Muscat is bracing itself for nearly three days without water as supplies are shut down to allow urgent maintenance work. As authorities announce emergency water distribution, Deeba Hasan and Kate Ginn investigate whether the city is ready to cope
It is past noon near a mosque in Al Khuwair and a man is filling a large bucket with water from a tank in readiness for what may come. He is holding what could potentially become a precious commodity in the days ahead.
By the time you’re reading this, a large part of Muscat will be dry. The city’s water supply is being disconnected from February 12 to allow the Public Authority for Electricity and Water (PAEW) to install new water pipes, leaving thousands of homes across the capital without water over the weekend.
No one would deny that the maintenance work is badly needed to fix Muscat’s ageing water system, which is often the bane of life for residents in problem areas, many of whom are left without water when the system breaks down, sometimes for days.
But the timing – on Valentine’s weekend – when hotels and restaurants are at their busiest has not gone down well in some quarters. As one hotel worker put it, it’s “a bit of a nightmare”.
As hotels drew up emergency plans to make sure their guests weren’t suddenly faced with a dry tap or shower, some residents were taking preemptive action by stocking up on water in preparation for “the big turn-off”.
“We have already filled three large and three small buckets with water, which will probably only last for a day because we are a family of six,” says Mohammed Ahsan, a resident of the Walja area in Ruwi.
According to the authorities, the water supply will be stopped in different areas including Al Khuwair (except Al Khuwair 25), Al Qurum, Madinat Al Sultan Qaboos, Hay Al Sarooj, Madinat Al Ilam, the ministries and embassies area, Wattayah and the Wilayats of Bawshar, Muscat, Al Amerat and Muttrah.
The new 1,600 millimetre pipes – replacing the old 600mm pipes – are part of an ambitious project to launch a water pipeline connecting Ghubra Desalination Plant with Muscat Water Tank and extends up to 34 kilometres and is expected to facilitate the smooth flow of water throughout Muscat Governorate.
The existing pipes were laid in the 70s and have corroded over the years, causing leakage.
It’s not the first time that the water supply has been disrupted in Oman on a large scale. Back in 2007, Cyclone Gonu disrupted the water supply for almost two weeks and caused havoc in the lives of the residents of Muscat.
This time, it’s a planned initiative, so various warnings have been given out in advance.
“The public has to store enough water before February 12 to meet their needs for 48 hours, in addition to checking their household connections to ensure there is no leakage,” said the PAEW in a statement.
People in the affected areas were told to take precautionary measures to avoid running out of water. The PAEW also handed out five-litre cans for residents to use for refills.
“In order to avoid water shortage, the authority recommends not using water for unnecessary activities such as watering gardens, hosing down cars, washing floors, using dish washers, washing machines,” said the PAEW.
Nineteen emergency water distribution centres have been set up to cope with a potential crisis and water tankers are on 24/7 standby.
Residents, including Mohammed Ahsan, were sent text messages from the PAEW detailing the collection points, stretching from Qantab to Al Khuwair.
A few days before the disconnection, all seemed calm in the Ahsan household and with his neighbours.
“We aren’t panicking yet,” says Mohammed. “If the problem persists, we will probably have to go to one of those points and fill some water.”
In case you’re wondering, there are four water centres each in Bawshar, Muscat and Al Amerat and seven in Muttrah, where emergency water will be available.
One resident in Al Khuwair told Y she was also preparing for the worst. “I live in the part of Al Khuwair that apparently isn’t supposed to be affected by the water stoppages, but from past experience, I’ve found out that isn’t always the case.
“So this time we have been smart and prepared. We have bought in big gallon bottles of water so if the water is cut off, we’ll be ready for it this time.”
A school in Muscat also said that they might close on Thursday considering the water supply disruption, but this hasn’t been confirmed. Parents with children at Muscat International School in Wattayah were told they would be notified ahead of today (Thursday, February 12).
Hotels and restaurants, many full to the brim for Valentine’s Day celebrations, were also taking steps to avoid any catastrophes that might ruin their guests’ evenings – and their business.
One hotel admitted that it didn’t have enough water to last 48 hours and could be facing a drought.
“In our hotel, we have our underground storage tanker full, but that can last only up to a day considering the scale of activities which require water at the hotel,” said the senior maintenance supervisor at the Al Falaj Hotel in Ruwi.
The Al Falaj Hotel will also bring down the gardening activities and control the laundry as well. “We have sent the message out to all departments to reduce the usage of water so that we will not face problems over the weekend. Right now we are trying to contact the PAEW to ask them to help us with water tanks, which would deliver water to us in case we run out,” the official added.
Marius Wolmarans, general manager at the Radisson Blu Hotel Muscat, said that the hotel would be affected but they had a contingency plan that would help them to overcome the water crisis. “We have a very big water storage facility in the hotel. Besides that, we also have water tanks on standby, which will bring water to us on call in case we run out. As of now, everything is in place and we have prepared in advance for the period from Thursday morning to Sunday morning, so hopefully all will be well.”
Guests at the Grand Hyatt Muscat hotel should have no worries. The hotel has four huge water tanks holding a total of 1,200 cubic metres of water, which should be more than enough to keep everyone well watered.
“The Municipality [Muscat] has also been in touch – they’ve been very helpful – and have told us they will have water tankers on standby should we need them,” said a Grand Hyatt spokesperson. “All staff have been briefed and unnecessary watering will be stopped or cut down.
“We’re pretty confident that our guests will not be affected. It will be business as usual.”
Across the highway at Park Inn by Radisson Muscat, similar steps were being taken.
“In regards to the water switch off, Park Inn Muscat hotel has an action plan. We are providing the water tankers from the outsource company to maintain the main storage hotel tank according to our daily consumptions. Just in case, we also have an emergency water storage tank in the hotel for standby,” said Rabih Zein, the Park Inn’s general manager.
“For awareness, we have informed all of our staff to reduce the water consumption as much as possible. As a responsible business hotel, we take care of our environment. We have informed our hotel guests in advance and [continuously] about the issue and ask them to collaborate to reduce the water consumption.”
Restaurants are hoping the water drought will not hit trade at what is traditionally a peak time for eating out.
Luke Mulcahy, assistant manager at Left Bank, a lounge, bar and restaurant in Qurum, said: “We will hopefully have no issues with the water supply over the weekend because we have water tankers taking care of our supply. However, we are slightly worried about the clientele. At the moment reservations are a bit low, but we are hoping for the best.”
While some people are preparing in advance for the water shortage, others are not too concerned because they have a back-up supply, says Nilofer Tanna, a resident of Ruwi. “The water in our building comes from a well, so we will be having enough water for the weekend as well and hopefully will not be affected by the disruption in the supply.”
Others have seen and done it all before – on a regular basis.
Residents living in areas such as Al Amerat, Ghubra and Azaiba are plagued with constant water supply problems. In September 2013, people in Al Amerat had to spend hours waiting in a queue for water from tankers after the mains cut off.
In one Ghala building, residents are never sure whether they’ll have water or not each day. “Every month, we have water issues.Building maintenance is always poor and we have two young children. Sometimes there is no supply for two or three days and we don’t get any warning,” says Mohammed Ragheb.
Hopefully, the new water system should mean an end to these dry days forever. Everyone in Muscat just has to get through the next three days without water on tap.