In her work on Sheikh Mubarak, Souad al-Sabah writes that at the turn of the century, “a major social problem was the lack of fresh water, people traditionally relied on fresh water from wells outside the city walls, which was transported into the city on the backs of donkeys… wells were in Al Shamiyya, Hawalli, Keifan and Al-Nogr. In 1904 the Christian priest Anastase Al Karmali wrote, ‘there is not a single river in Kuwait. They drink from pools and wells.’ In 1909 Kuwait started importing water from the Shatt Al-Arab. In 1914 Sheikh Mubarak purchased first water-purification plant from a British company for 25,000 rupees.” Today, Kuwait relies on the distillation of seawater for its freshwater needs.
According to UNESCO the Kuwait Towers are part of, “a nation-wide network of infrastructural water supply and reservoirs which consist of 31 more water towers (known as the mushroom towers) that are strategically distributed in groups around the country, and are connected to the distribution grid of the two already built distillation seawater plants. This ambitious national project was part of the country’s large scale modernization process undergoing since the first shipment of oil in 1946, and essential to ensure an effective system of water distribution to a growing population, until then supplied by tank trucks.” According to the International Database and Gallery of Structures, “the huge, mushroom-shaped water tanks… seen from afar thanks to their blue and white stripes… are 38.5 m high and have diameters of 32 m at the upper rim of the water tanks. This way, the tanks can store more than 2.4 million litres or 650,000 gallons of fresh water.” The photographs below of the water towers under construction come from that website. The pictures above were taken in Hawally and Abraj Park, a popular place to see some of the water towers and where Qout Market has been held.
Maha Alessa posted stories on her instagram surveying the locations of the water towers, distributed throughout Kuwait. The maps comes from “An overview of Kuwait’s water resources” by A. Akber and A. Mukhopadhyay and this website.
Here are pieces by Dana Al Rashid depicting the water towers.
Here are some older photographs of the towers. They come from the MIT Library, Dennis Hurd, a family member who visited Kuwait in the 1970s, this flickr album, this flickr album, Hartmut Walter, Kuwait by John Feeney, an album cover, a video from 1988, National Geographic, this website, the book “Kuwait” by Ralph Shaw, the website of Mohammed Alkouh, and ebay.