How Does the UAE Keep Up with Water Demand?

31 January 2018

Lab Chat

The population of the United Arab Emirates has increased massively over the past few decades. Understandably this means greater demand for housing, employment and – of course – water. So, how does the country keep up with its increasing water demand? Read on as we look at the latest development in UAE water supplies.

Growing at speed

60 years ago, the UAE had a population of less than 100,000. By 2006, it had risen to over 5 million, and now stands at more than 9 million. Clearly, it’s one of the fastest growing populations in the world over this period. Why? Its rich, natural oil resources have provided the perfect foundations upon which to build a strong economy. They’ve given the country the money to invest and innovate, building the infrastructure they need for growth.

A perfect example of that investment in infrastructure has come in January 2018. The Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority has revealed a new artificially desalinated water reserve – the largest of its kind in the world. They announced the Liwa Strategic Water Reserve at the opening of the 2018 International Water Summit. So, let’s take a closer look…

Just how big is it?

Sitting under the Liwa desert – yes, under a desert! – the reserve holds around 26 billion litres of water. It’s over 150km away from other existing desalination facilities on the UAE coast. And, understandably, it’s taken over two years to fill the reserve. That’s nothing compared to almost 16 years in total however, which is the time of the whole process since the start of planning in 2002.

With a total cost of over $400 million, the plant works by transporting desalinated water through large leak-proof pipes. The water travels almost 80 metres underground, before entering an aquifer made up of around 300 wells.

Providing water to the UAE

Despite its size, the Liwa reserve can only provide a small proportion of the country’s total water consumption. Partly because total consumption stands at a massive 6 billion litres per day. However, this includes every use of water, far beyond drinking and washing, such as watering golf courses and running large theme parks.

The main benefit of this plant, compared to other desalination facilities, is its unique location. Because it’s situated under a desert, it cannot be shut down by storms or other weather events – meaning it’s ideal for emergencies. These events are becoming more common with climate change, which is causing some parts of land to sink completely. If it comes down to an emergency, its 100 million litres of water each day will provide a decent source of water for UAE residents.

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