Emirati businessman Abdulla Alshehi has found a creative way to solve the UAE's water shortage and desalination problems, reviving a 44-year-old project.
In a few years, if you live near the Fujairah coast, you could wake up to the sight of an iceberg outside your window.
That’s because on Emirati businessman by the name of Abdulla Alshehi wants to drag an iceberg from Antarctica halfway across the world to UAE shores (technically, 3km away from the coast).
The mastermind behind this project shared his plan and reasoning with Inspire Middle East of Euronews, in a TV interview. Alshehi is the founder and managing director of the National Advisor Bureau Ltd.
So what could drive a man to want to embark on such a project?
Alsheri has devoted upwards of 6 years in hopes of fulfilling his goal of bringing an iceberg to the UAE. But what could drive him to commit to such an odd ambition?
“Businessman Alshehi argues that his audacious idea will provide solutions to the country’s water shortage problems, providing fresh, drinkable water to around one million people for up to 5 years,” Inspire Middle East revealed. “He also says the cost of his initiative will be lower than anything else on the table.”
“It will be cheaper to bring in these icebergs and utilise them for freshwater rather than utilising the desalination water,” he says. “Because desalination plants require a huge amount of capital investments.”
But capital is one of many concerns when it comes to desalination. The process of desalination, or the removing of salt from water to make it drinkable, is also a major point of contention in the environmental awareness community, and especially in the UAE. After all, the UAE’s desalination plants produce around one-fifth of the world’s brine – second only to Saudi Arabia – Robert Matthews, Visiting Professor of Science at Aston University, Birmingham, UK, writes for The National.
Brine is the concentrated salt water that remains after the process of purifying water is complete. It is often deposited while warm back in the ocean, which some experts believe is harming marine ecosystems.
A patent-pending metal ‘belt’ will be used to prevent the iceberg from breaking up during its long journey, the interview explains. However, it is still expected to lose up to 30% of its mass before reaching warm Arabian waters.
While Alshehi states that his plan is a cheaper alternative to desalination, it will still cost around $100-150 million dollars.
A trial run before the end of 2019 will see a smaller iceberg being moved by tug boat to Cape Town in South Africa or Perth in Australia for water harvesting. This is forecast to cost between $60-80 million.
The rewards to the UAE are plently, Alshehi argues. For one, the environmental benefit is great.
“[Desalination] is pumping a huge amount of brine water to the Gulf, making the salinity of the seawater very high, killing even the fish and marine [life] on the Arabian Sea,” he says. “So, we believe it will be a more economical and environmentally friendly project to utilise the icebergs.”
Moreover, he believes bringing such a large cold mass into the region will help stimulate rainfall, benefiting the land and its people, while addressing the water shortage.
As for the benefit to the people of the UAE, he hopes to harvest fresh, drinkable water from the iceberg for up to 5 years, supplying around 1 million people.
Finally, he believes a new concept of tourism can debut in the GCC: “Glacial tourism,” where people can come from around the world to tour the iceberg.
Has this been attempted before?
Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time someone has tried to transport an iceberg to the GCC.
“A similar project conceived by French scientists was proposed to Saudi Arabia in 1975, but failed two years later due to technical reasons,” Inspire Middle East said, paraphrasing Alshehi.
Now, he hopes to bring this project back to life, with the technology of the 21st century to back him up.
Internationally, some companies and entrepreneurs have labored to harvest fresh water from icebergs, but never have they tugged one along on a journey as far Alshehi has planned.
Georges Mougain, the French engineer involved in the original 1970s Saudi project, is still trying to tug an iceberg across countries to this day. He has yet to succeed. However, like Alshehi, he believes new tech innovation such as 3D simulations could finally help bring his ambition to life.