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The State of Bahrain is an archipelago of 36 islands located in the Persian Gulf, about midway between Saudi Arabia to the west and Qatar to the east, with a total area of 695 km. The largest island is Bahrain where the capital is situated and which represents about 85 % of the total area of the country.

The total population is 564 000 (1995), of which 10% is rural. With a population density of 812 inhabitants/km, it is one of the world's most densely populated countries. Bahrain has experienced high rates of population growth and urbanization since the early 1960s following the sudden increase in the country's oil revenues leading to a fast increase in its economic base and an improvement in the standard of living. The average annual demographic growth rate was 4% during the period 19801991

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1991 69 526 ha
Cultivable area 1994 4 230 ha
Cultivated area 1994 3 165 ha
- annual crops 1994 1 483 ha
- permanent crops 1994 1 682 ha
Total population 1995 564000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 811 inhab./km
Rural population 1995 10 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population 1995 100 %
Rural population 1995 100 %

Urban development at the expense of agricultural lands has caused significant loss of traditionally agricultural areas. Furthermore, soil salinization resulting from deterioration in the quality of the groundwater used in irrigation has led to a general reduction of the cultivated lands. At present, the total cultivable area is estimated at 4 230 ha, or 6% of the total area of the country. In 1994, the total cultivated area was about 3 165 ha, all irrigated, of which 1 483 ha consisted of annual crops (vegetables and fodder crops) and 1 682 ha consisted of permanent crops (fruit trees and dates).

Agriculture in Bahrain is generally in an unhealthy state with tenancy problems, small farm holdings, labour shortage and lack of financial incentives which restricts investment. In 1992, about 3 200 people were engaged in agricultural activities. This corresponds to about 2% of the labour force. Agriculture accounted for only 1 % of GDP in 1991.



Bahrain has an arid to extremely arid environment. It is characterized by high temperatures, erratic and often scanty rainfall, high evapotranspiration rates (with peaks of over 10 mm/day in July) and high humidity levels due to the surrounding Arabian Gulf waters. Temperature averages vary from 17C in winter (December-March) to 35C in summer (June-September). The rainfall season extends from November to April, with an annual average of 70.6 mm, sufficient only to support the most drought resistant desert vegetation. The mean annual relative humidity is over 67%.

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable wafer resources:   70 mm/yr
Average precipitation   0.049 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources   0.004 km/yr
Total (actual) renewable water resources 1995 0.116 km/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 96.6 %
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 206 m/yr
Total dam capacity   - 106 m
Water withdrawal:
- agricultural 1991 135.1 106 m/yr
- domestic 1991 94.3 106 m/yr
- industrial 1991 9.9 106 m/yr
Total water withdrawal   239.2 106 m/yr
per inhabitant 1991 465 m/yr
as % of total (actual) renewable water resources   206 %
Other water withdrawal 1991 3 106 m/yr
Average groundwater depletion 1991 96.04 106 m/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:
- produced wastewater 1991 44.9 106 m/yr
- treated wastewater 1991 44.9 106 m/yr
- reused treated wastewater 1991 8.03 106 m/yr
Desalinated water 1991 44.1 106 m/yr


Water resources

Total annual surface runoff is only about 4 million m and there are no perennial streams. Bahrain receives groundwater by lateral under-flow from the Damman aquifer, which forms only a part of the extensive regional aquifer system, called the Eastern Arabian Aquifer. This aquifer extends from central Saudi Arabia, where its main recharge area is located at about 300 metres above sea level, to eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which are considered the discharge areas. The rate of groundwater inflow has been estimated at about 112 million m /year under steady-state conditions (before 1965) and this figure is considered to be the safe groundwater yield in Bahrain. There are no dams in Bahrain.

Desalinated water and treated wastewater

In 1991, the total quantity of desalinated water used was 44.1 million m/year. In addition Bahrain treats about 45 million m /year of wastewater (secondary treatment). Only 8 million m/year receive tertiary treatment and are used for irrigation purposes in government farms and some private farms, while the rest is discharged to the sea. The chemical and hygienic properties of the tertiary treated water are within international limits and are considered good for agricultural purposes. Although government plans for full utilization of the TSE (Treated Sewage Effluent) water through major agricultural projects exist, delay and lack of finances for these projects have caused limitations in the use of these waters.

Water withdrawal

In 1991, total water withdrawal in Bahrain was estimated at more than 239 million ma, of which 56% or more for irrigation and livestock watering (Figure 1). About 94% of the water used in agriculture, including livestock, is groundwater and 6% is treated wastewater, while for domestic and industrial purposes about 60% of the water used is groundwater and the remaining part desalinated water (Figure 2). Non-conventional water sources accounted for almost 22% in the total water withdrawal in 1991.

TABLE 3 - Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential 1994 4 230 ha
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area 1994 3 165 ha
- surface irrigation 1994 2 497 ha
- sprinkler irrigation 1994 130 ha
- micro-irrigation 1994 538 ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater 1994 86.4 %
% of area irrigated from surface water 1994 0 0 %
% of area irrigated from non-conventional sources 1994 13.6 %
% of equipped area actually irrigated 1994 100 %
2. Spate irrigation area   - ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b.)   - ha
Total irrigation 11 +2+3) 1994 3 165 ha
- as % of cultivated area   100 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 +2+3+4) 1994 3 165 ha
- as % of cultivated area   - %
- increase over last 10 years 1984-94 9 %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area 1994 100 %
Full or partial control irrigation schemes: Criteria
Large-scale schemes > 50 ha 1994   280 ha
Medium-scale schemes     ha
Small-scale schemes < 50 ha 1994   2 885 ha
Total number of households in irrigation 1994 250  
Irrigated crops:
Total irrigated grain production 1994 0 tons
as % of total grain production 1994 0 %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control) 1994 3 165 ha
- permanent crops: total 1994 1 682 ha
- annual crops: total 1994 1 483 ha
. vegetables (mainly tomatoes) 1994 1 040 ha
. fodder crops (mainly alfalfa! 1994 443 ha
Drainage - Environment:
Drained area 1994 1300 ha
as % of cultivated area   41 %
- drained areas in full or partial control irrigated areas   - ha
- drained areas in equipped wetland and i.v.b   - ha
- other drained areas   - ha
- total drained area with subsurface drains   - ha
- total drained area with surface drains   - ha
Flood-protected area 1995 1 300 ha
Area salinized by irrigation 1994 1065 ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants

The excessive pumping of groundwater caused a sharp decrease in groundwater storage and a reduction in potentiometric levels of about 4 metres between 1965 and 1992. As a result, more than half the original groundwater reservoir has been completely degraded due to seawater intrusion and saline water up-flow from the deeper zones. The table shows that annual extraction is almost twice annual recharge, leading to an ever increasing groundwater deficit. Average annual groundwater depletion over the period 1965-1992 was approximately 40 million m, in 1991/92 the groundwater depletion was over 96 million m.

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal (total: 239.23 million m in 1991)

Figure 2 - Origin of water used by sector (total: 239.23 million m in 1991)

Groundwater depletion in Bahrain, 1991/92

Component Average

annual rate

(million rn3)

Recharge by under-flow (aquifer safe yield) 112.00
Recharge by rainfall on outcrop and irrigation return flows 0.28
Total inflow 112.28
Wells abstraction for irrigation, livestock, domestic, industrial and other purposes 190.20
Sabkha natural discharge 12.72
Natural springs discharge 5.40
Total outflow 208.32
Total inflow - Total outflow - 96.04


The limited availability of good quality soils and water has resulted in the concentration of agricultural development in a relatively narrow strip of land along the north-western coast of Bahrain Island with isolated pockets in the north central areas and along the east coast. Most soils have a sandy texture, traces of organic matter (0.05-1.5%), a deficiency in major nutrients, low water-holding capacity (available moisture 2-6%), and high infiltration rates (> 120 mm/hr). In areas along the coastal strip, calcareous impermeable layers are found at varying depths of 1 to 3 metres, causing waterlogging and impeding leaching. Electrical conductivity (EC) in irrigated soils lies within a range of 4-12 mmhos/cm, while in the areas of recently abandoned agriculture (1 065 ha) it could reach 60 mmhos/cm.

At present, out of the total agricultural land of 4 230 ha, drainage works are being carried out on 1 850 ha. The remaining 2 380 ha still suffer from shallow water tables resulting in waterlogging in the crop root zones and an increasing salinization of the top soil. Drainage requirements are exacerbated by the inefficient surface irrigation systems used. In 1994, drainage works had been completed on about 1300 ha. The average cost of drainage development is estimated at $US 6 600/ha.

In the period from 1956 to 1977, agricultural lands decreased from about 6 460 ha (with 3 230 ha cultivated) to about 4 100 ha (with 1 750 ha cultivated). This decrease was attributed mainly to urban expansion, waterlogging and soil salinization due to deterioration of the quality of the groundwater used in irrigation. In an attempt to reverse the situation, the government initiated a major agricultural development program in the early 1980s represented by:

This resulted in a gradual increase and restoration of agricultural lands to about 4 230 ha, with 3 165 ha irrigated at present, all power irrigated. These 4 230 ha can also be considered as the irrigation potential, should there be an increasing future use of nonconventional water sources, in addition to groundwater. The quantity of groundwater available in the future for agriculture is difficult to estimate since groundwater quality, and hence its availability for irrigation, changes with time.

The utilization of 8 million m/year of tertiary TSE water in the reclaimed government lands (280 ha) and on some private farms ( 150 ha) (Figure 3), using modern irrigation techniques (sprinkler and micro-irrigation), had a palpable effect on the increase of agricultural lands and their productivity. While most of the programme is still being carried out at present, government subsidy of the installation of modern irrigation systems has stopped in the 1990s due to lack of funds. Despite efforts to introduce modern irrigation techniques, most farms still use traditional surface irrigation (Figure 4), which causes high water losses, estimated at between 24 and 40%. Sprinkler irrigation is used only in government projects, while micro-irrigation is used in government projects and on a limited number of private farms. Most of the land is worked either directly by the owner, often with hired labour, or by tenant farmers under a 1 to 2 year lease agree-ment. Such short and insecure occupation periods do not encourage tenants to invest in the installation of modern irrigation systems, which cost 40% and even up to 100% more than surface irrigation systems since the government subsidies of the installation of modern irrigation systems has stopped. The small size of agricultural landholdings, ranging between 0.5 and 10 ha with an average of 2.5 ha, and in particular the fragmentation of the agricultural land of farm holdings further restrict investment in the more expensive modern irrigation techniques.

Figure 3 - Origin of irrigation water f/p (total: 3 165 ha in 1994 )

Figure 4 - Irrigation techniques f/p (total: 3165 ha in 1994)

Of the total equipped area of 3 165 ha, 2 885 ha consist of small schemes (< 50 ha) (Figure 5). Most farms in these small-scale schemes are run under the tenancy system and at present there are about 250 households on these schemes. The remaining 280 ha of large schemes (> 50 ha) are owned and completely operated by the government and irrigated by treated wastewater, with a total of 80 government workers, of whom 11 are involved in irrigation.

The average cost of irrigation development on small schemes varies between $US 6 600/ha for surface irrigation, $US 9 300/ha for micro-irrigation and $US 13 200/ha for sprinkler irrigation. For large schemes it is $US 16 200/ha for surface irrigation, $US 13 600/ha for micro-irrigation and $US 19 800/ha for sprinkler (central pivot) irrigation. The high costs for large scheme development are attributed to the fact that the major projects are carried out by the government on reclaimed lands. Operation and maintenance costs vary between 10 and 15% of the irrigation development costs on small schemes and between 5 and 15% on large schemes.

The major crops grown are dates and fruit trees with a yield of 7.5 tons/ha, vegetables, mainly tomatoes, with a yield of 11.7 tons/ha, and fodder crops, mainly alfalfa, with a relatively high yield of 74.5 tons/ha (Figure 6). In the last 10 years, there has been an increasing trend in the cultivation of alfalfa for fodder production rather than the cultivation of the traditional date and vegetable crops. Alfalfa tolerates high salinity and is a cash crop grown all year round with high local demand. However, because of the very high irrigation water requirements of alfalfa, it is expected that this trend will have negative implications for the country's groundwater resources.

The privately-owned water use rights are the only water rights that exist in Bahrain. The general principle governing these rights is that groundwater is the property of the landowners and, therefore, they have an exclusive right to extract and use water as much as they wish and for any purpose they want without being liable for any damage caused to their neighbours or to the groundwater in general. At present, the agricultural sector's utilization of water is not subjected to any licensing system nor controlled by a pricing system. However, from the mid-1980s onwards, agricultural wells were being metered by the government and the government is in the process of passing a law that would make it compulsory for all well owners to install meters on their wells. The total number of wells metered at present is about 1670 (86% of total). The final objective of this programme is to observe irrigation water requirements, and subsequently to set up a licensing system for groundwater withdrawal and design an appropriate pricing system for excess water utilization.

Figure 5 - Types of irrigation schemes (total: 3 165 ha in 1994)

Figure 6 - Irrigated crops f/p (total: 3 165 ha in 1994)

The only flood protection works carried out in Bahrain are those against rainfall floods and are developed in one residential, more modern, town located in the west over an area of 1 300 ha, where no agricultural activities are going on.


The Bahrain High Council for Water Resources, created in 1982, is the highest authority on water resources, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister and with the membership of the ministries concerned.

The main duties of the Council are:

The Ministry of Works and Agriculture acts as the advisory body for the Council, and, through its different directorates, is in charge of the country's agricultural development and planning and water resources management.

Furthermore, indicating the government's future reliance on TSE in irrigation, a TSE Utilization Committee, with representatives from the related Ministries, was set up in 1993. The Committee's main responsibilities are the management and planning of TSE utilization in irrigation.


In the last 15 years, the government has been taking several steps and courses of action to provide solutions to the water crisis in the country and agricultural sector deterioration. These include: water conservation campaigns in all sectors, water pricing in the domestic sector and more reliance on non-conventional water sources (TSE in agriculture and desalinated water for domestic purposes).

Government policy with regard to water use is to reduce groundwater dependency for the domestic water supply, the second main water user, by constructing additional desalination plants with a total capacity of 50 million m/year. Groundwater is planned to be exclusively used for irrigation. Additional requirements for future agricultural development would be supplemented by TSE water and the government is planning to increase the TSE utilization volume to about 49 million m/year. The additional volume would be used to irrigate an area of about 1 810 ha using modern techniques. This will bring the total area to be irrigated by TSE water to 2 240 ha, leaving the remaining area to be irrigated from groundwater. However, these plans are still awaiting major government funds for the construction of a TSE conveyance system and farmers acceptance. Although the intentions exist, an agricultural licensing system and water pricing are still missing.

Although the government-stated policy indicates that it wishes to develop a modern farming sector on larger production units using mechanization and up-to-date techniques, these aims have not been reflected clearly in the government's capital investment and subsidy programs.

Despite its slower rate at present, the drainage development project, which was initiated in the early 1980s, continues to operate and is expected to cover the remaining 2 380 ha by 2005.


Al-Noaimi, M.A. 1993. Evaluation of available water resources, present utilization, and consuming sectors' future needs, Volume I: Evaluation of available water resources and utilization patterns. Bahrain Center for Studies and Research (in Arabic).

ACE [Associated Consulting Engineers]. 1990. Irrigation master plan: draft report. Ministry of Housing, Municipalities and Environment.

ACE. 1990. Report on treated effluent utilization. Ministry of Works and Agriculture.

Central Statistics Organization. 1993. Statistical abstract 1992. Directorate of Statistics, Bahrain.

GDC [Groundwater Development Consultants]. 1980. Umm Er Radhuma study, Bahrain Assignment. Ministry of Works and Agriculture.

Musayab, R. 1988. Water resources and development in the State of Bahrain. Directorate of Water Supply, Ministry of Electricity and Water.

Ministry of Works and Agriculture. 1994. Annual agricultural statistical report-1994. Directorate of Agricultural Research, Agricultural Economics Section, Ministry of Works and Agriculture.

Ministry of Works and Agriculture/Bahrain Center for Studies and Research. 1992. Country report on water and agriculture in Bahrain. Symposium on the Greening of the GCC Countries, Tokyo, Japan, October, 1992.

UNEP and UNESCWA. 1991. The national plan of action to combat desertification in Bahrain. UNEP/ROWA (92-0725), Bahrain.

Zubari, W.K., and E.J. Lori. 1991. Report on water resources studies: evaluation, utilization, and legislation in Bahrain in the period from 1924 -1991. Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research (in Arabic).

Zubari, W.K., Mubarak, A.M, and I.M. Madany. 1993. Development Impacts on Groundwater Resources in Bahrain. Water Resources Development, Vol. 9 (3), pp. 263-279.

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