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13 April 2024

Abu Dhabi residents face the spectre of thirst

By Nadim Kawach

Residents of Abu Dhabi are threatened with thirst as the already meagre ground water resources could run out over the next few decades at present high consumption rates, a government report has warned.

In the absence of a water management body and clear awareness programmes, the emirate’s natural water resources could be drained while any plans to offset that shortage though expansion of desalination plants could be blocked by environmental concerns.

In its report, the Abu Dhabi Environment Authority (Adea) rated residents of the emirate as the largest water consumers in the world as domestic individual demand is nearly double the global average.

According to the latest official statistics for 2009, Abu Dhabi’s total water supply was estimated at around 3.36 million cubic metres per year, 65 per cent of which came from natural resources. Nearly 29 per cent was supplied through desalination projects and the rest through recycling plants.

“Domestic water consumption in Abu Dhabi surpasses natural water supply by nearly 26 times…this means that ground resources will totally be depleted within the next 20 to 40 years,” the report said.

“This should prompt measures to manage the use of water in all fields and to create a strong and autonomous body to implement water policies and increase awareness of the need to rationalize consumption.”

The report proposed a reduction in water quantities allocated for forestry projects and a slowdown in the implementation of such projects in order to “ease pressure on the ground water reserves.”

It estimated per capital water consumption in the emirate at as high as 530-600 litres per day and said this high demand would ally with a surge in population to nearly four million after 25 years to push the government to execute new water desalination projects and expand existing units.

“Failure to manage the use of water will boost demand by 122 per cent in 2030 and in the absence of sufficient ground resources, desalination plants could fail to meet that demand,” the report said.

“Although they can ensure enough supply, desalination plants are high energy consumers and their environmental effects must be taken into consideration…these plants usually treat highly saline water in extremely hot weather conditions a large quantities of chemicals are disposed of into the sea during the process…this is directly affecting sea creatures and putting the already fragile ecological system in the Gulf under pressure.”

According to the report, nearly 22,000 kg of chlorine and 300 kg of copper are dumped into the sea by desalination plants every day, adding that such substances impede the “photosynthesis process” for algae, which form the basis of food chain for marine life.

Abu Dhabi and other UAE emirates are among the world’s largest producers of desalinated water given their limited ground water wealth and high demand due to the hot weather, lack of rationalization programme and a steady expansion in industry, farming and other sectors.

Official figures showed the UAE has around 70 major water desalination plants, accounting for 14 per cent of the world ’s total production.

Costs of water production in the UAE stood at nearly Dh11.8 billion in 2010, an average Dh7.16 per cubic metre.
The farming sector is the largest consumer of water in the UAE, sapping nearly 34 per cent of the total demand. The housing and industrial sector accounts for about 32 per cent and forestry for nearly 15 per cent.

“There is an urgent need to stop the drainage of underground water resources, protect the country’s water and environment systems and rationalize water consumption….we also need to curb the excessive use of water as this is adversely affecting our environment,” said Mariam Hassan Al-Shanasi, undersecretary of the ministry of environment and water.