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The Future of desalination in the united arab emirates Essay Example

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Future of desalination in the United Arab Emirate


The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) defines water scarcity as a situation where the aggregate effects of the population that uses water interrupt water supply or quality under existing institutional planning to a level that the demand for water cannot be satisfied completely (UNDESA 2016). The UN estimates that nearly 700 million in some 43 countries across the globe face significant water scarcity. It is further projected that about 1.8 billion people are likely to live in countries with significant water scarcity by 2025 (UNDESA 2016: UNEP 2008).

Due to the current climate change situation, the UN estimates that some 50 percent of the global population is likely to live in regions of high water stress by 2030. Water scarcity is considered a major problem that many societies currently face across the world. Estimations by the UN indicate that water use in the 21st century more than doubles the rate of population growth in the 20th century, and while global water scarcity does not necessarily exist at present, more regions are facing chronic water shortages (UNDESA 2016). Statistics by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) also shows that while 40 countries in Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa faced significant water scarcity in 2008, the number is likely to rise to 54 by 2050 (UNEP 2008).

A review of current research on water shortages in the arid regions have advocated for solutions that can sustainably ensure water security and use of sustainable energy sources to produce or harness potable water. Among the solutions is desalination, which refers to the removal of salts and minerals seawater to create freshwater using membrane and thermal desalination technologies (Al-Omar 2012; Ballaith 2015). Desalination is, therefore, mainly concerned with turning seawater into potable water (Sheeja 2015).
A number of studies have indicated that desalination is particularly practical in places where cheaper water management mechanism have narrow potential or counter major challenges in terms of implementation (Al-Omar 2012; Ballaith 2015).

Countries in the GCC such as United Arab Emirate (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and Bahrain, have fell back to desalinization of seawater from the Gulf. Initially, Bahrain lacked freshwater. On the other hand, some 75 percent of Saudi Arabia’s freshwater originated from fossil groundwater, which has however gradually depleted at averagely 5.2 km3 annually (UNEP 2008). The combined desalination capacity of the countries in GCC are estimated to be nearly 11 million cubic meters (MCM) daily, which accounts for up to 45% of overall desalination activities globally (Uddin 2014).

The case of UAE presents a vivid picture of integrated efforts of water management. For instance, in Abu Dhabi emirate in UAE, earlier integrated policies and strategies concerning water–energy relationships (Al-Omar 2012; Ballaith 2015). The UNEP considered UAE as being among the largest consumers of water in the world. The country’s per capita water consumption is estimated at around 550 litres a person a day (Leijen 2012). Indeed, despite UAE having been classified to be at high risk of water stress, water demand is rapidly increasing, and is expected to increase to 44%, reaching 3.2 thousand million m3 by 2025 (Fisher 2013). This implies that water consumption is yet to acclimatize to the reality of scarcity.
According to, Udin (2014), because of the exceedingly low precipitation in UAE, desalination has become the principal source of potable water in UAE

However, in the case of UAE, there is a general consensus that desalination has detracted from such demand-side action as well as consumption cheaper water sources because of the high cost associated with desalination, while this should not be the case (Dawoud & Al Mulla 2012). This rationalises a need to study the future of desalination in the UAE. The desalination technologies used in UAE are not only expensive, but are susceptible to fluctuation of energy prices. They are also significantly carbon-intensive. Therefore, the challenge for UAE is designing a less carbon-intensive and cost-efficient desalination technologies that can be sufficiently adaptive to mitigate the perceived water deficits in the country (Al-Omar 2012; Ballaith 2015).

Based on this background, the central thesis guiding this paper is UAE is at risk of increased water stress in future because of the high population growth, an ever-increasing water consumption and a high cost of desalinating water through current technologies because of their high energy consumption. Therefore, nuclear water desalination is an economically viable and environmentally friendly option for UAE, as it would ensure a considerable base-load contribution to the country’s economic viability as well as generate sustainable energy and ensure future water security. As UAE currently lacks renewable sources of fresh water, it is necessary to develop its nuclear desalination capacity, to generate supply of potable water sustainably.


Al-Omar, M 2012, «The Role of Desalinated Water in Integrated Water Resource Management in Abu Dhabi Emirate-UAE,» The Online Journal of Science and Technology, vol 2, iss 4, pp.90-96

Ballaith, K 2015, «Desalination Innovation In The UAE,» Water Online, viewed 30 Aug 2016, <http://www.wateronline.com/doc/desalination-innovation-in-the-uae-0001>

Dawoud, M & Al Mulla, M 2012, «Environmental Impacts of Seawater Desalination: Arabian Gulf Case Study,» International
Journal of Environment and Sustainability, vol 1 no 3, pp.22-37

Fisher, A 2013, «Beware, the UAE is running out of water resources,» Khaleej Times, viewed 28 Aug 2016, <http://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/20131218/ARTICLE/312189903/1002>

Leijen, M 2012, «UAE’s water problem: why waste, waste water?» Emirates 24/7, viewed 30 Aug 2016, <http://www.emirates247.com/news/emirates/uae-s-water-problem-why-waste-waste-water-2012-08-25-1.472595>

Parneet, P, Kulaib, A, & Nuhu, B 2016, “A Review of the Water and Energy Sectors and the Use of a Nexus Approach in Abu Dhabi,» International Journal of Environ. Res. Public Health, 13, 364

Uddin, S 2014, «Environmental Impacts of Desalination Activities in the Arabian Gulf,» International Journal of Environmental Science and Development, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp.114-117

UNDESA 2016, Water Scarcity, viewed 4 Sept 2016, <http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml>

UNEP 2008, Increased global water stress, viewed 4 Sept 2016, <http://www.unep.org/dewa/vitalwater/article141.html>