the right to sell potentially lucrative contracts for the supply of grey water to the industrial sector. Riyadh hopes to see the first regional concession, and if successful, Jeddah and other regions could follow in its wake.