How has the UAE government planned for future water scarcities?
The UAE is among the ten leading nations in the world that are most water-scarce. The nation’s renewable fresh water is reducing. The crippling shortage of fresh water is an issue of concern because, if today the nation experienced inadequate renewable water supply, it will be unable to grow enough food that can feed its population. The population of the nation is rapidly increasing, and this means high demand for water. In 2009, the demand for water was estimated totalling to 4.5 billion m3, and it was met by 72% ground water, 21% desalinated water and the other percentage from retreated water. About thirty years now, Emirates have taken their water supply for granted by using high amounts of water than the required standards. The UAE nation is located in the desert and therefore has less supply of water from underground, little rain and no rivers. The government relies on other water sources like desalination, but the high consumption of water by people and farms is making achieving adequate water supply difficult. Water shortage is a serious problem in UAE and government is trying to stop it from becoming worse. In this paper, I am going to discuss the Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats regarding how the UAE has planned for future waters scarcities.
Huge investments have been put in place to increase the desalination capacity
Desalination has been a major source of potable water in UAE.The nation has put in place huge investments that have the potential to increase the desalination capacity. Desalination is directly powered by electricity or its by-product. In Abu Dhabi, there are gas-fired cogeneration power plants that use waste steam from electricity generation for distilling seawater. In 2000 the distillation capacity tripled from 1.17 Mm/day to 4.16Mm/day in 2013.The capacity is expected to double by 2030 (Sherif, Aia, Hagar, and Hasim 108).Another major investment is the Abu Dhabi’s Sham. It is the biggest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the Middle East and also in the list of the largest solar power plants in the world (Barton 23).UAE is blessed with abundant sunshine, and solar is most attractive renewable energy in the country. The plant has a build booster heaters which uses natural gas to increase steam from 380 to 540 degrees Celsius (Shatat, Mahmoud, Mark, and Saffa 74).This enhances the efficiency of steam turbines hence expanding the energy production. Additionally, the plant has a cooling effect which condenses the exhaust steam thus decreasing the amount of water used by the plant. These investments already put in place have the potential to increase water supply through desalination, and their process is conservative as well. The investments are a major strength to the UAE government in curbing water scarcity in future.
Strong governance policies and awareness campaigns put in place to increase conservation efforts
The UAE government recognises the water scarcity issue and its impact on the national and international food and water security. The government is responding through proactive policy measures, and required investments have been made. The government has been looking into increasing the country’s economic resilience at the same time creating economic opportunities. This is been achieved through investing in technology, raising awareness of sustainability and also developing the required infrastructure. The UAE government has also joined efforts with the international community in finding solutions to water scarcity.UAE plays a big role in supporting these efforts through UAE water aid. This is a wise leadership UAE plays in helping people in need throughout the world and also through contributing to finding a solution to the global water security. The government is a foundational body to fighting any crisis in a country and its recognition, and full participation is a big strength to fighting water scarcity.
The conservation campaigns have enabled the Emirates of Dubai to save about 6 billion gallons of potable water in the last six years. The users have been encouraged to conserve water as it is now the most valuable resource within the country. One of their most influential campaigns is their world water day, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) which at all costs takes the responsibility of ensuring their customers are reminded how precious water is and should not be wasted throughout the years.DEWA launches awareness programmes and innovations meant to encourage the society to adopt ways that reduce water and electricity consumption (Wada, Yoshihide, and Marc 103). The awareness and innovative initiatives launched are under the theme ‘Every Drop Matters’. These campaigns are strongly supported by the government, and its aim is instilling strong belief in preserving water, applicable to every user. This is a very strong platform for ensuring sustainability for the generation so come. Also, UAE is a participant of international water conference in Dushanbe. Its participation emphasises its active engagement in conservation efforts both at regional and international levels to find the sustainable result to water shortage. Efforts by the waters users and the government joined have instilled hope in finding a sustainable solution in future.
UAE had already put in place self-sufficiency strategy
The UAE government has invested heavily in agriculture through providing the necessary technology to improve water and land management. The government is also working to modernise irrigation system to prevent wastage of water through irrigation. There has also been a shift to producing high value and water sufficient crops that will increase profitability in the regions. The returns can then be used to finance water projects. If water use in agriculture is reduced, then more water will be availed, and agriculture still thrives. Though the measures are expensive and capital intensive, they are feasible in the long term. The self-sufficiency strategy is already in place, and it is a key foundation to planning for future water scarcity.
High cost of desalination
According to water desalination report, Tom Pankratz who is a desalination consultant states that “When it comes to increasing water supplies, you have four options: increase your amount of reuse, increase storage, conserve it or turn to a new source…and for many places around the world, the only source is desalination” (Paul, Parneet, Ameena, and Nuhu 364).Desalination has existed for centuries. In the Middle East, people have been evaporating brackish groundwater or sea water then condensing the vapour for salt-free drinking water and also for agricultural use. The process has become sophisticated over time, and reverse osmosis is being used to pump water to high pressures through semipermeable membranes which removes minerals in waters including salt. This has provided freshwater supply largely. Desalination is, however, expensive and an energy hog. Desalination costs more than 200 million kilowatt-hours per day around the world. This is an estimated 55% of the total operation and maintenance of the plant. For reverse osmosis, about ten kilowatt-hours is used to produce one cubic, metre of freshwater. Desalination is a big challenge to the UAE nation due to its high costs including the transportation and environmental externalities costs. One main change that has occurred in the last decade is the increasing participation of private sectors in Arab water provision. This has brought a mixed response to the UAE citizens. Some citizens have been happy due to increased quality and quantity of water supply, but others are fearful of loss of their water control and high costs of water. The private sector has been derived by the inability of the government to raise enough finances to operate and maintain the required updates and development of water supply.
Environmental hazard of making the water saltier
As consumption of water increases and especially in the industrial use, environmental degradation has emerged. Water quality is increasingly deteriorating; salinization is increasing, and yields of heavily exploited aquifers are reducing. The fast growth of cities in the region and the insufficient municipal and industrial waste water treatment facilities has contributed to this problem. There is also poor solid waste management and weak pollution control. The government efforts to respond to these changes are incapacitated in the economic ability to fight the great influence of the social and political systems. Although desalination is vital in responding to water shortages. The process of pouring more brine in the sea raises the question of whether the technology will economically be significant in future. Desalination plants dumps the brine back to the sea. According to Dr, Shawik Barghout, then in 2009 the director general on International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, he said that “damming of rivers has cut the flow of fresh water into the Gulf-and water that does flow is increasingly being polluted” (Odhiambo 12).It has been a concern of desalination process and its contribution to the declining freshwater in the Gulf.Also from desalination waste, polluted water from cities, farms and factories around the Gulf’s shoes are major pollutants. Since the water on the shores takes longer to flash out, pollution is significantly rising. If the pollution continues and water becomes saltier, it means the future is going to be more expensive as the desalination plants will need more energy to remove them.
Opportunities: developing a pipeline from a country that has an abundance of fresh water.
In UAE, water scarcity is a serious problem which is being addressed through conservation and sustainable initiatives. Long term solutions are critical for safe future. The UAE can develop a pipeline from a country with plenty of water resources and provide supply in the nation. Countries and private enterprises spend billions of money in oil and gas pipelines extending across countries to deliver valuable commodities to them. Water may not have a motivating incentive like enormous profits but is an essential value of life. Water pipelines can be developed and stretched from countries or areas with abundant waters to where it is scarce. Water pumps can also be instilled to access underground waters and transport it to areas where water is scarce. Pipeline development is a viable projects to eliminating waters scarcity in UAE.Although there are a number of ways of trading water from other countries for example shipping by boat and carrying it overland on vehicles, transportation via pipelines is better because of the ability of pipelines to provide continues water supply and in plenty. If the government can take this initiative, then it could help meet increased demand and prevent future migration of people in search of water.
Replacing groundwater used for farming with recycled water
Although UAE has financial resources to desalinate water for purposes of drinking and sanitation, ground water is critical for farming and natural ecosystem. Using recycled water for farming activities like irrigation will be a good plan of allocating the UAE water budget (Gonzalez, Rocio, et al. 415).This strategy wills increase their water resources including desalinated water recycled water and ground water. It has the potential to address the issue of demand and supply. Replacing groundwater with recycled water is technically and economically feasible. The strategy is a way of increasing water supply by saving ground waters and recycling used water for purposes of agriculture. This groundwater has the potential to be put in other uses that cannot be served by recycled water. Also, it is cheaper and easy to access ground water when demanded. Groundwater is a limited resource and efforts conserving it provide an opportunity of its reliability in future.
Rainwater harvesting is crucial in rural area development where water resources are severely depleted, and sufficient tapping of rainwater is warranted. Rainwater harvesting structures can be managed to sustain and provide equitable water share to the poor and in remote areas. So far there have been successful efforts of tapping rainwater from rainfalls experienced before. In 2010, dams in the central region of UAE harvested gallons exceeding 210 million in 15 days. In 2015, the ministry of environment had reported that 48 million gallons flowed into lakes and dams in the central region of UAE.This is an evidence of the country’s potential to tap more water from regions experiencing frequent precipitation. The government can put more regard to better maintenance of already existing dams, create more boreholes and other installation in the central region. This will ensure maximum water is tapped from rain which can be supplied to other regions. Every drop of rain should matter. This applies to other regions which receive rain rarely in a year. People can be encouraged to install structures that can tap water from rain and even if is for temporary use, which matters a lot as they get extra supply from areas of abundance.
People not conserving water, people wasting water and the potential impact if something disrupted the desalination plants like cyber-attack or power disruption
Even though UAE is among the leading nations with water scarcity, the irony is, it has the highest per capita usages of water globally. The average usage is 550 litres per person each day which double the global, national standard of 250 litres per person each day. The reason behind the wasteful usage of water is because it is cheap and fast to irrigate plants. These modes of irrigation used are even more wasteful for example spray irrigation which loses water through evaporation before the plants can even absorb it.There is a considerable amount of water used in private household sector through air conditioning systems. These systems consume vast amounts of energy and large amounts of water through chilled water pumps (Khan, Shahid, Atef, and Sarim 42). The industrial sector as well wastes a significant amount of water through various means. For example, most water is used for cooling and cleaning impurities from machinery and then allowed to run off to near environments contributing to pollution. Instead, this water can put in other uses like irrigation instead of losing it through runoffs.
Another threat is if something happened to desalination plants like cyber-attacks or disruption of power which is a possible thing, this would be disastrous as it is unforeseen and barely planned for. Considering the nation heavily depends on desalinated water, this would be a big crisis. This is the reason the government of UAE need to diversify its water supply and not putting too much dependence on one source considering its situation.
Continued use of irrigation framing
Agriculture is an important activity in UAE.It takes over 50% of labour force in Yemen but its contribution to the national GDP is significantly lower. The Arab region is super Arid with largest portion of the land of about 80% been a desert. Agriculture consumes about 83% of total water available per year as the remainder is shared by the domestic and industrial users. Irrigation is a major practice to keep the plants thriving. Over time agricultural sector shows a huge continuous expansion in water usage. This is due to the concept of ‘desert greening’ which is a great motivator in expanding the agricultural sector and turn the desert area to a green paradise. Under the condition of scarce water and the high consumption by agriculture which contributes very little to the national GDP, it is unlikely that the continued use of irrigation agriculture and its expansion will proceed without presenting a major water shortage situation in the nation. In fact, the high dependency on non-renewable water resource has contributed to saline intrusion and significant depletion of groundwater.
There is a challenge of increasing demand especially for safe drinking water by the rapidly growing population in UAE.The population growth is more demanding than the efforts of the water policy makers and managers. In 2008, there was an estimated 19% increase in water and electricity consumption due to the huge growth of the real estate market and increased migrants in Dubai (Alsalmi, Huda, Hisham Elkadi, and Simone Leao 20). Such trends are bringing demand for urban water providers, and there is an increasing need to allocate more water to meet these demands. The rapid growth of population in many cities is mainly endogenous with natural growth in young urban populations. Growth from migration is more evident in Arab countries. The rural-urban movement present difficulties to the city as supply get minimal to satisfy the growing demand and supply under pressure. It is clear that Arab world is water scarce. The growing population presents a change in finding a balance between supply and demand because the available water is increasingly being put under pressure, but the growing demand exceeds the efforts made by the water policy developers and managers. The gap continues between water supply and demand continues to grow with growing population.
Potential negative effect of climate change on water resources
Climate change is real, and the growing greenhouse gases is predicted to cause a climate change in the next century which will affect rainfall patterns, river flows and sea levels worldwide. The climate change is an additional difficulty in the already existing difficulty of water management in UAE.According to Hoekstra, Arjen, and Mesfin (3234), there is expected decrease in precipitation from many Arab countries of about 20% or more. This means, there will be a 20% reduction of what is left of river flows after local evaporation and transpiration through irrigation farming. Runoff is therefore expected to reduce faster than precipitation. Consequently, groundwater recharge rates reduce by more than the decline in precipitation. Climate change is, therefore, a big threat which will negatively impact several sectors of the economy. Starting from water shortage, agriculture and food security is threatened. Research shows that even if adaptive measure are taken, the global agriculture production will decrees by 3% by 2080.Demand for water increases with increasing temperature. This means that as climate change reduces water supply, demand moves in the opposite direction. Climate change is also expected to reduce the efficiency of desalination process due to high temperatures.
Water scarcity is a major and serious issue in UAE.The main reason for this scarcity it because the region is largely governed by semiarid condition and this consequently raise the need to accommodate greenery. Agriculture is, therefore, main investment project and uses a lot of available water through irrigation thus making the water scarcity even worse. This practises together with domestic and industrial usage account for the highest per capita water use per person each day. The government has put a lot of effort to find a solution to the issue through awareness campaigns, water policies and innovative initiates like desalination plants. There is, however, more needed to be done. Is it a tough issue to fight considering the challenges faced by the government for example financial constraints and the high cost of water projects? The government also needs to focus on potential threats like climate change and the booming population and find ways to counter that. It is important to look beyond the current conservation efforts and explore opportunities that might help save the future. Opportunities like developing water pipelines to pump water and building better and more water harvesting structures should be implemented. Their efforts combined with the international efforts are viable in providing a sustainable solution to water scarcity in UAE and globally.
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