The UAE’s per capita water usage has been widely reported at 550 litres annually — compared to a global national average of 250 litres per person each year. Image Credit: Megan Mahon Hirons/Gulf News

Dubai: The demand for water in the UAE will likely double by 2030 to nine billion cubic metres per year, according to the environment ministry.

Currently, each resident uses approximately 364 litres per day, way above the global average of 200 litres per person per day.

The UAE lacks water as a natural resource and relies heavily on desalination and groundwater to meet the country's needs.

Demand at present is 4.5 billion cubic metres, said Mariam Al Shenasi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water.

She added that the UAE's high consumption rate is not even comparable to developed countries with a similar climate to the UAE so the ministry has launched a plan to push water conservation further and preserve the limited resources available.

The six-part plan to enhance water security involves controlling supply, improving efficient distribution, reducing production costs and protecting the environment to strengthen federal water policy and laws.

"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 said.

Fifty one per cent of the UAE's water supply comes from groundwater, 37 per cent is desalinated by around 70 desalination plants in the country and 12 per cent is treated sewage water she said. The annual production cost of desalinating water is Dh11.8 billion, putting the cost of one cubic metre, or 1,000 litres of water at Dh7.16.

"Management of water resources has to be put in place to preserve this natural resource to achieve sustainable development," she said.

Irrigation supplies

Waste water, or treated sewage water for irrigation, meets about 8 per cent of needs and has saved up to 136 million cubic metres of desalinated water.

However, the agricultural and beautification projects in the UAE that involve planting or ‘greening' the desert use up 60 per cent of available water supplies.

Farmers are being introduced to modern farming techniques to increase vegetable production such as hydroponic farming, where crops are planted in small amounts of nutrient heavy water instead of soil to boost yields, Mariam said.

Groundwater wells which have been depleted are being replenished with rainwater collected in 114 dams with a storage capacity equivalent to about 118 million cubic metres.

Sources of water:

  • 51 per cent — groundwater
  • 37 per cent — desalination
  • 12 per cent — treated sewage water

Usage of water:

  • 34 per cent — agriculture
  • 32 per cent — domestic sector and industry
  • 15 per cent — forestry
  • 11 per cent — landscaping
  • 8 per cent — other irrigation