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Qatar occupies a peninsula, projecting northwards from the Arabian mainland, on the west coast of the Persian Gulf. Its western coastline joins onto the shores of Saudi Arabia. The peninsula is roughly 180 km long and between 55 and 85 km wide and its total area is estimated at 11 000 km. Qatar is stony, sandy and barren and its surface is of low to moderate relief, with the highest elevation of 103 metres above sea level being attained in the southern part, where mesa-type hills and large barchan-type sand dunes serve to break the monotony of an otherwise flat, eroded landscape.

The cultivable land is estimated at 28 000 ha, which is 2.5% of the total area. In 1994, 8 312 ha were estimated to be cultivated as against 2 256 ha in 1980. Of this area of 8 312 ha, 5 987 ha consisted of annual crops (mainly green fodder, vegetables and cereals) and 2 325 ha consisted of permanent crops (mainly dates). The agricultural land is government owned and most farm owners participate only indirectly in the farming process, having permanent positions in other sectors of the economy. Consequently, most farms are run by immigrants.

The total population is 551 000 (1995), of which 9% is rural. Between 1980 and 1991 the annual demographic growth rate was estimated at 4.7%. Only about one-fourth of the total population is estimated to be indigenous Qatari population. The capital Doha houses 80% of the total population and the industrial centre of Umm Said, 40 km south, is being extensively developed. Agriculture represents only 1.1 % of the country's GDP, which is dominated by oil and its by-products.

TABLE 1 - Basic statistics and population

Physical areas:
Area of the country 1995 1 10 000 ha
Cultivable area 1994 28 000 ha
Cultivated area 1994 8 312 ha
- annual crops 1994 5 987 ha
- permanent crops 1994 2 325 ha
Total population 1995 551 000 inhabitants
Population density 1995 50 inhab./km
Rural population 1995 9 %
Water supply coverage:
Urban population 1996 100 %
Rural population 1996 100 %



The climate is of the typical arid desert type with a hot, humid summer, with temperatures reaching 44C. There is some rain in winter, when temperatures range between 10 and 20C. Average annual rainfall is around 75 mm, although there are wide variations from place to place and from year to year. It varies from 40 mm in the south to over 80 mm in the north. Most rain occus during November to April inclusive, but might be limited to two or three days of heavy rainfall per year which is more destructive than useful. Recorded falls in 24 hours have approached the total annual average.

TABLE 2 - Water: sources and use

Renewable water resources:
Average precipitation   75 mm/yr
    0.825 km/yr
Internal renewable water resources   0.051 km/yr
Total (actual) renewable water resources 1995 0.053 km/yr
Dependency ratio 1995 3.8 %
Total (actual) renewable water resources per inhabitant 1995 96 m/yr
Total dam capacity   - 106 m
Water withdrawal:      
- agricultural 1994 210.6 106 m/yr
- domestic 1994 65.9 106 m/yr
- industrial 1994 8.4 106 m/yr
Total water withdrawal   284.9 10 6 m/yr
per inhabitant 1994 528 m/yr
as % of total (actual) renewable water resources   538 %
Other water withdrawal 1994 7 106 m/yr
Average groundwater depletion 1974 42.49 106 m/yr
Wastewater - Non-conventional water sources:
- produced wastewater 1994 47.6 106 m/yr
- treated wastewater 1994 25.2 106 m/yr
- reused treated wastewater 1994 25.2 106 m/yr
Desalinated water 1995 98.6 106 m/yr

Water resources

There is practically no permanent surface water - annual surface runoff has been estimated at 1.35 million m. Direct and indirect recharge of groundwater from rainwater forms the main natural internal water resources. Two-thirds of the land surface is made up of some 850 contiguous depressions of interior drainage with catchments varying from 0.25 km to 45 km and with a total aggregate area of 6 942 km. While direct recharge from rainfall might take place during very rare heavy storms, the major recharge mechanism is an indirect one through runoff from surrounding catchments and the pounding of water in the depression floor. Surface runoff typically represents between 16 and 20% of rainfall. Of the amount reaching the depressions, 70% infiltrates and 30% evaporates.

There are two separate and distinct groundwater regions: the northern half, where groundwater occurs as a freshwater 'floating lens' on brackish and saline water and the southern half where no such lens exists and where water quality is generally brackish with only a thin veneer of freshwater at the top of the water table. Annual groundwater recharge has been estimated at 50.43 million m.

The two main aquifers underlying Qatar are recharged in Saudi Arabia. Over most of Qatar the Damman formation does not contain water because of its altitude. It dips lower in southwest Qatar where it contains water, but is also overlain by impervious layers. The artesian aquifer which results from this structure is called the Alat unit of the Damman. Below this aquifer is the Umm er Radhuma, which is similarly artesian. In 1981, the Master Water Resources and Agricultural Development Plan (MWRADP) estimated that in the southern part of Qatar the safe yield of the Alat aquifer is 2 million m/year and that of the Umm er Radhuma 10 million m/year, based on an estimate of annual flow from Saudi Arabia. However, these safe yields would be substantially reduced if the aquifer were exploited more extensively on the Saudi Arabian side of the border. In the northern and central part the Rus aquifer overlies the Umm el Radhuma aquifer, which is partly an unconfined aquifer, recharged by percolating rainfall and return flows from irrigation but losing some water to the sea and some through abstractions. The safe yield of the aquifer system in the northern and central part of Qatar is estimated at 13 million m/year from the upper layer and 20 million m/year from the lower layer (the latter leading to a depletion in 50 years). In total, the estimated safe yield for the whole of Qatar is 45 million m/year.

TABLE 3 - Irrigation and drainage

Irrigation potential   - ha
1. Full or partial control irrigation: equipped area 1993 12 520 ha
- surface irrigation   - ha
- sprinkler irrigation   - ha
- micro-irrigation   - ha
% of area irrigated from groundwater 1994 94.2 %
% of area irrigated from surface water 1994 0.0 %
% of area irrigated from non-conventional sources 1994 5.8 %
% of equipped area actually irrigated 1994 66.4 %
2. Spate irrigation area   - ha
3. Equipped wetland and inland valley bottoms (i.v.b.)   - ha
Total irrigation (1 +2+3) 1993 12 520 ha
- as % of cultivated area   151 %
4. Flood recession cropping area   - ha
Total water managed area (1 + 2 + 3 + 4) 1993 12 520 ha
- as % of cultivated area   151 %
- increase over last 10 years   - %
- power irrigated area as % of water managed area   - %
Full or partial contra irrigation schemes: Criteria
Large-scale schemes > 150 ha 1993 1 654 ha
Medium-scale schemes 1993 6 688 ha
Small-scale schemes < 20 ha 1993 4 178 ha
Total number of households in irrigation 1993 889  
Irrigated crops:
Total irrigated grain production 1994 3 940 tons
as % of total grain production 1994 100 %
Harvested crops under irrigation (full or partial control) 1994 8 797 ha
- permanent crops: total 1994 2 325 ha
- annual crops: total 1994 6 472 ha
. green fodder (mainly alfalfa) 1994 2 803 ha
. vegetables 1994 2 341 ha
. cereals (mainly barley, some wheat and maize) 1994 1 243 ha
. tubers 1994 55 ha
. pulses 1994 30 ha
Drainage - Environment:
Drained area   - ha
as % of cultivated area   - %
- 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   - ha
Area salinized by irrigation   - ha
Population affected by water-borne diseases   - inhabitants

Another potential source of groundwater is beneath the capital Doha itself. According to the MWRADP, considerable volumes of water leak from pipelines and other sources throughout much of Doha. This leakage, estimated at about 15 million m/year, has caused the water table to rise locally, flooding basements as well as shallow excavations.

Non-conventional water sources

In 1995, total desalination capacity was 98.6 million m/year. There are two desalination plants in Qatar. The desalination plant in Ras Abu Aboud has a capacity of 52 000 m/day or 19.0 million m/year. The plant in Ras Abu Fontas has a capacity of 218 000 m/day or 79.6 million m/year. The addition of two new desalination units in Ras Abu Fontas is expected to raise the total desalination capacity of the country in 1996 to 318 000 m/day or 116.1 million m/year.

In 1987, treated and reused municipal wastewater was almost 70 000 m/day, or 25.2 million m/year.

Water withdrawal

In 1994, total water withdrawal was estimated at 292 million m, of which 285 million m for agricultural, domestic and industrial purposes (Figure 1). Desalinated water provides the vast majority of Qatar's drinking water (Figure 2). Of the total reused treated wastewater of 25.2 million m, 25% is supplied to the municipality of Doha to be used in landscape irrigation on the roads and areas planted with trees. The remaining 75% is conveyed via pipelines to ponds and then repumped to west Doha to be used in irrigation of farms.

Figure 1 - Water withdrawal (total: 285 million m in 1994)

Figure 2 - Origin of water used by sector (total: 285 million m in 1994)

Total groundwater extraction is estimated at 188 million m. Given an annual recharge of about 50 million m, mining of groundwater is 138 million m, which is much more than the considered safe yield of 45 million m (which already includes fossil water).


Agriculture is not possible without irrigation. The part of the 28 000 ha of cultivable area that can be considered to assess irrigation potential, depends on the future availability of alternative sources of water, because groundwater is already being depleted at the present rate of abstraction.

In 1993, there were 1 130 registered farms in the country, of which 889 were actually in operation. The area equipped for irrigation was estimated at 12 520 ha, while 8 312 ha was actually cultivated, which is 66% of the equipped area. Most of the water used is groundwater (Figure 3).

Surface irrigation (basins and furrows) is the most commonly used irrigation technique. Examples of relatively large-scale projects that use modern irrigation techniques are: the Ar Rakiyah project, where 17 centre pivots cover 723 ha, and the Al Mashabiyah project, where 12 000 date palms are irrigated by bubblers and more than 30 ha of vegetables are irrigated by drippers in experimental and private farms. Some examples of the costs of irrigation development are: $US 7 400/ha for a drip irrigation system with buried PVC pipes for vegetables and $US 7 700/ha for a bubbler irrigation system with buried PVC pipes for date palms.

Figure 3 - Origin of irrigation water f/p (total: 12 520 ha in 1993)

Figure 4 - Typology of f/p control irrigation schemes (total: 12 520 ha in 1993)

There are no national criteria for distinguishing between the size of the schemes. The classification of registered farms and agricultural projects according to equipped areas assumes that small schemes work areas less than 20 ha, covering 33% of the total equipped area, medium size schemes work areas between 20 and 150 ha, covering 54% of the total area, and large schemes work areas of over 150 ha, covering 13 % of the total area (Figure 4).

The major irrigated crops are green fodder, vegetables, fruit trees and cereals (Figure 5). Tomatoes are the main winter vegetable, melons the main summer vegetable. The main fruit trees are dates and citrus. Alfalfa is the main green fodder crop. Barley is the main cereal, with a small quantity of wheat and maize.

Over-extraction of groundwater results in a fast deterioration of the water quality, due to sea water intrusion and upward diffusion of deeper saline water. For this reason, a kind of shifting cultivation takes place within a farm, i.e., as soon as soil salinity has reached intolerable limits, new land is put into cultivation and the degraded land is completely abandoned.

Figure 5 - Irrigated crops (total: 8 797 ha in 1994)


The institutions in charge of water resources assessment, development and irrigation are:

Based on the recommendation of the DAWR, Decree No. 1 of 1988 was issued to regulate drilling of wells and groundwater use. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture formed the Farms and Wells Committee to be responsible for implementing the groundwater laws. The articles of the groundwater laws which have been implemented are those connected with granting permits for drilling, alteration and modification of wells. What remains to be done is to put into action the articles concerning water use and specifically the installation of water meters in all wells in the state, not exceeding the specified irrigated area and the allocated amount of water for each farm following the instructions issued by the DAWR regarding conveyance and irrigation systems.


The main trends in the national strategy and policy for the development of water resources and irrigation consist in fulfilling two objectives:

The main constraint facing the implementation of the above-mentioned water resources and irrigation development plan is the high capital cost and the low return from using water in agricultural production.


Civil Engineering Department, Drainage Division. 1996. Treated Sewage Effluent. MMAA [Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture].

DAWR [Department of Agricultural and Water Research], Agricultural Economics and Statistics Section. 1994. Agricultural Statistics 1993. MMAA. Doha, Qatar.

DAWR, Groundwater Unit. 1995. Groundwater Balance. MMAA.

DAWR. 1982. Brief annual report 1981-82: irrigation and drainage section. Prepared by M.A. Hashim and N.G. Dastane. Ministry of Industry and Agriculture/FAO.

FAO. 1978. Integrated water and land use in Qatar. Rome.

Halcrow-Balfour Ltd. 1981. Master Water Resources and Agricultural Development Plan. Ministry of Industry and Agriculture.

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