100 million trees dry, rather than green, the UAE’s western desert

Richard Allenby-Pratt, eco-art, photography, western desert, greening the western desert, desalination

In an attempt to ‘greenify’ the UAE’s Western Region desert, (some claim in the hope of creating a milder micro-climate in the UAE) more than 100 million trees have been planted, often as buffer zones like the one depicted, and irrigated, mostly, with precious groundwater. 

The Abu Dhabi environment agency now admits they have a critical situation with groundwater sources diminishing rapidly and become increasingly saline.

The UAE’s groundwater was deposited 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. It doesn’t replenish quickly, unless we are considering it in a climatic and geological timescale.

Once it is gone, irrigation water will have to be produced entirely through desalination, an energy-intensive and waste-producing process. The highly-saline brine that is returned to the sea after desalination is raising the salinity along the coast.

Related: Abu Dhabi pylons confuse perceptions of “land” use

The final result could be a second ‘dead’ sea in the region. But for now, current levels of desalination are drastically reducing seawater quality, damaging fragile marine ecosystems and encouraging toxic algal blooms, such as the ‘red tide’ which residents have seen more frequently in recent years.

So in trying to create a forest where there was never meant to be one we may inadvertently end up destroying a precious marine ecosystem. Plans for underwater hotels might have to be shelved when developers realise guests will just be viewing an underwater graveyard.

To get an idea of the scale of the forestry project have a look at the area around here 23’59’ 48.75N 52’32’51.82E where I took this shot.

Note from the editor: this photograph is part of a series called “Consumption” that seeks to document consumerism’s impact on the environment. From resource extraction and commodity production all the way down the supply chain to retail stores and waste processing facilities, Richard artfully examines what nature has come to mean in a world that depends on buying stuff. 

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One thought on “100 million trees dry, rather than green, the UAE’s western desert”

  1. Xavier says:

    Thank you for your article. In some farms the water is withdrawn too quickly and so the minerals are sucked out and the water becomes saline. First the farms plant what can take a higher level of salt, such as olive trees. but then the salinity is too high and the wells are closed. seen some farms closing their wells within 5 to 10 years only. you could desalinate on-site but best is to withdraw that quickly in the first place. plus a large part of the crops is exported as your profit is way higher than by selling in the local market. logics of short term profit (and of profit more generally speaking) screw up nature and people.

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