Fady Juez, Metito’s Managing Director, discusses water security, advancing technology and the private sector’s role in supporting government at Water World

Metito has been working on quenching the Middle East’s thirst since the 1950s and today its global project portfolio is worth more than $1bn. Its extensive presence in the region and commitment to embracing, eveloping and introducing new technology to the Middle East has earned it a formidable reputation, and the backbone of Metito has always been its EPC business. In the mid-1990s the firm took advantage of an upward trend in utilities in the Middle East, noticing that private sector companies were getting increasing understanding from governments in their participation.“So from the EPC side we started moving into utilities, and that’s grown to a level where it’s now a separate company,” Fady Juez, Metito’s Managing Director explains.

Around the same time, the fi rm also began focusing on emerging markets, with the Middle East and Africa region becoming a growth area for Metito. The company is now executing projects from Indonesia to Morocco, in Africa, Pakistan, China and also executing 12 packages of projects in Australia.

“The Gulf, and I’d say the MENA region at large, is one of the regions of the world with the largest scarcities of water,”

This emphasis on non-conventional water has been a boon to water technology firms like Metito, but Juez is keen to point out that when his company makes a commitment in a country, it’s in for the long haul.says Juez. “The ratio of renewable water to people is very low – we have no rivers and the groundwater is mostly not renewable; the region has to rely on nonconventional options to supply its water requirements, and that means the sea.”

“Our business model is a sustainable one – when we go into a country or region, we go there to stay and grow it. We try to interact with the decision makers to give the best that is needed, and be as educational as possible so that we exchange our knowledge and work together to achieve the goals we’ve set. That’s the only way we’re going to have sustainability in the region.”

It’s a similar story with the company’s localisation efforts. “We’re always frank with our clients, and we transfer whatever we know to them. We want them to know what we know, and with that comes people. For example, we have 700 people in our Egypt operation and they’re all Egyptian – there’s not a single non-Egyptian from the MD to the lab technician,” Juez says with a smile.

In terms of knowledge, Juez also dismisses criticisms that the Middle East region has been a cautious adopter of new technology.

“On the contrary, I think that this region is very much avant-garde in accepting new technologies, and you can see it – the biggest desalination plants in the world are here; the first multi stage flash plant in the world was built in Kuwait. The first reverse osmosis plant outside the United States was done by us in a small village in Libya, and people here are receptive to new technology.

“With the region becoming more and more industrialised and the tourism industry developing, the stress on our water will increase. So we need to come up with more smart technologies to ensure supply, and we’re doing it. We’re recycling more, treating more, satisfying industrial needs from wastewater recycling leaving the desalination water for personal use, and even importing virtual water.”

Asked about Metito’s R&D, Juez smiles. “I like to say that we do the ‘D’ and universities do the ‘R’,” he says.

“We believe that there’s going to be more and more private sector involvement in supporting the public sector cater for increasing demand.”

“We’re not a university; we look at new technologies and new research in places where there are lots of laboratories and educational institutions to see what’s happening, and we work with organisations like the International Desalination Association to look at new technologies and assess them. We like to do the development – we introduced reverse osmosis to the region, were the first to build MBR here and also the first to do a concession for the private sector in this part of the world. We like to be ahead of everybody in developing new technology, and bringing it to market,” says Juez. But perhaps the water scarcity solution

with the biggest impact is the reduction of demand.

“We need to work on reducing demand, and I think the best way to do this is awareness,” says Juez. In many areas in the region people practically don’t pay for the water they get, and that’s half the problem. They also don’t even know the cost of the water they’re getting for free,” he says, suggesting that bills should be introduced even if they don’t have to be paid. “People should at least know how much they’re using.”

“I think that the Middle East region is very much avant-garde in accepting new technologies.”

Clearly, easing the demand would allow the rate of construction – and therefore cost – of new infrastructure to be slowed. “This would definitely ease pressure on the construction of new desalination plants a lot,” says Juez. “You take the average per capita consumption in the world, compare it with the use of each country and you try and benchmark it, to come down to that level, which would be a very simple way of doing it. If you control water use you can reduce 30 per cent of your daily requirements by closing taps, having smarter flushing systems and grey water recycling, for example. There are small things everyone can do to drastically reduce the amount of water used, and this would help to reduce the pressure on desalination.”

Naturally, there are indirect costs to desalination, including the burning of fuels that would otherwise be exported, and environmental costs.

Perhaps one source of water that’s been under-utilised in the past is wastewater; as Juez points out, wastewater is initially a problem but one that can be solved and turned into a resource using water treatment technology.

“We have been able to remove the impact of wastewater on the environment by treating sewage and recycling it – I think water is going to play a major role in the water requirements of this part of the world.”

So far, the Middle East region has been successful in adopting the use of wastewater for irrigation. Efforts to spread some greenery to desert regions have largely been successful thanks to the tertiary level treatment of wastewater, but Juez thinks more can be done.

“Now, I think the region – and this applies to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar – is moving very strongly toward taking it a notch higher and I would agree that the Middle East has been late in taking up wastewater reuse to the industrial application level. Process water users, such as district cooling firms and industrial estate water are moving very quickly towards this, and this then takes you to a more advanced treatment. You can put a desalination plant after it and bring the water close to drinking quality,” Juez says.

Bringing wastewater to drinking quality hasn’t been particularly successful in the Middle East, largely due to the connotations of its provenance. But in an aquifer recharge situation there’s no reason why treated wastewater shouldn’t form a significant part of our drinking water.

“Acceptability is going to be the issue,” explains Juez. “But now the water can be treated, recycled to a drinking water level and injected into the aquifer. Then, down the line you might have a well and you pick it up again – it’s like a river.”

Desalinating water is still not a cheap option, but lowering costs is a key aim for water companies in the region.

“We’re working very hard on bringing costs down, both directly and indirectly,” explains Juez, “and also

on technologies that will reduce the impact on the environment to the minimum, whether to the sea or the air. We’re also working on technologies that reduce power consumption and chemical consumption, and the cost per cubic metre of desalted water has already gone down drastically.”

Metito’s own desalination technology focuses around the liquid separation method; membrane-based reverse osmosis that the company has championed from the early days “We only do membrane-based desalination because we believe it’s cleaner, for the simple reason you’re not heating anything. You’re just going from liquid to liquid, which makes less of an impact on the environment and also means the reject water isn’t hot, impacting the environment less.

At the time, we also saw that there was a huge amount of technology enhancement potential that could occur with membrane-based technology, and we’ve moved from the cost of a membrane that used to be $5,000 to less than $1,000. We’ve moved from recoveries of 25 per cent to sometimes 50 per cent and power consumption from eight kwh per cubic metre down to three; there is a lot of advancement happening in reverse osmosis.”

“We need to work on reducing water demand, and I think the best way to do this is awareness.”

However, Juez acknowledges that distillation methods do have their place, and that in some situations can make good sense, although there is no agreement on a single ‘best’ technology.

“Nobody is coming to a consensus but both methods are seeing advancements and both are working towards a common goal – to ensure sustainability of production, reduce power consumption to the minimum, reduce the impact to the environment and also increase efficiency.”

With the Middle East’s industry and population continuing to expand, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are both providing interest for Metito. “Saudi Arabia is a large country with great demands, and the government is putting a lot of money into supporting the infrastructure work. Water is one of those elements, so we’re looking at Saudi very closely,” Juez says. “Iraq is another market. Historically Iraq was one of the biggest markets for Metito in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and we only left when the UN told us to. Now we’re back and executing projects there.”

When it comes to development across the region, Juez is confident that the private sector will play an increasingly influential role in thesupport of governments.

“Personally, and I think as a company,we believe that there’s going to be more and more private sector involvement in supporting the public sector cater for increasing demand.We’re going to see more and more

PPPs coming up, and we would very much like to see more time and money spent on issues other than production, such as distribution, leakage control, billing, connection, awareness and tariff adjustment. These things can all directly reduce the consumption and hence reduce demand.”

“We would like to remain the leading water company in the emerging markets, and that’s what we’re trying to do. And leading for us means a lot of things – it means sustainability, honesty and supporting the people of the areas we’re working in. Growth and profits too, of course, but we see ourselves consolidating our leadership and increasing our support of governments under PPPs.”

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