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Down the drain

A World Wildlife Fund report noted this week that wealthy nations are facing drought problems just like poor ones traditionally have. "Economic riches don’t translate to plentiful water," says Jamie Pittock, Director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme. Nowhere is that truer than here in the UAE.

In the thriving metropolis of Dubai we have one of the highest per capita water consumption figures in the world – 500 litres per day per person which is three times that of the UK. And you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realise the imbalance there - we do, after all, live in the middle of a desert. And while our present rate of consumption is already hard to sustain, officials at DEWA told 7DAYS that there has been an alarming increase in the amount of water we’re using, putting supplies in the emirate under serious pressure.

According to the latest statistics, the daily peak demand of water in Dubai has increased from 188 million imperial gallons in 2004 to 194 million imperial gallons in 2006 - equivalent to more than 35,000 of those water tanker trucks you see driving around the city. Worryingly, the statistics also show that while water consumption has increased by almost 13 per cent, production has only increased by four per cent. Surely we’re going to run out?

We could do if something went wrong with our water production. A study conducted by Dr Ahmad Ali Abdullah Murad and Hind S Al Nuaimi, from the Department of Geology at UAE University’s College of Sciences warns of the UAE’s overdependence on desalination to provide all its water needs. The geologists reviewed water resources in the emirate and assessed the impact of population growth and future economic development on it.

The arid climate in Dubai means there is very little scope for utilising conventional water resources and with hardly any rainfall and a very high evaporation rate, desalination has become the main source of our water supply. Of the 64,325 million gallons of water produced in 2005 in Dubai by DEWA, 61,914 million gallons was through desalination. While the percentage of desalinated water increased to more than 95 per cent, the groundwater production - water taken from natural sources running deep underground, has witnessed a constant decline.
This means we are in a precarious position as far as water is concerned – if anything unexpected happened, we have no back up.

At present DEWA has five desalination plans and even if one or two stopped functioning for some reason, there could be a major crisis, officials admit. “We are not expecting any disasters but if there was an earthquake or a natural disaster the situation could be quite grim,” a DEWA source told 7DAYS. “If, for some reason - like a war, a bomb attack or a natural disaster - the desalination plants are shut down only a miracle will be able to save us. The consequences can be quite unimaginable,” added the source.

The study has also warned that because of the growing population in Dubai the demand for water will increase significantly in the future. The population of Dubai has already crossed the four million mark and is expected to continue to grow significantly. A senior official from DEWA recently said he expects the daily water demand to reach 340 million gallons per day by 2011.

The concerning figures have led DEWA and the Dubai Municipality to introduce various measures through which the public can adopt water saving habits. The Dubai Municipality recently announced that all future building projects in Dubai should be built with plumbing devices installed and materials used that can help save water. “These are very simple tools which cost not more than five to ten dirhams but can go a long way in saving water,” said Hisham Bukhari from the Dubai Municipality, talking about small fittings you can attach to taps to reduce flow. The Municipality also advises contractors to use smaller water cisterns on toilets and to fit small switches on showers that control water flow.

Every new building project must be approved by the Buildings Department at the Dubai Municipality and unless water saving devices are installed, permission will be difficult to obtain, officials have warned. There’s much more that can be done, but it’s certainly a good start. What’s really required is public awareness. People don’t waste water because they particularly want to. Most water wastage is down to simple carelessness.

For example. Do you leave the tap running while you clean your teeth? If you do, you are wasting an astonishing 9,000 litres of water a year all by yourself in the space of a few minutes a day. DEWA are on the case apparently.“We are mainly targeting children because it is easy to change their habits,” Amal Koshak, deputy manager of the Demand Management section at DEWA, told 7DAYS. “We have been enrolling children into the ‘Splashy and Sparky’ club where they promise to save water and electricity and use them safely.”

The saving ideas are very simple and easy to follow. Children are advised to always turn off water while brushing teeth; limit showers to just five minutes; use water from soaking fruits or vegetables for watering plants; and avoid playing games that result in water wastage. “DEWA strongly encourages the public to save water, ” added Koshak.


As part of its public awareness campaign, DEWA has introduced its Best Consumer Competition in which any resident of Dubai is eligible to participate. People can log onto the DEWA web site,, and download an entry form. By answering three simple questions about water conservation, people can win cash prizes worth dhs10,000 each.

Dubai Municipality in association with DEWA and the Body Shop recently launched a campaign to reduce wastage of water. The ‘Be Water Wise’ campaign was aimed at educating people to install water saving devices in private, public and commercial establishments. According to Engineer Talib Julfar, director of Drainage and Irrigation Department at the Dubai Municipality, if properly implemented, these water saving devices can save anywhere between 65 and 85 per cent of the volume of water coming out of the tap and they only cost a few dirhams.




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