23 February 2019

Lab Chat

We’re just a couple of months away from World Water Day, where people from across the globe unite to promote water sustainability and raise awareness of the ever-growing water usage problem. The UAE has consistently struggled with water shortages and has suffered from droughts over the years. So, dealing with water waste and improving efficiency is a priority for the country.

A new underground water atlas poses potential progress towards reducing waste and preventing people digging unlicensed wells across the country. Environment Agency Abu Dhabi officials believe the map will help the UAE deal with water waste, improving efficiency and preventing shortages in the future.

A big problem

Groundwater levels in Liwa Crescent, located just south of Abu Dhabi, have dropped by up to 14 meters in just 12 years, with agriculture and forestry projects being the largest water consumers in the country. Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri, acting secretary general of the environment agency, believes the atlas is “a crucial step to improve efficiencies by using groundwater to improve our sustainability”.

While there are a number of water providers in the UAE, groundwater is, and always has been, the main water source for the country. In fact, almost 65% of all water used in Abu Dhabi is groundwater, making it a highly protected resource. Dr Shaikha Al Dhaheri claims that “unlicensed well digging has become a real threat to our reserves and water security is a key national priority”.

Creating solutions

The groundwater atlas aims to improve the water efficiency of the country by detailing exactly where the best sources are, allowing officials to protect reliable areas and prevent the illegal sourcing of groundwater. Dr Al Hosani argues “one of the challenges we face today is poor precipitation”.

He believes that a groundwater atlas will change how the UAE monitors water. “In the past there was difficulty implementing policy to limit the use of groundwater because of limited data”, he explains. However, a lack of information will no longer be a problem with the atlas in force.

UAE scientists are also in search for a solution to the water shortage. One proposed solution is genetically engineered crops that can be irrigated with seawater, suggested by the International Centre of Biosaline Agriculture. Another option is to grow crops using hydroponic systems that recycle water, to reduce the amount of waste produced.

These solutions are just the start of a long journey to a well-stocked water supply. Government ministers recently described the UAE’s water use as a “huge concern”, with a 2015 report predicting that water supplies could be depleted within a few decades. So, increased awareness and sustainable solutions are of high priority, aiming for a long and hydrated future for the UAE.

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