A new water law for Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
: what role for privatisation?

  • Khalid B. A. M. Eid

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Arabian Peninsula and about 65% of the landscape is comprised of deserts. The country is located in arid regions where renewable water resources are limited and the annual rainfall is less than 150 mm in most of the country except for the south western region. The country is rich in petroleum resources, and petrochemicals, and oil exports account for much of the nation's prosperity. Saudi Arabia is a country that enjoys several economic booms, with urban expansion continuing years in the future. The country witnessed comprehensive developments accompanied by rapid population growth during the last three decades after the increase in oil profits in 1975. This has resulted in a large increase of domestic, industrial and agricultural demands. The agricultural demands are satisfied by groundwater pumping from local aquifers. The country relies on costly sea water desalination plants in producing about 50% of its domestic water supplies because the groundwater quality is not suitable for domestic purposes in most of the country. Saudi Arabia has, for several years now, been experiencing domestic water shortage problems in some major cities especially in the summer season. As things stand, the water industry in Saudi Arabia remains under the government's control and until the last year, there are no clear rules and regulations to open the door for private companies to come in and operate the water sector with the aim of providing a better quality of water service. This picture has changed during the last two years after the establishment of the Ministry of Water and Electricity (MOWE). The Ministry has shown strong indication for involving the private sector in water and sanitation services. This thesis, therefore, represents an attempt to provide comparative and analytical studies on the question of whether privatisation of the water industry could provide a better water system to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and whether such a system would be better able to satisfy the water requirement in terms of quality and quantity. Some other countries have already gone through privatization process, and have found better solutions for water supply, which surmount different cultural, geographical and even legal environments. England is one of such country which has successfully privatized its water services. This thesis will therefore attempt to examine the existing regime for water regulations in Saudi Arabia and compare it to the English system. We will then analyze whether there are lessons for KSA to learn from the English system of water privatization. This will involve a critical review on the backgrounds of Saudi Arabia and England in respect of the legal and economical basis for privatization. The research consists of seven chapters. In Chapter One, I will introduce my research topic, providing the general background of that topic and addressing the issues I hope to raise in my research. I will also seek to justify my research topic and introduce the research methodologies that underpin my research. Chapter Two is concerned with the economic background of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This chapter sets out the importance of inter-relationship between the national economy and the water situation in the country. Chapter Three will then turn to an assessment of Islamic perspective on water matters as well as looking at how that law is interpreted in KSA. This chapter thus sets out the general framework of Islamic Law and the way in which it addresses the issues of water ownership in Saudi Arabia. Chapter Four gives an analysis of the successful English model of privatization in water industry. The chapter starts with a summary of the historical evolution of the issues of privatization in the water sector, and then looks at the evolution of the regulatory regime in England. This chapter also mentions the main issues for a private water industry and focuses specifically on the role of the regulator in this sector. Chapter Five will compare and contrast the Saudi Arabia system with the English model, with particular relation to matters of regulation, the regulator, contracts and ownership in the water services. Following this chapter. Chapter Six offers policy model and recommendations to the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia based on the experience of the English model, with the hope of finding a course of action for privatization of the Saudi water sector in an attempt to tackle the ongoing challenges faced by the water services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi recommended model can be followed by other arid countries especially the Muslim States. The concluding Chapter Seven will then summarize the results and findings of my research.
    Date of Award2007
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPatricia Wouters (Supervisor)


    • Saudi Arabia
    • Privatisation
    • Water law

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