Jubail plant and Desalination, Saudi Arabia

As Saudi Arabia suffers from water scarcity, the country developed desalination plants to supply its citizens with fresh water. However, this operation impacts air quality and marine life.


The plant in Jubail was the world´s largest desalination plant when it was built in 2009. Saudi Arabia is burdened by a limited access to renewable and non-renewable sources of water. This led to an unsustainable management of this vital resource and pushed the country towards desalination. Complexes such as Marafiq's in Jubail were designed to satisfy the growing need for water. However, they come with important environmental implications. Desalination plants are powered by oil which contributes to the release of air pollutants. They also impact marine ecosystems with the offload of harmful byproducts.

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Basic Data
NameJubail plant and Desalination, Saudi Arabia
CountrySaudi Arabia
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Water access rights and entitlements
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Specific CommoditiesWater
Crude oil
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe facilities have a combined desalination capacity of around 500,000 cubic meters of saline water per day. 1.5 million barrels of oil per day are needeed to fuel the desalination plants.
Level of Investment (in USD)US$ 3.8 billion
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date01/01/1980
Company Names or State EnterprisesMarafiq Power & Water Utility Company from Saudi Arabia - Marafiq is the power and utility company for Jubail and Yanbu
Acciona from Spain - ACCIONA Agua had a contract to design and construct one of the Jubail plants
The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) from Saudi Arabia
Relevant government actorsRoyal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginLATENT (no visible resistance)
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Potential: Fires, Noise pollution, Oil spills, Desertification/Drought
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
OtherLung cancer and heart diseases
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseNew Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of AlternativesTo operate within a sustainable framework, Saudi Arabia is looking into solar-powered desalination. This alternative system reduces fossil fuel dependence and improves air quality as it decreases greenhouse gases emissions. A transition to renewable energy is being examined.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The powering of desalination plants with solar energy is a viable alternative for Saudi Arabia as it receives abundant sunshine. It will enable the country to exploit a clean and cost-effective resource. However, it does not solve the harm done to aquatic life which would still suffer from the added salinity.
Sources and Materials

Climate Change and Water Scarcity: The Case of Saudi Arabia
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This articles discusses the environmental implications and alternatives to desalination in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia.
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This page details the capacity and operations of desalination plants of Marafiq in Jubail and Yanbu
[click to view]

This article highlights the affordability of solar energy in Saudi Arabia.
[click to view]

Impact of air pollution on public health.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Marafiq's desalination plants in Jubail
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Meta Information
ContributorNicolas Ferzly, Acknowl-EJ
Last update06/11/2018