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  • Nia Alexander Campbell

Water in the Desert

What You’ll Find in This Post:

  • Safety of tap water

  • Sizes of water (metric vs. customary measurements)

  • Price of water

  • Conservation of water

  • What I did about water


This is going to be a very short, sweet, and simple post, my friends. Today I’m going to share a bit of knowledge about water in Qatar. Every country handles their water situation differently and Qatar is a desert, which makes water is one of the most important conversations to be had. So how about we think of this as a post full of fun facts about water in Qatar? Everybody loves fun facts, right?

Is the tap water safe to drink?

I love tea, my favorite being Moroccan mint, which wasn't readily available in the U.S. around 2018. So, what a wonderful surprise it was to see that Lipton sold big cases of Moroccan mint in Qatar! This was my jazz, every morning and/or evening.

Short answer: Yes.

The water is completely safe to drink, but it is heavy in minerals, which can make one’s tummy upset (usually with cramps). It’s possible for your body to eventually get used to it, but a lot of people—locals included—don’t mess with the tap water because bottled water is so accessible. Not only was it easy to find personal-sized water bottles everywhere, but you know those big water jugs, the kind that you see in an office right beside the cone paper cups? It wasn’t uncommon to see those things around Doha in office buildings, schools, and even family homes.

I only used the tap water to cook with or to make tea. I never got any sort of belly pain, but perhaps that had something to do with the process of boiling the water, or maybe it was because the water in the residence halls is super filtered (so I heard). I was told by an alumni that the residence halls in Education City had their own water reserve apart from the tap water that flows to other buildings around the country, but I’m not sure how true that was (especially because there was a considerable amount of mineral buildup in my apartment’s old tea kettle, presumably from the tap water).

Sizes of water

First let’s compare sizes. This isn’t a mathematical chart with metric-to-customary conversations, this is just a size chart to compare Qatar’s XS/S/M/L water bottles to U.S. water bottles. Sure, if you walk into a Qatari mini mart to purchase some water, you’ll have a sense of what you’re buying without having to read the volume, but still, here’s a chart just in case you want to visualize!

I noticed that once the volume dipped into liters, it began to increase by increments of .5, the largest being 2 liters (the size of a sharable bottle of soda) and the smallest being 1 liter, which is—to an extent—still considered a reasonable personal size to carry around.

Also, the U.S. customary system awkwardly jumps from 16.9 fl oz to a gallon (when it comes to most common sizes of water individuals purchase). This huge shift is one reason why I preferred water bottles based on the metric system, because there’s more nuance when it comes to bottle sizes. For a math comparison, it takes about 3.8 liters to make up one gallon of water.

Price of water

One would think that the price of water in the desert would be hella expensive, right? Well, it wasn’t. Water was actually really cheap, cheaper than in the U.S. Here, a single bottle of water from a corner store or gas station is going to be at least $1.50, including tax. In Qatar, a standard bottle of water landed somewhere around .75 riyal—equal to about $0.20—and a 1-liter bottle could be about $0.41 cent (1.5 riyal).

Also, I was told before entering the country that water was more expensive than gas, but that wasn’t true in the slightest. Water is definitely cheaper than gas, but the gas itself wasn’t too expensive compared to the U.S. in 2018. Here, let me walk you through some math:

1 Gallon of gas is 3.78541 Liters.

1 Liter cost about 1.8 riyal.

So, 3.78541 Liters costs 6.81 riyal.

6.81 riyal is approximately $1.87 USD.

That means one gallon of gas in Qatar cost about $1.87 USD.

Remember, 1 liter of water in Qatar lingered around 1.5 riyal, about $0.41 USD.

Water conservation in Qatar

Sure, the country works to conserve water, but it’s still possible to find things like fountains and manmade lakes in parks; there’s even a water park outside of Doha. This photo was taken in front of the Museum of Islamic Art. Listen, Qatar may be a desert, but it’s not a desert wasteland, you feel?

Let’s just get to the heart of it:

  • Qatar doesn’t have much water. It’s a desert.

  • It’s surrounded by the Persian Gulf, but that’s all very salty water

  • There is an emphasis on conserving water throughout the country

  • Qatar tends to erect and install water and energy-saving buildings & objects. For example, you may notice lots of toilets in the country are dual-flush and that the water in the bowls themselves are very low compared to the U.S.

And . . . that’s it. You can do your own research about Qatar’s water production and conservation initiatives, but if you only remember one thing from this post it’s that Qatar is actively trying to reduce wasted water.

What did I do about water?

In case you’re curious, this is what I did when it came to drinking water.

I decided to buy 125 ml bottles and continuously refill them with water from the liter bottles I had. You see, I had a habit of opening a 16.9 fl oz sized bottle, not finishing it, opening another one the next day, and then finding my old bottle and being grossed out by the thought that it’s filled with microscopic backwash that’s been festering for 24 hours. That old water gave me the heebie jeebies, and I’d usually end up watering a plant or pouring it down the sink, which is wasteful (both for the environment and monetarily).

I’ve always had a much easier time finishing little bottles, though. So, drinking ten 125 ml bottles in a day, rinsed & refilled with fresh water every so often, proved to be a lot easier than committing myself to a 16.9 fl oz bottle (be it disposable or reusable) that I probably wasn’t going to finish. And when I finished with my liter bottles, I cut them in half to make some really spacious pencil holders, perfect for my water color pens.

Oh, but speaking of reusable water bottles, VCUQ gave us exchange students a really nice reusable bottle.

VCUQ always had some really nice stuff in their swag bags.

Okay, so technically this was a “stainless steel vacuum mug”, but potato/potato, it was a water bottle. The bottle itself was a sleek, black tube with an awesome leak-proof, screw-on seal and a stainless steel interior. It kept tea hot and water cold for a long time, and it came with some rubber bands! That sounds weird, but they came in a bunch of colors (the colors on the side of the box) and perhaps they were to be used as grippers, or maybe just to differentiate your bottle from someone else’s. Whatever the purpose, it was a nice bottle to have.

Another idea that was suggested to me after I left the country was to pull a Bear Grylls and combine all the (presumably) nasty remnants of my leftover water and boil it over the stove. This essentially disinfects the water, killing whatever bacteria may or may not be lurking in there, and—boom—now I can fill up a pitcher with clean, fresh water.

What did I do about carbonated water?

In case you’re still curious, this is what I did when it came to sparkling water.

I am one of those sacrilegious alien-people who truly enjoy carbonated water, also called gas water, bubble water, mineral water, sparkling water, and apparently club soda. Naturally, I had to include a section about it because in the U.S., I was used to having lots of options when it came to buying the bubbly stuff; I could get a 12-pack of La Croix, single bottles of Dasani, fancy San Pellegrino, and even the off-brands to be found at local chain stores easy peasy. Qatar was a bit different, though. They do have carbonated water (most notably a lot of restaurants served Perrier), but buying a 12 pack of cheap sparkling water from the grocery store? Not really a thing. In fact, people were really thrown when I described “cans of water” to them and they kept directing me to expensive single bottles of mineral water, which was nice, but didn’t offer me a bang for my measly buck.

Grocery stores did have big liter bottles of cheaper brands on the shelves, and of course those individual bottles of Perrier next to all the other cold drinks, but I didn’t find that out until I was leaving the country. This meant that I went a whole four months without my usual supply of “broken soda” (as my friends like to call it) to satisfy my daily need for unsweetened liquid effervescence.

So, in conclusion?

There’s not much to say. Just do whatever you can do conserve water and not die of dehydration. Qatar made it really easy to do accomplish both those things, so just go for it.


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