University of Sussex
Al-Aghbari, Ahmed.pdf (6.32 MB)

From abundance to scarcity: exploring narratives and locked-in institutions around desalination in Bahrain

Download (6.32 MB)
posted on 2023-06-10, 03:13 authored by Ahmed Al-Aghbari
While most literature on desalination focuses on how a specific technical or managerial concern is addressed, desalination, in its relatively long history in Bahrain, has emerged periodically under different guises and forms. The topic of the changing motivations to desalinate has yet to be analysed. Thus, it is beneficial to understand the changing context and justifications that accompanied the various milestones of desalination adoption; emergence, expansion and dominance. Over four decades, the desalination journey in Bahrain has coincided with the formation of the modern Bahraini state. Not only has desalination dominated hydro-politics, but it has also become the primary source of municipal water, side-lining other water resource management options. I argue that changing state-building policies, scarcity discourse and politics of reforms in the water sector have influenced the position of desalination. Therefore, contextual analysis along development trajectories is central to understanding the position of desalination in Bahrain. To substantiate this argument, firstly, I situate the research context within the historical development of water and food policies, noting their influence and fluctuation. Specifically, I trace how the general perception around water and resources has shifted from one of abundance to scarcity to advance the interest of particular stakeholder groups and to meet changing national priorities. Since independence, state-building politics, in Bahrain, has influenced the development trajectories of how water and food are perceived and provided. Secondly, despite the water-rich history of Bahrain, there appears a hegemonic discourse of scarcity that has influenced how water policies are shaped. The current limitations of conventional water resources and climate change are presented as signifiers of water scarcity. In part, to legitimise an expansion in desalination, as well as to disengage the Government from any failings in their responsibilities. As such, the mobilisation of desalination in Bahrain denotes a political-fix, primarily to facilitate the evolution of a sanctioned discourse and maintain the Government’s political and economic vision. Finally, this thesis examines the politics of water reforms that have emerged in the last two decades. While the reforms came about to address the spiral of commitments to the path of desalination, the entrenched position of desalination showed little flexibility to change. The dynamics of lock-in were evident in the rejection of the dominance of desalination, on the one hand, and the counter-reaction to the rejection, on the other. As such, viable alternatives were locked-out while the desal-dependent path was maintained. These alternatives represented institutional and demand management options such as infrastructure repairs, an improved water tariff structure, water bylaws and others that were viewed at a disadvantage when compared to the desalination promise. Hence, drawing on development studies, hydro politics and political economy scholarship, this thesis extends our understanding on the dynamics of the large-scale expansion of desalination schemes. Whilst the role of the water scarcity narrative to chart fixed pathways to large-scale hydro-infrastructure is essential in influencing politics of development, path-dependency processes are equally visible, enmeshed in hydro-politics to further favour the desal option. These outlined drivers of influential state-building politics, a totalising discourse of water scarcity, and path-dependency processes provide a unique explanation for the current overreliance on desalination in Bahrain.


File Version

  • Published version



Department affiliated with

  • Institute of Development Studies Theses

Qualification level

  • doctoral

Qualification name

  • phd


  • eng


University of Sussex

Full text available

  • Yes

Legacy Posted Date


Usage metrics

    University of Sussex (Theses)


    No categories selected