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Jeddah 101: When Water Was More Precious than Oil

Source: Jeddah Water & Power Forum
Kindasah Ever since its origins, a lack of water was the main problem for the inhabitants of Jeddah. As early as one thousand five hundred years ago, while the city was under the domination of Persian rulers, more than three hundred wells and cisterns were dug to provide a water supply for the growing population. Most of these sources eventually dried up and in 1761 a Danish visitor Carsten Niebuhr, reported that “the city is entirely destitute of water and the inhabitants have to rely on what is collected in reservoirs among the hills and carried in by camels.”
Early in the twentieth century, Jeddah made its first attempt at producing its own sweet water supply by installing a seawater distillation condenser. The experiment was not a success for the “kindasah,” as the residents pronounced condenser, produced very little water but made a great deal of noise. “Save us from the clamour of the kindasah”recited the poet Mohammad Said Otaibi at the dedication ceremony.
In contrast to the few gallons of drinkable water produced each day by the kindasah, supplies improved dramatically immediately following the Second World War when income from oil exports funded the pumping of three million gallons of water a day from the wells in Waadi’ Faatimah fifty miles away to the south. But as the oil wealth flowed in, so did more and more people and water became more precious than oil. The situation was finally solved in the late 1970s by the installation of four modern desalination plants on a coastal lagoon in the north of Jeddah. This huge and powerful complex has the capacity to desalinate eighty million gallons of seawater a day, converting it to potable water while at the same time producing a low-cost electricity supply for the entire city.  

Kindasah Art As a delightful finishing touch, the municipality of Jeddah collected the scrap metal parts remaining from the early kindasah and commissioned an artist to assemble them into sculptural forms that are now located on the roadside lawns close to the new desalination plant, preserved for future generations as a historic reminder of Jeddah’s past. states: “In 1907, the Ottoman Turks installed Saudi ‘Arabia’s first desalination plant in Jeddah. It was replaced in 1928 and now serves an artistic role as one of Jeddah’s famous traffic island sculptures. Its British origin has survived in its name, ‘Al Kindasah’, an obvious transliteration of its function.”

10 thoughts on “Jeddah 101: When Water Was More Precious than Oil

  1. The water problem in Jeddah is worst in the areas where most expitrates live. The Governamet water is coming once in 10 to 15 days and you must be depending on additional tankers from the desalination plant.
    It is really shocking and shame for one of the richest country that they can not supply sufficient water to the people living.

  2. Aabida – Not all areas experience water shortages, but many do. Here’s an old but relevant article:

    Saudi Gazette: “Several districts in northern Jeddah have now joined the list of areas affected by the acute water crisis. The districts feeling the pinch now are Al-Jamia, Al-Hindawiah, Al-Sabeel, Al-Bukhariah, Al-Baghdadiah, Al-Safa, Mushrefah, Al-Makarona, Al-Ruwais, Al-Sharafia, Al-Rehab, Guwaizah, Al-Naseem and Al-Haramain.”

    I moved about six months ago (within the same district) and although in the beginning I had to deal with light water pressure and an occasional rusty water spurt, my personal situation is much better, Alhamdulillaah. I recall the water being off for a day a few months back, besides that it has been quite constant.

    Saudi Gazette: “The water distribution points are still overcrowded despite efforts of the Water Department in Jeddah to facilitate the distribution of water tankers.”

    “The Water Department said that it is striving to solve this crisis and reschedule water distribution to the districts…”

    Many expats share Imtiyaz’s views. I’ve read some heated comments online. I hope the govt. solves the problem soon.

  3. JazakAllah for this post…makes us realise how 4tunate we r that this blessing of Allah is so abundant here in SA. but im sure that it’ll be a small sacrifice inshaAllah to make to live in that blessed land!

  4. Quick Update: My water woes have returned, Qadarullaah. Not only have they returned, they’ve returned with a mandatory fee of 210 SAR per month.

    Anyone else hit with this mandatory fee?

  5. FYI on services and utilities…

    “With these meetings, we reaffirm the municipal council’s concern for the welfare of all residents in the city irrespective of their nationality or citizenship. As the large non-Saudi population in Jeddah deserves attention, the council is doing its best, but within its power, to improve services and utilities,” Fadaeq said.

    Arab News

  6. as i have not yet entered jeddah and intend to do so,I pray,allz well b4 I enter. Bcoz I intend having a green house in my backyard wich wl require sweetwater for my floriculture as a hobby,

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