Water Scarcity Problem in UAE
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Published: Tue, 17 Oct 2017
While the UAE is abundant in the natural resource, Oil, it is currently facing problems regarding water sufficiency. Because of its geographical location, UAE has very small amount of water, with little rain, no rivers and small amount of underground water available. As the population rises, the country faces increasing pressure on its existing natural resources, in this case, water. Millions of people need to be provided with the basic necessities which is costly and leads to shortages. When one looks at the UAE, they may not get the impression of a country stuck in the midst of an economic crisis because of the country’s lavish nature. (Barton, 2013)However, the water problem is a looming issue and has been amplified because of various other problems.
The issue of water scarcity in UAE has forced the government to rely on water desalination. The high intake of water by people for household and farming purposes is the main reason for the shortage. The fact that the people have a free water supply in UAE makes them waste the water without much concern. The amount of water wasted everyday is even higher in the farms as compared to the daily routine intake for common household purpose.
People living in the Middle East are well aware of the harsh weather conditions they have to live through. (Murad, 2011) The country is located in an arid zone which means most of the precipitated water gets immediately evaporated. Surface water is nearly absent in this region, heavy rainfall might sometimes revert the case. This results in the conventional resources not fulfilling the demand of the country and so the need is fulfilled by non conventional resources.
Not only is the weather interfering with sustenance of water, desertification and land degradation is threatening the country to an enormous extent (The Water Project). The UAE, along with neighboring countries faces immense droughts and excessive usage of water for agricultural purposes. The desertification, droughts and the degradation of the UAE land is an alarming situation for the government.
According to environmentalists, the UAE will run out of its water resources in 50 years. Around 550 liters are consumed in the UAE, per person, the global average being only 180-200 liters. (Saikat, 2010) One would question the natural water resources within the UAE but the truth is it lies in the middle of a desert and has access to water through expensively constructed desalination plants.
Collectively, the main factors resulting in the water scarcity problem are the natural location of the country, population growth, human activities and the data scattering. Natural location being the major cause while rest being the minor ones.
Government Actions and their Pros and Cons
The Secretary General of the Environment Agency, Razan Khalifa Al-Mubarak, commented on the efforts of the Abu Dhabi government in tackling the problem. She said that during 2013, Abu Dhabi has collaboratively worked with the water community of Abu Dhabi in formulating a Water Resource Strategy, spread over the next five years. Through this strategy, UAE will be able to plan its budget, cover its sources of water: desalinated, recycled and ground water and meet the shortages in supply. (Agency, 2014) Although the government is finally taking steps to address all the problems linked to water resources, its plan should cover at least 20 years from now. The resources will probably run out in the next 50 years, which is why they need to plan well in advance instead of aiming for a measly 5-year time span.
The UAE water shortage problem has several solutions. Simple ones include, installing meters at houses and farms or any place where water is consumed on a daily basis. Another one could be to grow crops that can survive the aridity of the region and flourish in the salinity. However, the UAE government has better measures to look after the problem. Many projects are in the pipeline focused to solve the issue of water scarcity.
The current policy of the UAE is focused on meeting the shortages in supply of the water. (Pressley & Bahr, 2013) It actually needs to, instead, focus on managing the demand side. The UAE spends millions on the desalination plants but unless and until it plans who the water will be distributed to, it will find itself in a recurring cycle of shortages. With approximately 79% of groundwater being used for agricultural purposes, the UAE needs to consider how to distribute water so that people have equal amounts of water at their disposal and therefore, there will be higher accountability. The supply of water to different consumers should be limited to a certain quantity or units as per the meters installed in order to keep track of who is consuming how much water.
Water desalination also poses problems due to the energy consumption in a much greater amount. The CEO of Masdar points out that 70% of the total costs of desalination are because of power generation. (Pressley & Bahr, 2013) Power generation is not only required in the water desalination industry but in other areas as well such as air conditioning and a growing manufacturing sector. To tackle these issues, the government is setting up more power generation plants so that the increasing need of power consumption could be fulfilled which later helps in the desalination process. Although these plants will help meet the vast demand increases in the future, it will also eat up share of the budget allocated for handling the water problem. Both desalination plants and power generation plants are highly expensive to construct. Budget being another attention seeking factor the government is faced with a challenge of allocating budgets in the most effective way to both the plants.
The government plays a significant role in these problems. However, the private sector needs to be just as involved. (Pressley & Bahr, 2013) While the government focuses on regulations and optimizations, the private sector should be brought in to provide financial support as well as provide innovative solutions. This way the process could be timely managed and the government would be able to reach the goal with punctuality eliminating the factor of risk.
In agriculture, the government of the UAE has introduced subsidies for the farmers who work to reduce their usage of water by producing less of the crops which demand high amounts of water. (Szabo, 2011) The government has also shifted its attention to the development of alternative techniques or methods which will help lower the usage of water. On the government’s part, this is a positive step considering the speed with which the UAE is running out water. The subsidies will provide the farmers with incentives to avoid high usage of water while at the same time the government will investigate alternate resources. These alternatives could be used in the time of shortage and can be implemented in different ways when faced with the situation.
The UAE has also been working on the legal complications connected to the water problem. (Szabo, 2011) By establishing water conservation laws, the UAE will be able to manage demand and legally control the use of water across the country. For example, the Abu Dhabi law requires all the drilling contractors to have an authentic drilling license. Such regulations and implementations of law will keep the system monitored and under control. Having these kinds of regulations in this matter is highly considerate because of the risky situation that, not just the UAE is facing but, the whole world is at the threat of water shortage in the coming years.
Most of the water consumption goes to the agriculture industry. As awareness about the water shortage increases, efficient methods have been introduced for the purpose of cropping and harvesting. One most popular is the method of drip irrigation which is an opposite of spray irrigation method. Drip irrigation works on the phenomenon of injecting water to the roots with the help of perforated tubes buried near the roots or placed along the floor. The drip irrigation method reduces the use of water by 25% with decrease in the quantity of water evaporated.
Price Elasticity of Water
In addition to the legal mechanism, the UAE can also increase the fees for using water. In 2011, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) implemented tariffs on water and electricity. (Szabo, 2011) However, the nationals of UAE were an exception to these. For the fees to be implemented there needs to be a just and fair system in place. Higher ranking officials or other people of important status should not be exempt from paying for the water they use. If there is an increase in price, the lower class should be provided discounts but the upper class can be charged higher. The price elasticity is low for the availability of water. Water is a basic necessity. If the fee is implemented, people will continue to demand water because of two reasons: their inability to acquire water from elsewhere and their inability to live without water.
Building platforms for the creation and spread of knowledge contributes to the cause of saving water. The Arab Water Academy (AWA) had been a key initiator in Abu Dhabi which was established with the target of addressing the problem of water scarcity in the UAE and neighboring countries of the region.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Discussing the scarcity of water in UAE and analyzing the role of government about this concern, it is concluded that the government needs to take steps in ensuring its population is well aware of the problems being faced. It needs to raise the awareness of its population regarding the massive scarcity of water. Through activations and public events, the government should inform citizens on how to use water carefully.
According to the current conditions of the region, groundwater is decreasing and treated desalinated water is increasing. Many parts of the UAE have faced drastic reduction due to the lack of reuse issues and agricultural development. Development activities including the urban or rural expansion have caused striking changes in the geomorphologic situation reflecting upon the water resources of UAE. The rapid population growth of the country increases the stress on the water resources by increasing the production of desalinated water which results costly and decreases the production of ground water. In order to meet this high demand, water desalination plants and waste water treatment projects were set up in many parts of the country. Steps have also been taken by the national water resource management to improve and develop the implementation of the water management policies.
The government of UAE could also try to pump the wasted water into underground after making it clean and raising it to underground water level. This would be a cheap way of making the water reusable. The easiest solution would be to educate people about the shortage and screen out the facts to the population about the fear of water ending in the next 50 years.
Another suggestion would be to set up an alternative for desalination plants in order to lower costs and provide ample access to water. Also, until all the undergoing projects are not completed and the availability of water is not ensured by the government: the threat of water ending in the next 50 years is not removed, the government should install meters at all the consumer points to keep a check on the amount of water being utilized and charged for the number of units used just the way electricity is charged. This could be a short term measure: eliminated once the threat of shortage is excluded.
The projects that are actively working for the cause of saving water must keep going even after the problem is solved. The reason being the climatic changes and the effect of global warming that has revert the climatic system to a great extent. To deal with such issues and to eliminate them as a while, we need to keep working for the cause.
Agency, E. (2014). H.E. Al Mubarak: The Issue of Water Scarcity and Water Security is Only Getting More Urgent. Retrieved from https://www.ead.ae/en/news/issue.water.scarcity.aspx
Barton, A. (2013). Water In Crisis – Spotlight Middle East. The Water Project. Retrieved 18 May 2014, from http://thewaterproject.org/water-in-crisis-middle-east
L. Pressley, D., & J. Bahr, N. (2013). Meeting the Food, Water, and Power Scarcity Challenge in the United Arab Emirates: (1st ed., pp. 3-11). Retrieved from http://www.boozallen.com/media/file/foreignaffairs-food-water-power.pdf
Murad, A. (2011). Water Scarcity Issues at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (1st ed.). Muskat: British Council Water Symposium. Retrieved from http://www.squ.edu.om/Portals/20/PDF/Water Security and Management/Ahmed Murad.pdf
Saikat,. (2010). Oil Rich But Water Scarce UAE in Grave Danger of Losing It’s Water Resources in Just 50 Years. AboutMyPlanet.com. Retrieved 18 May 2014, from http://www.aboutmyplanet.com/green-news/oil-rich-but-water-scarce-uae-in-grave-danger-of-losing-it’s-water-resources-in-just-50-years/
Szabo, S. (2011). The Water Challenge in the UAE (1st ed., pp. 2-6). DUBAI SCHOOLS OF GOVERNMENT. Retrieved from http://cpc.geodata.soton.ac.uk/resources/downloads/dsgpb29eng.pdf
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