Water profile of Kuwait

Source: FAO

Geography and Population

Kuwait, with a total area of 17,820 square kilometers (km2), lies at the head of the Persian Gulf. It is bordered in the north and north-west by Iraq, in the south and southwest by Saudi Arabia and it overlooks the Persian Gulf to the east. The land is generally flat with slightly undulating desert plains sloping gently towards the north-east, reaching an altitude of about 300 meters (m) above sea level. Most of the area is desert with a few oases.

caption Map of Kuwait. (Source: FAO-Forestry)

About 154,000 hectares (ha) have been judged potentially cultivable land. However, it is almost completely covered by permanent pasture. Estimates for crop production potential vary between 25,000 and 37,500 ha, mainly located near the southern border (Al-Wafra), near the northern border (Al-Abdally) and in the center of the country (Al-Sulaibiya). In 1994, the total cultivated area was 4,770 ha, of which 4,320 ha consisted of annual crops, and 450 ha consisted of permanent crops, mainly date palms.

The total population is over 1.5 million (1995), of which only 3% is rural. However, exact figures are difficult to give because of the large amount of immigrant labor: in 1994 about 63% of the total population were estimated to be non-Kuwait residents. According to the 1995 national census only 0.7% were considered as rural, living in the areas of Al-Abdally and Al-Wafra, mainly labor and farm advisers. Most farm owners are investors and also have other sources of income. The average population density is 87 inhabitants per km2, but varies widely from one region to another. The annual population growth rate, including both Kuwaiti and non-Kuwait residents, is estimated at 3.8%. Only 1% of the labor force is employed in agriculture, almost all of them being foreigners (more than 99.7% of the rural population in 1994). Agriculture accounted for less than 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) during the period 1988-1990.

Climate and Water Resources


Kuwait has a desert climate characterized by a long, dry, hot summer, with temperatures reaching more than 45°C with frequent sandstorms, and a cooler winter, with temperatures sometimes even falling below 4°C. The rainy season extends from October to May. Over an area of about 100 km2 annual rainfall is less than 100 millimeters (mm), in the remaining part it varies between 100 and 300 mm. The long-term average annual rainfall for the whole country was about 176 mm, giving slightly more than 3.1 cubic kilometers (km3). In recent years rainfall has decreased to an average of between 106 and 134 mm/year.

Surface Water Resources

There are no permanent surface water flows. Rainwater accumulates in the natural depressions where water remains for several weeks. Only a small part of this water percolates into the ground because of the high evaporation and the presence of an impervious layer in some regions.

Groundwater Resources

There are two major aquifers: the Kuwait group (upper layer) and the Damman group (lower layer). Groundwater inflow has been estimated at about 20 million m3/year through lateral underflow from Saudi Arabia.

There are three classes of groundwater: fresh water with salinity below 1,000 parts per million (ppm) which is used for drinking and domestic purposes, slightly saline water with salinity ranging between 1,000 and 10,000 ppm which is used for irrigation, and highly saline water with salinity exceeding 10,000 ppm which is used in special cases only. In general groundwater quality and quantity are deteriorating due to the continuous pumping of water. In Al-Wafra in the south, 50% of the wells pumped water with a salinity level higher than 7,500 ppm in 1989. This figure is expected to reach 7,580% and 85-90% in the years 1997 and 2002 respectively. In Al-Abdally in the north, 55% of the deep drilled wells pumped water with a salinity level higher than 7,500 ppm in 1989. This is expected to reach 75 and 90% after 5 and 10 years of operation respectively.

Desalinated Water and Treated Wastewater

Kuwait relies on water desalination as a primary source of fresh water for drinking and domestic purposes. The first desalination plant was established in 1953 with a total capacity of 4,545 m3/day. In 1994 there were 6 desalination plants with a maximum capacity of 950,000 m3/day. The quantity of desalinated water produced in 1993 was 231 million m3. Fresh water is obtained by mixing distilled water with low salinity groundwater (with a proportion of 8% groundwater) in order to get water suitable for drinking according to the official standards.

The quantity of wastewater produced was 119 million m3 in 1994. About 103 million m3 was treated and of this 52 million m3 has been reused, while the remaining part was directed to the sea.

Water Withdrawal

In 1993, total water withdrawal was estimated at 538 million m3, of which 56% for irrigation, 4.1% for livestock, 37.4% for domestic use and 2.4% for industry.

Desalinated water (231 million m3) was used mainly for domestic purposes and a smaller quantity for industry and for greenhouse irrigation. As far as the reuse of treated wastewater is concerned (52 million m3), a pilot farm was established in 1976, where secondary treated sewage water was initially used.

From 1981 onwards tertiary treated sewage water was used. It is mainly used for the irrigation of fodder crops and date palms and for landscaping. The remaining water withdrawal, mainly for agriculture and livestock, consists of groundwater (255 million m3) leading to an extraction of more than 12 times the annual groundwater inflow. Farmers are only allowed to withdraw water from the Kuwait group aquifer and there were about 1,767 wells in 1994. The water used for livestock purposes is pumped by the Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW) from the Damman group aquifer through deep artesian wells. It is expected that continued heavy extraction will lead to a decline of the groundwater level of 200 meters by the year 2000.

Irrigation and Drainage Development

Irrigation in Kuwait started in the late 1950s. Initially surface irrigation techniques (furrow and basin irrigation) were used. Sprinkler irrigation was introduced in 1977, using treated wastewater. Micro-irrigation was introduced in 1979, first for agricultural production in greenhouses, but from 1981 onwards also for irrigation in the open field in order to preserve the water resources.

In 1994 the total water managed area, all full or partial control irrigation, was 4,770 ha, which is in fact equal to the cultivated area, as the entire cultivated area benefits from irrigation. Out of this area, almost 61% was irrigated from groundwater.

There are three types of farming in the irrigation sector:

  • private farms, which are leased by the government to investors (25 years renewable) and operated by laborers. These are the most numerous. The smaller ones are mostly located in Al-Wafra in the south, the larger ones in Al-Abdally in the north;
  • institutional schemes, which are operated by the government through the Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and Fish Resources (PAAF);
  • company-owned schemes such as the United Company for Agricultural Production, located in Al-Sulaibiya in the center of the country.

The cost of irrigation development for small schemes ( < 10 ha), equipped with micro-irrigation including one well and a pump, amounts to $US 19,000/ha. The cost falls as the irrigation scheme size increases and for large schemes (> 30 ha) it is about $US 15,000/ha. Annual operation and maintenance costs per hectare are estimated at 2% of the investment costs.

There are no water charges for groundwater use. Farmers are charged for desalinated water use and the charge varies from $US 0.9/m3 for small schemes to $US 1.5/m3 for large schemes. The treated sewage water charge is $US 0.07/m3.

The major irrigated crops are vegetables and fodder. Alfalfa is the largest open field crop and its production is about 100 tons per hectare pear year (tons/ha/year). The production of tomatoes in open fields is 40 tons/ha per year, while the production in greenhouses can reach 200 tons/ha per year.

Impervious layers exist at various depths in the Al-Wafra creating waterlogging in some areas. In 1994 this was estimated at 2,840 ha, due to poor natural drainage. On-farm drainage systems have not yet been developed, but some studies related to this subject are being conducted by PAAF and MEW. Small-scale subsurface drainage systems were installed in some public gardens (2 ha). The area salinized by irrigation has been estimated at 4,080 ha in 1994.

Institutional Environment

The main institutions involved in water resources management are:

  • the Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and Fish Resources (PAAF), established in 1983, with:
  • the Soil and Water Division: responsible for the design and evaluation of farm irrigation systems, testing irrigation equipment, crop water requirement research, monitoring of groundwater quality and quantity, and water resources planning;
  • the Landscape and Greenery Department: responsible for irrigation designs for highways and forestry areas;
  • the Ministry of Electricity and Water (MEW), established in 1962: responsible for studies, development, exploration, monitoring, and giving licenses for drilling and using groundwater;
  • the Ministry of Public Works (MPW), established in 1962: responsible for sewage water networks and collection reservoirs, wastewater treatment and utilization. Also responsible for the delivery of treated sewage effluent to farms and public gardens;
  • the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR): in charge of research related to water resources;
  • the Environmental Protection Council: in charge of monitoring water quality.

Trends in Water Resources Management

Water is the main limiting factor for the expansion of agriculture in Kuwait. Since water is subsidized, the government is aiming at maximizing water use efficiency through the promotion of modern irrigation systems and the increase of productivity by introducing crop varieties that are better adapted to Kuwait's environment.

Studies have been carried out to find other sources of irrigation water that are economically feasible and environmentally safe, such as industrial wastewater reuse, injection of treated wastewater into the aquifers and the use of desalinated seawater for irrigation.

Waterlogging and salinization problems are increasing at an alarming rate, which stresses the urgent need to study drainage requirements, both for agricultural and landscaping areas, and to convince the farmers/users of the need for adequate drainage facilities.

Further Reading

  • Water profile of Kuwait, Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • World Factbook: Kuwait, Central Intelligence Agency.
  • KISR (Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research). 1994. Geohydrological studies of Al-Wafra and AlAbdally farm areas, Volume 1. Prepared by the Hydrology Department, Water Resources Division. Kuwait.
  • PAAF (Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and Fish Resources). 1994. Soil and water (brief description). Prepared by the Technical Committee of the Soil and Water Division and the Landscape and Greenery Department.
  • Senay, Y. 1981. Genhydrology. In: Geology and groundwater hydrology of the State of Kuwait. Ministry of Electricity and Water.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Food and Agriculture Organization. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Food and Agriculture Organization should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



(2007). Water profile of Kuwait. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156957


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