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People Meter: Designing the future

Dr. Paul Boulos, president at MWH, talks business.

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Business in the wastewater sector has picked up.
Business in the wastewater sector has picked up.

Managing and enhancing water resources in the Middle East is big business. Utilities Middle East spoke to Dr. Paul Boulos, president of MWH’s Middle East operations and president and COO of MWH Soft.

What are the challenges for wet infrastructure in the Middle East today?
Water has always been a scarce resource in the Middle East — and that scarcity represents the biggest risk to the sustained socio-economic development of the region.

With 6 percent of the world’s population but only 1 percent of the world’s renewable water resources, the region is facing ever-increasing demands on its limited resources by rapidly growing population (expected to double in the next 40 years).

Per capita availability is declining sharply; in some Middle Eastern countries available water per capita is 170 cubic meters per year — far below the world water poverty line of 1,000 cubic meters per year, with Yemen being on track to become the first country in the world to run out of water.

This is severely reducing the region’s food output, since the vast majority of this water is used for irrigation. Compounding the problem, the hydrologic cycle is becoming less predictable as climate change continues to significantly alter temperature patterns in the region (and around the globe).

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive water management plan to conserve and produce water (and energy through hydropower in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Turkey), match consumption with supply, improve groundwater management and water quality through wastewater collection and treatment, implement more effective irrigation practices (more production for less water), evaluate alternative measures for water reuse, and educate the public in wise water use.

How does MWH help its clients to overcome these challenges? Can you name a recent example?
MWH is sharing new desalination technologies that could provide limitless new sources of clean water.

We’re also sharing new management approaches and creative ways of helping conserve, allocate and reuse water resources. Many of these are simple steps like improving irrigation techniques, water monitoring and metering, reducing water loss, and implementing simple home conservation techniques.

MWH recently provided a full range of planning, engineering and management services, from planning, scheduling and design to construction management and commissioning, for Dubai’s new Jebel Ali Sewage Treatment Plant.

How does the new generation simulation and modeling software enhance water modeling?
To manage water distribution systems effectively, you need reliable user-friendly computer models that integrate geographical information systems (for visualization and spatial database management and analysis) with fast and robust numerical network hydraulic, water quality and transient solvers and optimization techniques.

Network modeling can greatly assist water utilities in making informed decisions to ensure the most cost-, energy- and carbon-efficient water systems — from ongoing operation and maintenance to rehabilitation, enhancement, expansion, and new design.

For integrated catchment modeling, the software has to combine a geographical information system with complex hydrodynamic and hydrological models. This combination provides the information needed to assess the total impact of flood risk and emissions on receiving water quality and conceive sound remedial procedures.

In June 2009, MWH made the Middle East region one of its four distinct geographic business areas, alongside Europe, the Americas and Asia. Does that reflect a growing importance of the Middle East for your business?
Definitely. Our decision to make the Middle East region a distinct business geography encompassing countries in the Middle East and several countries in the North African Mediterranean rim was spurred by a desire to increase market penetration and drive performance in a geographic area that has seen tremendous growth.

Is water infrastructure business in the Middle East recovering from the recession? What is your outlook for 2010?
A partial recovery is underway, with the wastewater sector seeing the fastest growth. I would expect a 2 percent to 3 percent growth in that market.

By how much is MWH seeking to grow business in 2010? What are the core growth markets?
MWH is looking to grow its wet infrastructure business in the Middle East by more than 50% percent in 2010, focusing on Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya.

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