The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the world’s most water-stressed countries and all sources of water are highly valued and must be safeguarded for the future wellbeing of the population. To support this aim the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy provides grants for research contributing to the better understanding and management of the country’s vital water assets.
In two important groundwater sustainability projects, Borealis has partnered the Emirates Foundation and contributed significantly to support this work. These projects are part of Borealis’ Corporate Social Responsibility endeavour and the Water for the World initiative with Borouge.
The UAE faces major challenges in providing drinking water to meet the needs of its growing population, already in excess of eight million people, and its strong expanding industrial base. Currently partial of its needs are met from groundwater resources. However, with no permanent rivers or natural lakes the aquifers (water bearing substrate) are primarily recharged by rainwater. But, with a very hot climate, more than 90% of its land area comprising desert and an average annual rainfall of just 100mm, the recharging of aquifers can not keep pace with the volume of water abstracted to satisfy demand. Therefore currently, the depletion of groundwater reserves in the UAE is unsustainable.
Over the past 35 years much has been done to meet these challenges. A number of dams have been built around the country to maximise rainwater catchment and aid aquifer recharging. A series of desalination plants has been constructed to convert seawater to freshwater, and the treatment of wastewater has enabled its re-use to meet the requirement for landscape irrigation. Moreover, in seeking an economic and environmentally conservative balance of supply with demand, these measures have been supplemented by initiatives that range from system improvements in agricultural irrigation to campaigns encouraging people to use domestic water more sparingly. However, as society and industry continue to evolve within the UAE, new sustainable solutions that will match with future demands need to be found.