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Kuwait, with a total area of 17 820 km, lies at the head of the Persian Gulf. It is bordered in the north and north-west by Iraq, in the southwest and west 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 metres above sea level. Most of the area is desert with a few oases.

About 154 000 ha have been judged potentially cultivable land. However, it is almost completely covered by permanent pasture. Estimates for crop production potential vary between 25000 and 37500 ha, mainly located near the southern border (Al-Wafra), near the northern border (Al-Abdally) and in the centre 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 labour: in 1994 about 63% of the total population were estimated to be nonKuwait) 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 labour and farm advisers. Most farm owners are investors and also have other sources of income. The average population density is 87 inhabitants per km, but varies widely from one region to another. The annual population growth, including both Kuwaiti and non-Kuwait) residents, is estimated at 3.8%. Only 1% of the labour 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 GDP during the period 1988-1990.

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1995 1782000 ha
Cultivable area 1994 25 000 ha
Cultivated area 1994 4 770 ha
- annual crops 1994 4 320 ha
- permanent crops 1994 450 ha
Total population 1995 1547000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 87 inhab./km
Rural population 1995 3 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population 1993 100 %
Rural population 1993 100 %



Kuwait has a desert climate characterized by a long, dry, hot summer, with temperatures reaching more than 45C with frequent sandstorms, and a cooler winter, with temperatures sometimes even falling below 4C. The rainy season extends from October to May. Over an area of about 100 km annual rainfall is less than 100 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 km. In recent years rainfall has decreased to an average of between 106 and 134 mm/year.

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:
Average precipitation   176 mm/yr
    3.14 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources   0 km/yr
Total (actual) renewable water resources 1995 0.02 km/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 100 %
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 13 m/yr
Total dam capacity   - 106 m
Water withdrawal:      
- agricultural 1994 324 106 m/yr
- domestic 1993 201 106 m/yr
- industrial 1993 13 106 m/yr
Total water withdrawal   538 106 m/yr
per inhabitant 1994 348 m/yr
as % of total (actual) renewable water resources   2 690 %
Other water withdrawal   - 106 m/yr
Average groundwater depletion   - 106 m/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:
- produced wastewater 1994 119 106 m/yr
- treated wastewater 1994 103 106 m/yr
- reused treated wastewater 1994 52 106 m/yr
Desalinated water 1993 231 106 m/yr


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 m/year through lateral underflow from Saudi Arabia.

There are three classes of groundwater: fresh water with salinity below 1000 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 7580% 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.

TABLE 3 - Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential 1994 25000 ha
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area 1994 4 770 ha
- surface irrigation 1994 3 020 ha
- sprinkler irrigation 1994 600 ha
- micro-irrigation 1994 1150 ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater 1994 61.0 %
% of area irrigated from surface water 1994 0.0 %
% of area irrigated from non-conventional sources 1994 39.0 %
% 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 4 770 ha
- as % of cultivated area   100 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 +2+3+4) 1994 4 770 ha
- as % of cultivated area   100 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area 1994 100 %
Full or partial control irrigation schemes: Criteria
Large-scale schemes > - ha   - ha
Medium-scale schemes   - ha
Small-scale schemes < - ha   - ha
Total number of households in irrigation      
irrigated crops:      
Total irrigated grain production 1994 2 000 tons
as % of total grain production 1994 100 %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control) 1994 4 770 ha
- permanent crops: total 1994 450 ha
- annual crops: total 1994 4 320 ha
. vegetables 1994 1 900 ha
. fodder crops (mainly alfalfa) 1994 1 470 ha
. potatoes 1994 670 ha
. cereals (barley and wheat) 1994 220 ha
. pulses 1994 60 ha
Drainage - Environment:      
Drained area 1994 2 ha
as % of cultivated area   0.04 %
- 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 1994 2 ha
- total drained area with surface drains   - ha
Flood-protected area   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation 1994 4 080 ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants


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 m/day. In 1994 there were 6 desalination plants with a maximum capacity of 950 000 m/day. The quantity of desalinated water produced in 1993 was 231 million m. 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 m in 1994. About 103 million m was treated and of this 52 million m has been reused, while the remaining part was directed to the sea.

Water withdrawal

In 1993, total water withdrawal was estimated at 538 million m, of which 60% for agriculture, livestock and fish ponds (Figure 1).

Desalinated water (231 million m) was used mainly for domestic purposes and a smaller quantity for industry and for greenhouse irrigation (Figure 2). As far as the reuse of treated wastewater is concerned (52 million m), a pilot farm was established in 1976, where secondary treated sewage water was initially used.

Prom 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 m) 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 metres by the year 2000.

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal [total: 538 million m in 1994)

Figure 2 - Origin of water used by sector [total: 538 million m in 1994)


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 (Figure 3).

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 6 1% was irrigated from groundwater (Figure 4).

There are three types of farming in the irrigation sector:

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 ha 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/m for small schemes to $US 1.5/m for large schemes. The treated sewage water charge is $US 0.07/m.

The major irrigated crops are vegetables and fodder (Figure 5). Alfalfa is the largest open field crop and its production is about 100 tons/ha per 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.

Figure 3 - Irrigation techniques f/p (total: 4 770 ha in 1994)

Figure 4 - Origin of irrigation water f/p (total: 4 770 ha in 1994)

Figure 5 - Irrigated crops f/p (total: 4 770 ha in 1994)


The main institutions involved in water resources management are:


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.


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.

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