In the wake of the water shortage problem, the UAE and private sector companies have tried to consider ways to address this problem.
In the first part of this article series, we explored the recent news to develop a new $900 million desalination plant in Umm Al Quwain, and how it will compound an already widespread problem in the UAE.
The search for alternatives
The bitter reality of desalination plants means that water-parched nations like the UAE need to find eventual alternatives to this environmentally harmful practice.
The Emirati government has been cognizant enough to realize that something must be done. In September 2017, Ministry of Energy & Industry unveiled the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036, which aims to ensure sustainable access to water during both normal and emergency conditions in line with local regulations, standards of the World Health Organisation, and the UAE’s vision to achieve prosperity and sustainability.
The overall objectives of the strategy are to reduce total demand for water resources by 21 percent, increase the water productivity index to USD 110 per cubic meter, reduce the water scarcity index by three degrees, increase the reuse of treated water to 95% and increase national water storage capacity up to two days.
Some, like the IPI Global Observatory, believe that “rather than primarily focusing on securing supply, GCC governments should also emphasize sustainability of consumption.”
“The high consumption [in the UAE] is primarily a product of the cheap, heavily subsidized water available to citizens,” the Global Observatory opined. “While access to clean, affordable water is a basic human right, the provision of water for comparatively low prices creates excess demand in the market and is a key factor in the high consumption patterns, not only for domestic usage, but also in industry and agriculture.”
Could this mean that water utility prices will increase the Emirate? It’s very much possible. While not directly related, the UAE implemented 5% VAT in 2018 to help diversify economic revenues, so in a sense, the UAE is not exactly opposed to slightly raising living costs if it’s for the greater good.
Reducing water subsidies would also help develop more conscious usage of water in the UAE, while also reducing pressure on the annual budget.
Ocean Fresh Water (OFW), a Paris-based company, has been exploring new venues for sourcing water. Their source of choice: Deep ocean water. The company has been studying the delivery of deep ocean water as quality drinking water for the past two years.
“Using deep ocean water from the total dark of below 300 metres has many benefits,” said Jacques Le Moigne, CEO of OFW, told Weekend Review, as reported by Gulf News. “It carries almost no organic matter or chlorophyll and so contains virtually no bacteria, as well as having more nutrients from the ionic minerals and trace elements at that pressure and depth.”
“Deep ocean water is the world’s last source of pure water, and if this deep water technology can be harnessed for supply into the GCC it could also offer a solution to the growing salinity in the Arabian Gulf,” he said.
One Emirati businessman, Abdulla Alshehi, has an entirely different idea to address the freshwater scarcity issue, at least in the interim.
He wants to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to the UAE. The iceberg would not only be used to provide a source of fresh, drinkable water to around one million people for up to 5 years, but is also believed to stimulate rainfall in the region.
His project is forecast to cost around $100-150 million dollars, a far cry from the $900 million expected to be paid to construct the Umm Al Quwain desalination plant. If this bizarre project would work, however, is anyone’s guess.
The water shortage issue won’t going anywhere anytime soon. The UAE will have to address it if it hopes to align its metrics and goals for success with its sustainability targets.