The wealthiest of the United Arab Emirates federation has just begun to build the world’s largest artificial aquifer beneath its scorching sands, at a cost of $436 million, according to a report in the Washington Post.
With no rivers, the UAE shares with its neighbors an inherently unstable reliance on a diminishing natural groundwater. Add in the threat of terrorism from Al Quaeda, and Abu Dhabi is in a precarious position due to this most fundamental weakness.
Hady Amr of the Brookings center at Doha analyses it like this: “A desalination plant is a large factory sitting on the coast, something that you could easily blow up with a bomb or a missile. You could bring the country to its knees.”
The massive reservoir, being built by Arabian Construction and the Korean firm POSCO Engineering and Construction, will also serve in the event of an emergency like an oil spill contaminating the seawater supply for desalination.
The innovative cool underground reservoir will be able to hold 26 million cubic meters of desalinated water. This would provide a three month supply for its residents in the event of an emergency.
Oil leaks can clog and shut down desalination plants. Saddam Hussein used oil slicks as a weapon during the Kuwait war, directing an oil slick towards Saudi Arabia’s desalination plants in attempt to shut them down. Even inadvertent oil slicks, in the wrong place pose a real danger to the water supply.
But the first of its kind project is not without risk of failure, despite being a secure repository for already desalinated water. Desert sand itself is almost equally much a danger of contamination, caused by oil spills on land.
Related stories on water risks:
Kuwait Still Cleaning Up Environment After Saddam’s Mess
Abu Dhabi’s Costly Desalination Plants Prompt Wastewater Treatment Plans
Israel Well Positioned to Meet Growing Gulf Need for New Water
Libya’s Pivot Irrigation in the Sahara Proves Money Can Do Anything