Freshwater is regarded as one of the most valuable renewable resources on earth. It constitutes about 2.5% of the water on earth, and only 0.77% of it is readily accessible. Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates are among nations with some of the highest gaps between water supply and demand. Rapid development in the region and population increase are further complicating the challenge. It is no-wonder over 65 % of the world's desalination sector operates within the Gulf countries. The United Arab Emirates alone accounts for 26% of global desalination capacity. Dubai, which is considered the banking, commercial, and tourist hub of the United Arab Emirates, has had to look for alternative sources of freshwater to support its rapid urban development and the increase in population growth. Dubai experiences arid climatic conditions with average summer temperatures of 107 degrees Fahrenheit. That means the emirate does not receive adequate rainfall as a natural water source. The rate of evapotranspiration takes up over 75% of the annual rain, while 15 % of the total constitutes run off to the sea. That leaves only 10% of the total amount to recharge the aquifers. High rates of ground abreaction later result in saline and dry aquifers.
Water Sources In Dubai
Dubai has some of the highest water consumption rates in the world, with average water consumption of 145 gallons of water per person. The high consumption levels are driven by rapid urbanization, the climate, and an increase in population. The primary source of freshwater in Dubai is desalinated seawater from the Arabian Gulf. It accounts for 89.9% of the city's water supply needs. The remainder of the water demand is mainly serviced by underground water. The residential sector accounts for the highest rates of water consumption (60.6%) and is followed by the commercial sector (24.9%) and the industrial sector, which consumes about 3.7%. The irrigation sector consumes wastewater and is not included in the compiled data above.
The desalination of seawater takes place at the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) plants. Seawater is usually collected through intakes in the Arabian Gulf. Water used in the cooling of Aluminium smelters located in Jebel Ali is also sent to the DEWA desalination plant. The energy required for the desalination process is generated from fuels such as natural gas and diesel. The desalinated water is finally pumped into the pipe network for domestic consumption. Tap water in the city of Dubai is considered "safe for drinking." It, however, has an aftertaste that varies from one area to the other. People who dislike water with an aftertaste can always get bottled water from nearby shops and malls. According to government estimates, the cost of annual desalination is about 11.8 billion Dirham, which translates to 1 Dirham for every 37 gallons of water. Besides the high costs associated with desalination, the process also has adverse effects on the marine environment as a result of the discharge of chemicals and concentrate. The method also results in significant levels of air pollution. The reliability of desalinated water in urban centers has been questioned due to the red tide effect, which has been witnessed in the Arabian Gulf. They have affected water quality, leading to the interruption of water production in various desalination plants. For example, in 2008, operations in the Ras Al Khaimah desalination plant were halted for a week due to the red tide.
Treated water represents a vital alternative to meet current water requirements in Dubai. The government has invested substantially in wastewater treatment facilities and the improvement of urban sewerage networks. The upgrade of such crucial infrastructure has resulted in larger volumes of treated water. The wastewater is typically treated wholly or partially regardless of final use. The United Arab Emirates currently has modern treatment facilities that can carry out advanced and tertiary treatment of water. Treated water produced from these facilities is used mainly in highway landscaping and irrigation of gardens.
Groundwater is the primary source of natural water in Dubai. Groundwater is also considered a vital source of natural water in the country. The United Arab Emirates currently has an estimated 22,601 billion cubic feet of underground water. The total volume of freshwater is, however, expected to be only 706 billion cubic feet. Groundwater resources are classified into non-renewable (deep aquifers) and renewable resources (shallow aquifers). In recent years the condition of aquifers in the country has improved significantly due to measures taken to minimize groundwater abstraction. The government has also adopted several measures, such as active monitoring and regulatory programs aimed at sustainable groundwater management.
The amount of surface water in Dubai is negligible. It includes water retained in ponds and floodwater. Dubai is situated in a dry belt region, and therefore rainfall is limited, and floodwaters typically leak into the ground. Currently, there is an urgent need to harvest and store surface water. Replenishment of groundwater in the renewable aquifers from surface water could significantly boost the water resources in Dubai. The United Arab Emirates is currently pioneering the groundwater storage method using an artificial recharge. Such storage is thought to be safer and more reliable compared to tanks and industrial storage facilities.
Water Availability In The Future
Demand for water in Dubai going into the future is set to increase due to an expected increase in population and industrial growth. The rise in demand will be driven by the household, commercial, and industrial sectors. Demand for water in other areas such as the agricultural industry is expected to remain constant as a result of a lack of arable lands and declining groundwater resources. Innovation in the desalination industry is expected to increase the water supply at an affordable cost. The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, situated in Dubai, is currently researching salt-tolerant crops that can take advantage of brackish water to reduce excessive use of fresh groundwater.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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