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EXPLAINER: World Cup host Qatar relies on desalination

WASHINGTON (AP) — Arid and surrounded by the salt waters of the Persian Gulf, World Cup host Qatar is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. The nation of 2.9 million people has no rivers, and receives less than four inches (10 centimeters) of rain per year on average.

It’s a condition the wealthy Persian Gulf emirate has largely paid its way out of, thanks to expensive technology known as desalination that makes seawater drinkable.

In doing so, Qatar isn’t alone. Fellow Gulf Arab monarchies Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates also lack freshwater and depend on desalination. Israel does too. But the solution comes at a cost: Removing salt from seawater is energy-intensive, burning lots of fossil fuel. It also creates a byproduct that, when discharged into the ocean, can affect marine ecosystems.

Here’s a look at the country’s water supply and the role of desalination.


A process that makes freshwater, which humans can consume, from seawater.

Desalination plants draw water from the ocean through large pipes and blast it through fine membranes that allow water molecules to pass, but keep the salt out. That process is known as reverse osmosis.

There are other types of desalination but reverse osmosis is the most common. Inland brackish waters can also be desalinated.


Desalination plants are scattered along coastlines across the world, but the highest-capacity plants are located in high-income, water-starved Middle Eastern countries with ample coastline, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Saudi Arabia is home to the world’s largest plant.

Reverse osmosis technology has been around since the 1950s. Gulf Arab nations were among the first to embrace it. After soaring oil revenues in the 1970s and ’80s transformed them into some of the world’s wealthiest countries, they began investing heavily in the infrastructure. Israel got serious about desalination in the late 1990s following a severe drought.

There are nearly 16,000 desal plants worldwide, according to a 2019 estimate by researchers at the United Nations’ Water and Human Development Program. About half the water they produce is in the Middle East and North Africa.

Qatar is highly reliant on desalinated water from the Persian Gulf. The desalted water makes up about 60% of its total supply and nearly all of its household water, according to 2019 data from the country’s planning and statistics authority. The government heavily subsidizes water for its residents. Groundwater makes up an additional quarter of the country’s supply and is mostly used by farms. It is over-pumped and rapidly depleting.


Desalting ocean water at scale uses a good amount of energy. Often, the electricity comes from burning fossil fuel.

“It simply takes a lot of energy to pull salt out of water,” said Peter Gleick, president emeritus of the California-based Pacific Institute, who has studied water resources for decades.

The process has become more efficient in recent decades. But it still takes between 3.5 and 4.5 kilowatt hours of electricity to desalinate 264 gallons (1,000 liters) of water, according to an 2019 analysis by Korea University researchers of more than 70 large-scale facilities. A U.S. refrigerator uses about 4 kilowatt hours of electricity per day.

Then there’s the brine, or highly salty sludge left behind by the filtration. Some facilities dispose of it on land or inject it underground. But most desalination plants send it back into the ocean. Some dilute it before doing so.

Brine also often contains heavy metals and chemicals used to treat seawater on the front-end. Its high salinity and temperature can hurt seaweed, coral reefs and seagrass habitats. Worldwide, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar account for 55% of desalination brine, according to researchers at the U.N. Water and Human Development Program.


Qatar expects to increase its water supply by 10% during the World Cup, a spokesperson from Kahramaa, the country’s water and electricity utility said. That means it will draw from its large desalinated reserves and could even increase how much ocean water it filters each day, said Amin Shaban, a hydrologist at Lebanon’s National Council for Scientific Research and expert on Middle East water systems.

That water will be used to accommodate an expected 1.2 million fans and maintain thousands of acres of grass grown for soccer fields and training sites.

The energy cost of desalination and Qatar’s heavy reliance on it add to questions about Qatar and FIFA’s promise that the World Cup will have almost no effect on the climate.

Officials respond that toilets and dust control in the eight World Cup stadiums are using recycled water. But the actual soccer fields that groundsworkers have been watering for months — including through the country’s blistering hot summer — are using desalinated water.

“The water footprint will increase,” for the World Cup, said Mohammed Mahmoud, director of the climate and water program at the Middle East Institute think tank. He said the increase would still not rival the water used by Qatar’s farm sector, however. “They’re nowhere near the same scale.”


Follow Suman Naishadham on Twitter: @SumanNaishadham


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.


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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.


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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.


Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.


The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.


Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.


Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.


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