Considering that the United Arab Emirates is located in harsh and arid desert, the fact that the average resident uses around 364 liters of water a day – way above the global average of 200 litres- is surprising. Natural groundwater is supplemented with desalinated water and treated water to boost supplies and provide a steady supply of clean water to residents (well, most of the time). However, a recent report which found that water demand is likely to double by 2030 in the UAE has got government authorities worried and they are now promoting the benefits of water conservation.
The UAE Environment Ministry has come up with a six-part plan to enhance water security and stem the rising tide of water consumption. “The value of water and the need to conserve it in the UAE cannot be underestimated because of its scarcity and lack of rainfall to replenish wells,” Mariam Al Shenasi at the Ministry of Environment and Water, told Gulf News. The new plan includes initiatives such as controlling supply, improving the efficiency of distribution, and strengthening federal water laws and policies.
Cutting The High Cost of Desalination
Currently, the United Arab Emirates uses 4.5 billion cubic metres of water a year. Over half of that comes from groundwater supplies, whilst 37% comes from the 70 desalination plants scattered across the country. As well as good eco-sense, cutting down the water consumption makes good economic sense as the annual production cost of desalinating water is estimated at around Dh11.8 billion or over US$3 billion.
The main culprits behind the high use of water include the agricultural sector which claims 34% of overall water usage, the domestic sector and industry which uses 32%, and less justifiable ‘landscaping’ and beautification projects which use 11%. Treated sewage water for irrigation meets around 8% of the water need and has helped save around 136 million cubic metres of desalinated water.
Can Nuclear Energy & Water Conservation Mix?
The UAE recently announced that they would be sticking by plans to build four nuclear reactors by 2017 to ensure they meet rising demands for electricity. The rising demand for energy can be attributed to inefficient energy subsidies which keep prices artificially low and also the energy-intensive process of water desalination. Indeed, a report by Carboun estimated that the emirate of Abu Dhabi uses more than half of its domestic energy use in desalination. This makes water conservation even more important as it makes little sense to keep supplying cheap energy if the UAE hasn’t got a handle on its water consumption.
Another related issue is that nuclear energy is known to be water intensive which means that the UAE could end up being trapped in a cycle of needing to produce extra energy to make the extra water which they need for nuclear energy. Consequently, the energy and water equation needs to be carefully balanced so that any hydrological gains aren’t written off by poor energy choices.
:: Gulf News
: Image via Danny McL/flickr.
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