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Integrated Sustainable Water Management in the UAE Dissertation


Executive Summary

In the last three decades, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has experienced rapid urbanization due to steady economic growth. The expansion of the economy is accompanied by a sharp rise in population, which has put pressure on its water resources. At present, the government has put in place strategies to reduce the population pressure on its scarce water sources by developing a system for managing the supply and demand sides for its resources. This research study aimed at examining the current water management approach and challenges through qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Qualitative data was collected through a structured interview consist of nine respondents drawn from the management level of different UAE water institutions. Quantitative data was derived from official reports from reputable water authorities such as DSC, FEWA, SEWA, ADWEA, and DEWA. The findings indicated a rapid rise in water consumption for the period of analysis, that is, 2005 to 2015 in all sectors. The study relied on the OECD principles of efficiency, engagement, and effectiveness to suggest improvements in water governance. Among the notable suggestions include the integration of technology in production and supply, building public awareness, improving legislative framework on green building code, and collecting non-revenue water among others.

Introduction

The UAE is a federation that occupies an area of about 83,600 km2. The UAE is made up of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, and Umm Al Quwain Emirates. These Emirates have an expansive coastline of 1318 kilometers where most of the non-conventional and conventional water resources are located. Over the years, urbanization has increased the population pressure and demand for water. At present, more than 70% of the UAE population lives in urban areas (Merabtene, Siddique, & Shanableh, 2016). Specifically, 65% of this population occupies a stretch of 5km coastline. The UAE Water Security Strategy 2036 was unveiled by the Ministry of Energy in 2017 to ensure that access to water during an emergency and normal conditions are sustainable within the internal standards, local regulations, and the nation’s vision of prosperity.

This strategy has frameworks for reducing demand for different water resources by up to 21% and expand the productivity index of water to $110 per cubic meter. The plan also intends to lower the water scarcity index by three degrees and increase the reuse of treated water by 95% (Lubega & Farid, 2014a). The UAE relies on conventional and non-conventional water resources to meet the ever-rising demand for usable water. Among the notable conventional water, sources are groundwater, falajes, springs, ad seasonal floods. Non-conventional water resources are treated with sewage and desalinated water. The current conventional water resources in the UAE include 3 Mm3/yr from several permanent springs, 20 Mm3/yr from fall discharges, 22 Mm3/yr from seasonal springs, and 109 Mm3/yr from aquifer recharge (Dakkak, 2015). The non-conventional resources are 150 Mm3/yr from reclaimed water and 475 Mm3/yr from desalinated water (Madden, Lewis, & Davis, 2013).

It is projected that future robust development in the UAE might increase the seasonal springs and fall discharges to 40 Mm3/yr (Lubega & Farid, 2014a). The Emirates has an arid climate with lower than 100 mm/year f rainfall, low groundwater recharge rate of less than 4% of the water used annually, high rate of evaporation estimated at 2-3 m/year, and limited reliable surface water (Merabtene et al., 2016). The UAE is a downstream water user sharing her trans-boundary water sources with Oman and Saudi Arabia (Meldrum, Nettles-Anderson, Heath, & Macknick, 2013). The sharp population increase and rapid economic development over the last two decades have resulted in expanded reliance on the primary unconventional water sources such as desalination (Alawar, 2014). The increasing demand has led to the development and expansion of alternative conventional supply measures for water resources such as storage dams, recharge dams, as well as recharge wells (Dakkak, 2015).

At present, groundwater is the primary conventional water source in the seven Emirates. This resource constitutes 80% of all the freshwater supply per year. Other sources of fresh water for the seven Emirates are wastewater re-use at 3% and desalination plants at 17%. The consumption of water in the UAE is for amenity, forestry, agricultural, commercial, industrial, and domestic purposes. At present, the largest water user is within the agricultural sector at 58% annually (Merabtene et al., 2016). The industrial, domestic, and commercial water usage stands at 17%. The estimation of groundwater share is done by the government agencies on the basis of demand and availability of the desalination plant production. This means that the sustainable yield of UAE’s groundwater aquifer is dependent on the duration it takes for such aquifer to replenish. However, the ever-rising demand for water in the seven Emirates has put intense pressure on scarce water resources and is currently threatening the quality of production and supply. Thus, it will be essential to effectively estimate the rate of replenishment of water resources in order to create a proactive management strategy for this national resource (Madden et al., 2013).

Since the study is focused on the entire UAE, recharge rate estimations will be linked to recent national practices of using desalinated water for agricultural purposes. This practice was necessitated by the government’s hindrance policy for use of groundwater for irrigation in order to recover overexploited storage. Moreover, the hesitancy of individual water users to continuously carry out irrigation using treated water raised a lot of social concerns (Kraft, 2013). As a result, “any surplus of treated wastewater is, hence, dumped in desert lagoons imposing additional input to the groundwater storage” (Lubega & Farid, 2014b, p. 7). These factors catalyze the immense usage of desalinated water in the UAE irrigation fields, which eventually replenishes the grounder as a source of aquifer input.

The shifting water resources use and production in the last ten years has resulted in substantial fluctuations in the UAE water table to the “extent that groundwater level has surprisingly risen considerably in some areas in Al-Ain” (Government.ae, 2018. para. 7). The rise in the water table is also associated with other factors such as increasing need for landscaping and farm areas to meet the rapid urbanization needs. Over time, it is estimated that the even grounding urbanization in the UAE might have an effect on the country’s hydrological cycle and lead to variations in groundwater discharge and recharge rates (PJM-ISO, 2013). As a result, there are immense threats looming in the UAE water management such as deterioration of road infrastructure, flooding of houses, damage to construction project foundations, land subsidence, and other long-term environmental degradations associated with contamination of groundwater and soil (Merabtene et al., 2016). This study will review the current situation in integrated sustainable water resources management in order to suggest an ideal approach for addressing any challenges identified.

Background of the Research

The World Economic Forum has identified water security as an evitable resource for sustainable development in a country or region. According to Lubega and Farid (2014a), water security is “the ability of a population to safeguard its access to adequate quantities of acceptable useable water for sustaining livelihoods, population well-being, and socio-economic development” (p. 8). Moreover, water security addresses the aspect of the integration of a resource management system within an ecosystem for long term benefits (Meldrum et al., 2013). As a segment of water sustainability planning, the UAE government has put in place several strategies to guarantee water security. Since the Arab region’s climate is arid, water resources that are portable have become a concern to the UAE government and other members of the GCC (Luomi, 2014). Specifically, the World Bank estimates that the seven Emirates and other Arab countries will become drier in the next few decades besides increased population growth against constant sources of water supply (World Bank, 2016). Moreover, rapid development as the UAE becomes urbanized has increased water consumption, especially for non-oil based firms (PJM-ISO, 2013). This means that the seven Emirates should come up with a strategic plan for addressing the consumption and climate challenges in order to create a sustainable and effective water management system.

Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is a complex concept that has received a lot of attention as a significant instrument for improving the operational framework for existing water resources systems in the UAE (Dakkak, 2015). Despite the fact that this concept has been in existence for close to a century, its effective implementation is laden with challenges associated with the inherent and complex nature of water management systems (Merabtene et al., 2016). Specifically, these systems integrate the scientific, technical social, economic, and political considerations to create a universally acceptable water resources management approach. Specifically, “in order to reach a robust integration among all these elements, the management strategy mist be multi-disciplinary to account for all these aspects related to the water system under consideration” (Lubega & Farid, 2014b, p. 9).

In this study, the water budget will be used as a tool for describing the hydrologic cycle by summing water resource inputs and outputs of the study area over a specific duration. Since any hydrological cycle is controlled by the mass conservation law, the study will establish if there has been a rise or fall in the water table depending on the variations between the total water outputs and inputs from the current system. Specifically, in the event that the results indicate that the water inputs are less than outputs, the researcher will conclude that there is a decline in the water table and vice versa (Santhosh, Farid, & Youcef-Toumi, 2013). In this study, the components of the water budget that will be examined include inputs such as runoff, precipitation, surface water inflow, groundwater inflow, and diversions (Madden et al., 2013). On the other hand, the output components include water diversions, residential uses, industrial uses, irrigation surface water outflow, groundwater outflow, transpiration, and evaporation.

The UAE is over-dependent on groundwater to sustain the demand for different uses. Over the years, the consumption rate has exceeded the natural recharge leading to an imbalance between outputs and inputs of water in the current system (Lubega, Santhosh, Farid, & Youcef-Toumi, 2014). As a result, groundwater and seawater have deteriorated. Although desalination plants have been set up by the government to take care of any shortfall in the existing conventional water resources, the demand is growing faster than the supply. Specifically, the groundwater resources depletion and even rising demand for water in the UAE has increased pressure on the seven Emirates to create an integrated sustainable water resources management. The current shortages have threatened development sustainability and placed the UAE in the list of countries that are poor in terms of availability of water resources (Mansour, 2017). This research dissertation discusses water resources in the seven Emirates in terms of how the resources are managed, exploited, and future sustainability strategies (Dakkak, 2015). Specifically, the study is focused on understanding the existing challenges in water security governance in the UAE and steps that might be implemented to curb these setbacks in order to sustain water resources management.

Research Problem Statement (Research Questions)

It is imperative for the policymakers and the UAE government to create sustainable strategies for managing its water resources that meet the demand and present and in the future. A proactive management approach for the limited water resources in the UAE requires the creation of awareness in terms of water resource security from which strategic policies are created to continuously guarantee the quality and quantity of available water for consumption (Kraft, 2013). In the UAE context, consumption of water is rising at an alarming rate (Merabtene et al., 2016). Specifically, in the last thirty years, consumption has almost tripled. It is imperative to examine the current policies in place by the government to secure usage, availability, and storage of water resources in addition to how the increasing demand impacts associated costs and availability of different water sources. Moreover, it is necessary to examine the climate and environmental factors in terms of how they influence different water resources within the seven Emirates. This study is designed to establish policy solutions for an effective and integrated water resource management system that guarantees the quality and quantity of available water in the UAE for short and long term sustainability. Therefore, the research questions are:

  1. What policies are in place to secure the usability, availability, and distribution of water resources in the UAE?
  2. What climate and environmental factors influence different water resource availability within the seven Emirates?
  3. What policy solutions should be put in place for an effective and integrated water resource management system that guarantees the quality and quantity of available water in the UAE?

Significance of the Study

The significance of this study is a comprehensive examination of water supply and availability in the seven Emirates in order to comprehend the challenges faced by the UAE government in effectively maintaining a stable, secure, and quality water supply for the population and industries. The proposed research will also attempt to explore quantifiable solutions for possible challenges in water resources management at present and in the future as a result of the ever-increasing demand levels, pollution, and climate changes.

Research Aims and Objectives

Since the proposed research aim at examining the integrated sustainable water resources management in the UAE, several research objectives were created to address the above research questions. Specifically, the research objectives are;

  1. To establish the current system of water security management within the UAE
  2. To identify the current and future challenges in the integrated sustainable water resources management from a risk perspective
  3. To discuss the existing policies by the UAE government aimed at addressing water security in the seven Emirates
  4. To recommend improvements that the UAE government might adopt to create an effective integrated sustainable water resources management system

Research Assumptions and Limitations

Since limited research has been carried out to establish the effectiveness of the current water resources management in the UAE, the proposed study may not give an accurate picture since it relies on available data that might not be updated. This means that the findings of this research may only present best practices from other regions that might not be effectively integrated within the UAE scenario. Thus, the UAE government or any other relevant agency within the expansive water resource management field might find the study complex, especially when the proposed recommendations are poorly integrated into the current water resources management system (Lubega et al., 2014). The UAE government or any other agency will have to associate the current and future projections highlighted in the study to establish an appropriate and systematic water management approach for sustainable consumption.

Thesis Organization

Week 1: Research Commencement

This stage of the research study involves a proactive analysis of different research topics from which the researcher has to pick one topic and define the rationale for the choice. In this case, the researcher chose the topic of Integrated Sustainable Water Resources Management in the UAE because there is a lot of literature besides being relevant to the research on sustainable water consumption for effective resource governance and security. This stage took approximately one week to accomplish.

Week 2 & 3: Choosing the case study

Choosing the case study regions within the seven Emirates is expected to be challenging, considering the fact that the researcher is targeting all the regions within the UAE, that is, coastline and the mainland. The researcher will have to decide on the most appropriate research approach. Moreover, the researcher has to choose relevant research variables to ensure that the scope of the study is well addressed. It is estimated that this part of the research will take at least two weeks to accomplish.

Week 4 & 5: Background research

Since the topic has several past literature materials, the researcher will not have many challenges in creating the research background. The role of the researcher at this stage will be to merge different literature materials to the research topic to determine the direction to follow during the actual research. It is estimated that it will take at most two weeks to accomplish this part.

Week 6, 7, & 8: Conducting the literature review

This stage will be the most demanding, considering the fact that the researcher will have to carry out empirical and theoretical literature. The researcher will then relate the existing literature to the case study topic. Among the sources of information that the researcher will explore are academic journals, course notes, reports on the UAE water resources management system, and books.

Week 9, 10, & 11: Conducting interviews, collecting data, and analyzing data

This stage will also be very demanding since the researcher will have to balance different tools for carrying out surveys such as questionnaires and direct interviews to present sensible findings of the topic. The research will have to scrutinize data collected to ensure that the analysis makes scientific sense by adhering to ethical principles of carrying out social research. The research will also have to design the research questions and test them for comprehensiveness and relevance. The researcher will have to apply different data analysis tools to make sense of the raw data collected. At the stage, the researcher will ensure that proper coding and transcription is done to achieve desirable results. This stage will take the longest time, probably three weeks since primary research and data analysis are time-consuming.

Week 12 & 13: Research conclusion

After the analysis stage, the researcher will identify the themes that have emerged to offer an appropriate interpretation of the findings. The researcher will have to compile the outcome of the study and determine whether the research hypothesis has been proven or not. This section will also involve the submission of different attachments related to the research. This stage will be completed within two weeks (see chart 1).

Research timeline.
Chart 1. Research timeline. (Source: Self-generated).

Summary

In summary, chapter one has developed a research background, research objective, rationale, questions, and justification. These concepts will guide the section of the case study in establishing integrated sustainable water resources management in the UAE.

Literature Review

Introduction (Search Description/Conceptual Framework)

This section of the research study will review the scholarly publications and documents related to the thesis topic: integrated sustainable water resources management system in the UAE. The notable areas integrated into the literature review include water resource management, sources of water in the UAE, current challenges, and regional water usage breakdown index among others.

The conceptual framework is angled on the current water management system in the UAE as related to current challenges, government policies, and necessary improvements to expand on the aspect of integrated sustainability in the water management approach (Lubega et al., 2014). As discussed in the first chapter, the UAE government has combined processes, mechanisms, and institutions to exercise administrative, economic, and social control over the available water reprocess. The terms water resources governance will be used to denote a management approach or system in place to develop and control water infrastructure in the UAE from production, supply, and rejuvenation of the sources (Merabtene et al., 2016). The conceptual framework is drawn from good water resources management through the integration of two ideal water governance models by the OECD and USAID (see table 1 and figure 1). The OECD principles were used to review the evidence related to the UAE integrated water resources management system.

OECD water management principles.
Figure 1. OECD water management principles. (Source: Alawar, 2014).

Table 1. Conceptual framework modeled from the USAID and OECD water governance approaches. (Source: OECD, 2015).

USAID water governance framework OECD Water governance framework
Description Founded by the government of the United States of America, the USAID has a comprehensive framework for managing water resources in a sustainable manner. Abbreviated as OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development provide ideal principles of water governance for its members
Application The USAID water governance framework functions on five factors of participation, transparency, rule of law, integrity/accountability, and responsiveness The OECD water governance framework functions on principles of effectiveness, trust, and engagement, and efficiency
The USAID model operates on the functions of building water sector capacity, strategic planning, allocation of water resources, and regulating the usage. Through an integrated water governance cycle, the OECD water management principles are managed through four stages, which are the formulation of policies and strategies, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation” (Odhiambo, 2017, p. 2478).

Based on the OECD principles, the analysis and recommendation in the proposed research will integrate the variables of effectiveness, efficiency, and engagement or trust (Morillo et al., 2014). As part of the conceptual framework, the variable of effectiveness will be used to evaluate the policies and processes defining sustainable water resources management policies against set targets over a period of time in the UAE (Al-Otaibi, El-Sadek, & Al-Zubari, 2013). This variable will integrate the sub-principles of role and responsibility setting, the inclusive scale for managing water resources, policy coherence within the player sectors, and capacity adaptability (OECD, 2016).

The second variable of efficiency will be used to examine the benefits of effective governance in a sustainable management approach to the current water system. The research will also examine the current strategies put in place in the UAE to maximize sustainable water management benefits at low cost under the sub-principles of “producing and sharing data and information, mobilizing and allocating water finances efficiently, effective implementation of regulatory frameworks, and promoting innovative practices” (OECD, 2015, p. 11). The last variable to be considered within the proposed conceptual framework is engagement or trust to examine how the relevant water management authorities build public confidence and promote inclusiveness among stakeholders (Santhosh et al., 2013). This variable will be examined using the OECD’s sub-principles of “mainstreaming integrity and transparency practices, promoting stakeholder engagement, encouraging water governance frameworks and promoting monitoring and evaluation of water policy and governance” (OECD, 2015, p. 12).

Global Water Resources and Sustainability

Over the years, concerns for sustainable water resources across the globe have increased as governments and other international bodies put in place policies for effective management systems. The leading policymakers for global water resources sustainability are the United Nations and the World Bank (Meldrum et al., 2013). These institutions have classified each region across the globe as either having adequate water supply or at a threat of unsustainable water resources. Global water resources sustainability integrates administrative, political, and economic authority to proactively manage different sources and effectively supply them for consumption in an environmentally friendly manner (Lubega & Farid, 2014a). It involves a holistic combination of processes, mechanisms, and institutions of governance to have full control of how water is produced, supplied, consumed, and sustained (Mansour, 2017).

This means that water resources governance at the global level combines a series of elements such as “statutes, including policy mandates; administrative rules and guidelines; and institutionalized rules and norms” (Alawar, 2014, p. 25). Water resources governance across the globe is not limited to individual government interventions, but a collection of policies managed with obligations of private and public organization partnerships. According to Santhosh, Farid, and Youcef-Toumi (2014), an effective water resources governance is important for guaranteeing a balanced mix in the social, economic, and environmental outcomes of any integrated water management system (see figure 2). Good resource governance is instrumental in producing effective and sustainable outcomes (Svendsen, 2014).

For instance, an effective water resources management approach should integrate accountability, inclusiveness, transparency, participation, responsiveness, and predictability for the system to serve its purpose in the short and long term (Odhiambo, 2017). According to Alawar (2014), water governance is the “range of political, social, economic, and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources, and delivery of water services, at different levels of society” (p. 25). At the global level, water resources and sustainability are organized into formulated and well-developed policies with a primary objective of sustaining any development of any water management system. Implementation of these policies involves primary stakeholders and actors for the process to remain effective (Santhosh et al., 2013). In relation to the proposed study, the research intends to integrate the water governance principles of the United Nations, World Bank, and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to review the current situation in the UAE from the perspective of integrated sustainable water resources governance.

Sustainable water resources management priority indicators.
Figure 2. Sustainable water resources management priority indicators. (Source: Meldrum et al., 2013).

Water Resource Management

The United Nations Development Program’s report of 2013 on water resources in the Arab region notes that a myriad of factors is associated with restricted progress in water governance such as “unclear and overlapping responsibilities, inefficient institutions, insufficient funding, centralized decision-making, limited public awareness, and ineffective regulations and enforcement (UNDP, 2013, p. 1). Siddiqi and Weck (2013) conceptualized effective water resources governance as putting in place social learning and adaptive governance systems that are adequate for managing the social-ecological in the event of an abrupt change. For instance, recent changes in the global weather patterns have openly highlighted the weaknesses and challenges in the present water resources management systems.

Moreover, the lack of an effective and multiagency water resources governance approach across the globe has magnified these challenges in the backdrop of an existing scarcity concern (Santhosh et al., 2014). Therefore, it is critical to comprehend the significance of sustainable water resources governance in the events of global climatic variations as well as scarcity concerns in the Arab regions such as the UAE (Svendsen, 2014). According to Dakkak (2015), in order to effectively alter the existing water resources governance, governments of the day should incorporate societal and social learning in any management system. Specifically, social learning ensures that government bodies, interested parties, and the general public are brought on board before a major policy is implemented (Mansour, 2017). For instance, social learning needs might be hampered when the management of water resources is contracted to a private institution (Al-Otaibi et al., 2013).

Water resources management is incomplete when the aspect of water security is not addressed. According to Al-Otaibi et al. (2013), water security is dependent on the “global climatic change, availability of natural water resources, and socio-economic scenario” (p. 89). A combination of these factors facilitates the actions of any institution mandated with the responsibility of managing an integrated water resources system (Santhosh et al., 2013). Water security or management can be achieved through a systematic decrease is predictable and non-predictable negative impacts while increasing positive actions within the current and future socio-economic development initiatives of a region (Susskind & Zaerpoor, 2017).

Water resources management is dependent on the political goodwill of a region and its availability. Within the Arab region, water security and management have been a major concern for the last four decades in nations such as Egypt, the UAE, Syria, and Iraq among others (Siddiqi & Weck, 2013). These regions have experienced a myriad of water resources security challenges due to inadequate quality and quantity of water, “which affected their capacity to meet their development plans and resulted in social unrest” (Al-Otaibi et al., 2013, p. 24). In the GCC bloc, there is a general high dependency on a single water resource that is shared among the members, “which sometimes becomes the reason for conflict” (Al-Otaibi et al., 2013, p. 28). The sustainability and availability dimensions of water resources management examine the security of a steady supply of water for consumption. In the GCC bloc, most of the water supply originated from desalination plants (GCC, 2015). Guaranteeing effective water resources management would ensure that reservoirs are adequate to fill any supply gap in the event of insufficient water resources from desalinated plants for a prolonged period of time. According to Al-Otaibi et al. (2013), water resources management is a “multidimensional concept that recognizes that sufficient good quality is needed for social, economic and cultural uses while, at the same time, adequate water is required to sustain and enhance important ecosystem functions” (p. 29).

The primary themes associated with water resources management are availability or quantity, vulnerability or hazards, human needs, and sustainability. The theme of availability is associated with water management assessment indices on water shortages and stress. Evaluations measure the level of water stress as a ratio of water availability and use against the estimated impacts of demand-driven scarcity. The second index examines water shortage or crowding by quantifying the number of persons sharing a unit of a water resource (Siddiqi & Weck, 2013). This means that sufficient water supply is the ideal unit for measuring water security (Madden et al., 2013). The second theme of vulnerability or hazard is discussed by UNESCO as advocacy for systems and infrastructure involving the protection of water resources from drought, flooding, and other related hazards (Santhosh et al., 2013).

This theme also addresses the concerns of water contamination as a result of human factors such as terrorism in the current volatile political climate in the Arab region. As part of water resources management under this theme, engineers are mandated with the task of using ordnances, guards, and gates to create a secure water infrastructure (Svendsen, 2014). The theme of human needs covers human development, food security, and access concerns (Odhiambo, 2017). Thus, an ideal human needs theme is a condition occurring when the required quality and quantity of water supplied is efficient, affordable, and meet the long and short term needs (Susskind & Zaerpoor, 2017).

The United Nations Development Program report has summed these needs as any aspect of human development pertaining to the management and use of water resources. This theme also proposes integral safeguarding of water and human security as part of the ecosystem for sustainable balance (Santhosh et al., 2014). The last theme is defined by Alawar (2014) as “water security at any level from the household to the global arena means that every person has access to enough safe water, at affordable cost, to lead a clean, healthy and productive life, while ensuring that the natural environment is protected and enhanced” (p. 26). To effectively address this theme, it is important to examine the variables of protecting the ecosystem, secure food supply, basic needs, risk management, and wise water valuation or governance.

Main Water Sources in the UAE

Water resources in the UAE are categorized into conventional and non-conventional sources. Conventional sources are dependent on rain volume and include falajes, groundwater, flash floods, and springs. Non-conventional sources comprise of treated wastewater and desalinated water. Previously, the UAE depended heavily on conventional sources but other alternatives such as non-conventional desalinated water have been added to the supply grid (see charts 2 and 3).

Water sources in the UAE.
Chart 2: Water sources in the UAE. (Source: Self-generated).
Water production per source.
Chart 3: Water production per source. (Source: Meldrum et al., 2013).

The surface runoff source is a conventional water resource with temporary and limited availability due to high evaporation and low rainfall rates. The estimated surface source in the UAE is 0.15 billion m3 per year. The government has constructed 114 dams with a capacity of 31152 million gallons across the seven Emirates to collect and protect flooded water, which is then used to recharge groundwater. In the next 20 years, the Ministry of Environment and Water has plans in place to build 68 more dams to hold 26400 million gallons. There are several springs in the UAE such as Khatt, Maddab, and Bu Sukhanah among others that are also conventional sources. Until ten years ago, falajes were the primary arteries of water sources in the eastern region of the UAE. However, many of these falajes are now dry due to prolonged drought and excessive pumping of groundwater (Santhosh et al., 2014).

The main conventional water source in the UAE is groundwater that is produced by SEWA. Some of the notable groundwater aquifers are “the limestone aquifers in the north and east, fractured ophiolite rocks in the east, the gravel aquifers flanking the eastern mountains from the east and west and the sand dune aquifers in the south and west” (United Nations, 2013, p. 29). At present, the largest fresh groundwater reservoir in the UAE is located in piedmont plains alluvial deposits within the eastern mountains called the eastern and western gravel aquifers. However, the increasing pumping activities have affected groundwater in several locations due to salt-water intrusion. Since most of the groundwater salinities high to low brackish, their use is limited to agriculture (Lubega et al., 2014).

Hydrochemistry of groundwater source varies and consist of calcium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, and magnesium sulfate among others (Al-Otaibi et al., 2013). Over the years, the estimated total annual groundwater production has gradually decreased from 35557.25 million gallons in 2000 to 20033.93 in 2015 (Government.ae, 2018). SEWA produced 9907 million of groundwater in 2000, but the production dropped to 9407.3 million gallons in 2015 (see table 2). Through a groundwater dependency management policy, SEWA has managed to reduce “this dependency from 47.22% in 2000 to 33.22% in 2010” (Alawar, 2014, p. 27).

At present, groundwater dependency is decreasing substantially as the UAE switched to non-conventional sources such as treated wastewater and desalinated water. However, groundwater usage is still high as compared to the annual recharge rate and production. When this trend persists, it is projected that there will be a deficit in reservoirs for groundwater and it has to be covered by the expensive desalinated water production (Susskind & Zaerpoor, 2017). The substantial variation between recharge points and groundwater abstraction is associated with increasing demand for water in the UAE due to economic development and population growth (Santhosh et al., 2013). Moreover, the expanded agricultural practices accounting for more than 70% of groundwater consumption is also associated with increased demand. At present, the persisting groundwater deterioration and reduction is a hindrance to the sustainability of this water source in the UAE.

Table 2. Water sources percentages. (Source: Clean Energy Business Council, 2014).

Source Quantity (MCM) Percentage (%)
Groundwater 1,850 43.7
Treated water 615 14.5
Desalinated water 1,750 41.4
Surface water 16 0.4
Total 4,231 100

The seven Emirates are supporting existing deficits in conventional water sources with non-conventional alternatives such as desalination of brackish and seawater. By the end of 2006, the government had built more than 36 desalination plants across the seven regions (Farid, 2015). For instance, some of the notable plants include Al-Hamriyah, Abu Mussa, Kalba, and Sharjah Layyah which use reverse osmosis and multi-effect distillation. The production of desalinated water across the UAE has increased over the years. For instance, the volume of desalinated water produced in the seven Emirates increased from 134,412.8 million gallons in 2000 to 277,942.14 million gallons in 2013. Specifically, SEWA was able to increase its production of desalinated water from 11,075 million gallons in 2000 to 18,438.54 million gallons in 2013 (Domonkos, 2014).

Dependency on desalinated water has equally increased from 52.78% in 2000 to 69.22% in 2013. In the last five years, the UAE government has invested more than AED 3 billion in desalinated water plant development or improvement projects since this source is one of the most reliable and sustainable. Another important water source is treated wastewater, which is a non-conventional resource. This source is categorized by the UAE government as a supportive or back up to the water used form agricultural activities, which take up to 705 of all groundwater production. At present, treated wastewater accounts for8.9% of total annual water production (Al-Otaibi et al., 2013). Since conventional water resources experienced unpredictable shortages, the production of treated wastewater in the UAE is steadily increasing annually by about 10% since this source can also be used for domestic purposes (Farid, 2015).

There are more than 34 wastewater treatment plants in the UAE with an estimated capacity of 42.438 million gallons every day. Expansion of treated wastewater production is related to water availability shortage, which is a serious risk to the agricultural sector (Chowdhury, Mohamed, & Murad, 2016). At present, more than 70% of all treated wastewater is consumed through irrigation and landscaping. The ever increasing treated wastewater production has been necessitated by water shortages that might seriously affect the agricultural industry (Farid, 2015). The wastewater treatment process in the UAE involves preliminary treatment, secondary treatment, tertiary treatment, sled treatment, and pumping to storage tanks (Mamoon & Rahman, 2017). Generally, great efforts have been made by the UAE government to address the water scarcity challenge through the utilization of conventional and non-conventional water sources. However, the challenge of persistent scarcity is still grappling the UAE water management system. Therefore, this research will attempt to recommend strategies for improving the water resources management system to guarantee better optimization of any management policy or plan for sustainable functionality.

Water Resource Management in the UAE

The several Emirates regions have hyper-arid to arid climate with infrequent rainfall and high temperatures. During summer, the average temperature is about 45 degrees Celsius, and humidity of 97%. On a daily basis, the average rate of evaporation is 8.2 mm with the sunshine of about 9.8 hours. Annually, the mean rainfall is 120mm (Government.ae, 2018). The seven Emirates have noticed the significance of conserving water resources as a foundation for policy-based sustainable development at present and in the future. Since the UAE region is endowed with marine, coastal, and terrestrial ecosystems, the government has put in place national legislation focused on addressing environmental issues such as sustainable water resource management (Mamoon & Rahman, 2017). Notwithstanding the arid climate, the UAE has an expansive and thriving farming industry propelled by modernized and mechanized irrigation using water resources from desalination plants, wastewater treatment points, and groundwater aquifers (Santhosh et al., 2014). As result, it is not possible for the UAE’s agricultural industry to expand as large tracks of land can now be farmed. At present, more than 100,000 hectares of land are cultivated and irrigated annually to produce vegetables, fruits, and fodder among others (Government.ae, 2018).

Every year, the total demand for water in the UAE is increasing gradually. The demand currently stands at 4.5 billion cubic meters (BCM) every year while the UAE’s renewable freshwater resources are about 150 million cubic meters per year (Todorova, 2014). Therefore, it is estimated that when the current demand rates and pattern persists for the next five to ten years, the annual water demand is projected to double about 9 to 10 billion cubic meters, which is double the current rate (Mamoon & Rahman, 2017). Specifically, the greatest increase is expected to come from the rising urban demand for commercial, industrial, household, public facilities, and institutions due to commercial and population growth (Domonkos, 2014).

Moreover, forestry and agricultural water demand are also “expected to decrease relative to current values as a result of depleting groundwater resources, unless treated wastewater or desalinated water resources are used as alternative sources” (UNDP, 2013, p. 9). The rising need for desalination could be attributed to oil discovery since revenues from these natural resources are used by the UAE to invest in water resources management system and other economic development initiatives. These investments have resulted in increased economic development accompanied by an influx of workers, which has expanded water consumption over the last two decades. Saif (2014) notes that desalination needs will rise in the future. Fortunately, the government has invested heavily in this area, which is an indication of forethought and awareness in planning for future integrated sustainable water resources management.

The UAE has also put in place a proactive Water Conservation Strategy (WCS) created in 2010 under the Environmental and Water Ministry (Todorova, 2014). The WCS has frameworks for systematic and sustainable water resources management in the UAE up to the year 2021 (Gelil, 2013). These frameworks are accompanied by eight strategic initiatives such as “developing an integrated water management approach, improving natural water resources management, developing a national agricultural policy to conserve water, managing efficiently desalinated water, rationalizing water consumption, developing water pricing and subsidy policies, and better managing wastewater” (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014, para. 13). However, despite these actions and activities, the UAE government has never issued a comprehensive report discussing progress in achieving WCS initiatives.

Water Consumption in the UAE across Different Sectors

Water consumption in the UAE varies from one sector to another, with the agricultural industry taking the largest share of 60% while the domestic sector consumes 25%. The industrial sector takes a 9% share while commercial and municipal segments take up to 31% (see table 3 and pie-chart 1). Despite accounting for about 1% of the total UAE GDP, irrigated agriculture is the primary water user with an annual average of 60% of all produced water. 39% of this share is consumed in productive agriculture while 11% is used in landscaping and greening (Gelil, 2013).

The rest is utilized in forestry. 40% of total water consumption in the UAE is used in municipal/commercial and industrial sectors. Irrigation water is often used wastefully since most farmers still use the furrow and flooding techniques in cultivating high-water-uptake crops with low yield value (Clean Energy Business Council, 2014). In the recent past, the government has come up with improved technologies that are more efficient than the traditional flooding approach such as drip irrigation, which is expected to reduce the wastage by up to 35% (Todorova, 2014). Since 70% of the UAE population lives in urban areas, the rapid urbanization projects and massive real estate construction has increased the municipal and commercial usage to 31%. Lastly, the UAE industrialization initiatives utilize at least 9% of annual water production (Government.ae, 2018).

Table 3: Water consumption per sector from the year 2002 up to projections in 2050. (Source: Government.ae, 2018).

Year 2002 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2050
Household (MCM) 830.7 1,045.5 1,571.9 2,363.2 3,274.6 4,923.2 6,646
Industrial (MCM) 332.9 381 477.1 597.3 715.1 895.4 1,791
Agricultural (MCM) 2,340.6 2,753 3,637.8 4,865.5 6,207.1 8,561 8,561
Total (MCM) 3,504.2 4179.5 5,686.8 7,826 10,196.8 14,379.6 19,138

 

Water consumption share per sector.
Pie-chart 1. Water consumption share per sector. (Source: Farid, 2015).

Regional Breakdown of Water Use and Sustainability Index in the UAE

Regional water usage across the seven Emirates varies from one area to another, depending on population, size of the agricultural sector, and urbanization. At present, Abu Dhabi Emirate has the highest annual consumption at 4,323 MCM because it has larger agricultural land in addition to intense urbanization projects. This is followed by Dubai at 1,234 MCM per annum (Todorova, 2014). The third position is occupied by Sharjah at 897 MCM and Ras Al Khaimah at 675 MCM. The Emirates of Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, and Fujairah annual consumptions are 259, 567, and 643 MCM, respectively (Al-Zubari et al., 2017). In terms of regional consumption, the coastal region consumers 69% of the annual water produced as compared to the mainland’s 31% usage.

Challenges in Water Resource Management in the UAE

The seven Emirates face a myriad of challenges related to water resource management. Within the GCC’s Unified Water Strategy (UWS) framework, the UAE has not been able to effectively meet the five these under this strategy such as development and “sustainability of water resources, efficient and equitable water resources utilization, enhanced municipal water supply security, effective water governance and awareness, and economic efficiency and financial sustainability” (World Economic Forum, 2016, p. 17). Against the GCC’s UWS target of wastewater usage at 60%, reduction of water consumption per capita to 250 liters per day, and increasing efficiency of irrigation to 60% by 2035, the UAE is lagging behind in some of these benchmarks. For instance, the average irrigation efficiency in the UAE is estimated between 45% and 55% (Gelil, 2013).

Moreover, the UAE has not effectively integrated strategies for gaining cumulative savings associated with costs and volumes for desalination production, municipal wastewater, and general water supply, and other energy requirements. The GCC-UWS report indicated that the water resources governance across the region is “scattered between different authorities and not managed through a focused approach” (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014, para. 9). This means that the UAE has not been able to achieve integrated and effective water resources governance through the creation of a water-oriented culture within the seven Emirates (Todorova, 2014). Despite the existence of several policies and strategies for water resources management, the UAE still lags behind in its standards, data, legal framework, and regulatory controls in the use of its aquifers. Moreover, Saif (2014) notes that the UAE has not formulated a balanced water demand and supply management.

What the Government is doing

Water resources are managed in the UAE through government-appointed institutions that are governed by stringent laws. The Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) provides water services to Emirates located in the north such as Al Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and a section of Sharjah. At the regional level, there are authorizes in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai that service the water needs of their Emirates. For instance, Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) serves Abu Dhabi Emirate, Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA) serves Dubai Emirate while Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) serves Sharjah Emirate (Gelil, 2013). These institutions operate under several water management legal frameworks borrowed from international and local best practices (Todorova, 2014).

Since the UAE is a signatory to a series of international environmental conventions, the current legal frameworks include Kyoto Protocol, UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (World Economic Forum, 2016). At the regional level, the water resources management laws in the UAE integrate “the Kuwait Regional Convention on the Protection of Marine Environment and Pollution and the Convention on the Conservation of Wildlife and its Natural Habitats in the GCC bloc” (Al-Zubari et al., 2017, p. 13). At the state level, the government has passed several decrees and laws to facilitate effective water resources management. For instance, the Federal Law No (24) 1999 on development and protection of the environment addresses environmental protection, assessment, monitoring, management of discharged polluted water, “protection of drinking water quality from storage tanks, handling of dangerous substances, and natural reserves” (Malek, 2013, para. 5). The stakeholders within the UAE water resources management are government (Emirate and federal levels), society (media, the general public, and environmental organizations), and business (investors, industrial, financial, and individual parties) (Al-Zubari et al., 2017).

The government of the UAE has been at the forefront of promoting sustainability and conservation by creating open access to awareness campaigns, online consumption calculators, statistical information, and public participation. These strategies are integrated into supply and demand management techniques (World Economic Forum, 2016). Under the supply management strategy, the UAE government has been proactive in research to find alternative technology for effective desalination processes that can save on costs and improve sustainability (Malek, 2013). Since 80% of the UAE’s potable water is from desalination plants, the government has been experimenting with alternatives that have lower energy use. Several policy approaches have been created to manage the supply aspect of water resources management. According to Al-Otaibi et al. (2013), the UAE government has put in place a four-scenario narrative to be accomplished by 2050.

This strategy integrates “Markets First, Policy First, Security First and Suitability First scenarios” (Al-Otaibi et al., 2013, p. 31). The ‘Market First’ scenario emphasizes strategic economic growth, irrespective of the cost implications. Through the internalization of technological advancements for the development of the UAE economy, it is expected that environmental and natural resources such as water will deplete, thus, increasing health risks (Chowdhury et al., 2016). In order to avoid this situation, the government has opted for a public-private partnership in water resources management in order to lower the economic burden while attracting investments in the sensitive water resources sector (United Nations, 2013). The ‘Policy First’ envisages public participation, constitutional review, and transparency in water resources management (Malek, 2013).

This scenario puts emphasis on environmental protection and the well-being of the UAE citizens. The ‘Security First’ scenario envisions appropriate budgetary allocations directed towards water governance from environmental, economic development, and social perspectives (Al-Zubari et al., 2017). However, the current investment in research and development for other non-conventional water resources in the UAE targets private companies. The ‘Sustainability First’ scenario aims at addressing the solutions to current challenges in water resources management in the seven Emirates. Specifically, this scenario recommends the integration of long-term strategic planning through heavy investment in training, capacity development, and educational programs (Clean Energy Business Council, 2014). For instance, the UAE government has increased its investment in research and development over the last 20 years to attempt to solve water problems such as unpredictable supply, climate change, and contamination of the network (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014).

The ‘Sustainability First’ and ‘Policy First’ approaches in the UAE have resulted in quick and positive progress without economic development compromise. These technological advancements achieved through continuous research and development and proactive government investment in the current water resource infrastructure has created a relatively stable integrated water resources management system (Chowdhury et al., 2016). The UAE government has also been proactive in managing water resources demand through the employment of strategies designed to lower the demand while increasing supply.

According to Saif (2014), the government has given demand management more attention than supply management to minimize new and unplanned investments in water infrastructure. For instance, the UAE is currently using 60-90% of its groundwater resources for agricultural needs (World Economic Forum, 2016). Out of this quantity, it is estimated that more than 45% of these water resources go to waste due to poor farming practices (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014). As a result, the government has increased research and piloting of better irrigation strategies to increase food security while sustaining water usage (Clean Energy Business Council, 2014). In managing the demand side in water resources strategy, the UAE government has been working on several technical efficiencies associated with water usage such as smart meters, consumption regulators, and tax breaks for effective large-scale water users (Al-Zubari et al., 2017). The government is also promoting water conservation through increasing access to public awareness and participation.

Conclusion

The literature review has extensively acknowledged the significance of sustainable water resources management within the UAE. The topic is wide and should be given a scientific approach in order to address matters of priority in water resources use and sustainability in the short and long term, especially in policy governance and planning. The challenges in the current integrated sustainable water resources management system should be solved in the UAE, especially considering the ever-rising population and increasing demand for water. Although the government has put in place policies and measures for balancing the water supply and demand management through its Water Conservation Strategy, the benchmarks for tracking progress and effectiveness are not clear.

Although the government’s actions are positive steps towards formalized water resources management, there are still challenges in the effectiveness and efficiency aspects of these policies. The literature review has identified several challenges that the UAE government has to deal with to secure its water resources. The identified literature gap is the non-existence of reports highlighting and tracking the progress of the current water resources management initiatives. Therefore, it is difficult to quantify the performance of these strategies. This research paper will attempt to address this gap by examining the progress and possible recommendations for creating a proactive integrated sustainable water resources management system for the seven Emirates making up the UAE. The recommendations will also facilitate the improvement of effectiveness, efficiency, engagement, and trust in water resources governance.

Methodology

Introduction

This section of the paper will examine the method to be applied in collecting data and analyzing the results. Since this study is focused on a specific region, which is the UAE, the researcher will apply a research survey for an approach to gather primary and secondary data through quantitative and qualitative data analysis. The choice of quantitative and qualitative analysis was informed by the need to properly facilitate proper understanding of attributes related to water resources management as influencing its sustainability (Sherif, 2018). From the research survey of twenty respondents, mainly managers and supervisors of the UAE water management institutions, the research will analyze the results in order to identify the current policies, strategies, and challenges as part of sustainability governance (see appendix 1). The application of this approach is necessary for facilitating the identification of different statistical patterns emerging from the collected data as related to the variables of study (Mason, 2017). The collection of water consumption data of the UAE for quantitative analysis was carried out from reliable government and scholarly sources.

Research Design

The research design approach was semi-structured interviews targeting managers in the UAE water management institutions such as the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA), and Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA). This approach was combined with quantitative data collected from secondary sources. The rationale for a mixed research design was informed by the need to emphasize qualitative results supported by published government data on water consumption to expand statistical accuracy (Sherif, 2018). Since the proposed study is dynamic, subjective, and focused, the researcher used a mixed-method to accommodate several tools of analysis and minimize the potential margin of error.

Research Questions

The researcher adopted 9 open-ended questions that were relevant to the study objectives. These questions were pretested for accuracy and relevance to the conceptual framework and aims of the entire research study (Bryman & Bell, 2015). The final list of proposed questions is summarized below:

  1. In your opinion, which factors have the most impact on the current UAE water resources management approach?
  2. Which regions or parts of the UAE are often most affected by water shortages risks?
  3. Which sector in water consumption is exposed to the greatest risk of water shortages, in terms of industrial, agricultural, and domestic users?
  4. In your view, is there a correlation between the increasing population in the UAE and policies in place to govern water resources?
  5. How does climate change impact UAE water governance and sustainability?
  6. Which water resource management challenges should have short terms and long term solutions?
  7. How is your organization addressing or planning to handle these challenges or factors?
  8. What opportunities and challenges have been identified in addressing these challenges?
  9. Would you recommend a specific policy to be implemented to ensure the sustainability of the current water resources management?

The researcher also used a probing question to capture personal insight, especially in the answers that were entirely based on personal opinion (Mason, 2017). With the intent of capturing the insider perspective, the interviews were focused on the water and electricity ministry. This means that the open-ended questions were adequate in exploring the what, how, and why aspects of the research topic.

Setting and Sample

The researcher began by compiling relevant themes captured in the literature review on water resources management best practices and current state in the UAE’s seven emirates. This was followed by compilation and probing of the interview questions. The researcher then pre-tested the questions by having a short interview with two officials to confirm their reaction and relevance of the proposed interview questions (Sherif, 2018). The responses from the pilot study were used to generate the final list of questions. The setting for conducting the interviews was mainly at the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA), and Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) institutions.

The sample consisted of nine respondents drawn from officials and heads of the water management institutions, especially from the police department. This sample consists of experienced persons who understand the water resource management situation in the UAE besides being directly involved in decision and policy formulation. Moreover, the sample group has an expansive knowledge of the procedures being implemented by the government to address issues associated with water consumption and conservation (Bryman & Bell, 2015). The nine sample respondents currently work in the same field and understand the functional interaction at the institution and ministry levels. Conducting interviews for top management echelons of the UAE water resources institutions ensured that inferences made by the researcher could be compared to policy structuring and context of the same (Mason, 2017). The researcher also collected official water usage and policy target data from these institutions in addition to requesting the interviewees to submit any data they had at the moment.

Data Collection

The researcher made an official request to interview the respondents and expounded to them the nature and scope of the study using a sample 10-item sample questionnaire (Sherif, 2018). The activities of the interview process and their meaning were explained to give the respondent enough time for preparing responses. This means that the policy practices and opinions of the respondents were the research subject matter. The researcher ensured that the responses were captured and transcribed to give a description of the research questions in the context of water consumption and conservation data available (Mason, 2017). Moreover, the researcher took field notes to highlight impressions for a more focused and continuous evaluation of the responses. Each interview question was transcribed independently to enable the researcher to highlight critical points and identify a trend (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Through a proactive and holistic approach, the researcher was in a position to grasp all the primary themes from the interviews and published data.

Data Analysis

Both qualitative and quantitative data analyses were performed by the researcher. The qualitative analysis was based on the interview results that were tabulated to identify a common trend (see appendix 1) (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Quantitative data analysis involved reviewing published water conservation and consumption data from Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA), Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA), Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA), and Competitiveness and Statistics Authority. The data captured was for a period of ten years, that is, from 2001 to 2015. The researcher organized the collected published data into sector-wide consumption, authority wide consumption, and population growth.

This set of data was selected because it would facilitate a proactive analysis of challenges in water resources management and general consumption sustainability (Sherif, 2018). For instance, population growth rate data were used to analyze the impact of population expansion on the consumption of water resources. Generally, increasing growth in population is expected to put pressure on the consumption of water besides increased expenditure to meet demand. Moreover, the sector and authority wide sets of data were collected to examine the rise or fall in water consumption and create a trend for future projections. The collected published data indicated that consumption of water resources has increased steadily in the last ten years, especially in agricultural and domestic sectors (Mason, 2017). The rationale for using two sectors in the analysis was informed by the segregated nature of data from other consumption sectors.

Assumptions in the Study

The first assumption was that published data across the seven Emirates are nearly normal, in terms of a trend over the ten-year period (Mason, 2017). The same trend is assumed for responses from interviews since the targeted respondents are policymakers. Specifically, the research will overly rely on the two sources to come up with scientific inferences. Another assumption is that the respondents will give accurate information that can be transcribed into a data set for establishing any existing trend (Bryman & Bell, 2015).

Limitations of the Study

Since substantial data was collected from qualitative interviews, there is a possibility of bias besides inaccurate data on water consumption. The sample space only consisted of nine respondents, thus, the research might end up with common approaches or views to the questions (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Under quantitative data, the collection of accurate water consumption data for the agricultural sector was difficult since some authorities did not have updated information. Therefore, the researcher was unable to compare the existing and past rates of water consumption.

Delimitations of the Study

The researcher will subject each response to qualitative data to ensure consistency and dependability. For instance, each response to the ten questions by a respondent will be coded to reduce generalization bias (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Moreover, the researcher has adequate training on professionalism and will remain neutral in presenting results. Thematic and content analyses will also be closely observed to ensure that findings fall within the context of the study (Sherif, 2018). In order to minimize biases associated with quantitative data, the research will use official water consumption data from government institutions and only refer to other sources to confirm the existing trend.

Conclusion

The researcher used a mixed research design approach to integrate quantitative and quantitative data analysis. The qualitative research involved direct interviewing a sample space of nine respondents who are a senior manager at the UAE water resources management institutions. The quantitative research was carried out through a collection of published data on water consumption in the UAE for a period of ten years. The small sample space might result in biases from limited insight. However, the research will probe and code each question to guarantee consistency and accuracy in presentation and analysis. The rationale for selecting a mixed research design was informed by the need to establish the current insight in water management policies and relate them to the trend from secondary data over a period of ten years.

Research Findings

Introduction

This section presents the results from the interviews and secondary data. Specifically, the section summarizes key factors that were identified as having an impact on water resources management in the UAE. In addition, this chapter examines the demographic and other characteristics of the participants.

Findings

For the qualitative data, the interview response rate was 100%, that is, all contacted participants answered all questions asked by the researcher. Moreover, the respondents were cooperative and cautious to explain their answers as was expected by the researcher. As summarized in table 4, the demographic characteristics of the respondents were diverse and observed scientific sampling requirements.

Table. 4. Demographic attributes of the respondents. (Source: Self-generated).

Demographic Data
Respondent groups Number Percentage (%)
Male respondents 7 77%
Female respondents 2 22%
Responsibility within the organization
Departmental head 5 55%
Manager 4 45%
Years of experience in water institution
10 years and above 6 66%
20 years and above 3 33%
Experience in water policymaking and implementation
10 years and below 4 45%
10 years and above 5 55%
Level of expertise education
Diploma 0 0%
Bachelor Degree 2 22%
Masters Degree 5 56%
Ph.D. Degree 2 22%

Apart from the gender imbalance in the selection of the participants due to t patriarchal nature of the UAE society, other variables met all the requirements and indicated that the respondents are very experienced in water management policies as confirmed by many years of experience and advanced level of professional education. The respondents identified five key factors as having the greatest impact on the current water resources management at the UAE. These factors are climate change, water source, population growth/consumption, and sector-based consumption. The respondents identified several policies and initiatives in place to tackle these negative effects of these factors such as improved technology, improved efficiency in the water network, and changing public perception on conservation among others.

All the respondents agreed that climate change is a threat to water management initiatives in the UAE since it affects the water cycle. For instance, interviews A, B, D, F, and J associated the less rainfall, higher temperatures, rise in sea level, extreme weather, and high evaporation rates to changes in the climate. The respondents further noted that since climate change is a natural condition, it is challenging to tackle its effects since their occurrence is unpredictable. All the respondents agreed that climate change has increased water demand, especially in the agricultural sector, which is the heaviest consumer. For instance, interviewees C, E, G, H, and I noted that the increasing temperatures have increased ‘evapotranspiration, evaporation, and consumption. Respondent J further added that climate change may increase water shortages, especially when the demand and supply sides of water resources management cannot be balanced.

Respondent A raised a concern on the need for modern and cheap technology in the desalination processes since extreme climate changes might reduce the quality of desalinated water. However, interviewee E was positive that rising temperatures might actually increase rainfall since high evaporation is good for the hydrologic cycle. The respondents agreed that climate change will reduce the intensity and quantity of rainfall in the UAE. The secondary data confirmed this opinion. For instance, in the last two decades, the average rainfall has dropped from 120mm/year to 80mm/year (Chowdhury et al., 2016). Respondent H explained the impact of reduced rainfall as lowering groundwater recharge in addition to increased leaching of harmful agricultural chemicals into the water system. Interviewee B noted that the rising sea temperatures have created an ideal environment for algal bloom, which is associated with an increase in toxins in the seawater by reducing oxygen levels. This situation may negatively affect desalination plants’ performance by blocking the desalination machines’ membranes. However, the respondent added that the UAE has advanced desalination plants that are not affected by the algal bloom.

Water distribution infrastructure and sources identified by the interviewees include conventional and non-conventional resources. Interviewee H indicated that Abu Dhabi Emirate faces the highest water shortage risk in the UAE since it depends on natural groundwater, which has been overexploited. Although groundwater is no longer a source of drinking water, the agricultural sector’s irrigation activities are supported by this resource. Interviewees E, F, G, and J noted that other regions exposed to water shortage risks are shorelines of the UAE because of high saltwater intrusion levels. Respondents A, C, E, and G indicated that the northern and eastern parts of the UAE have higher rainfall per annum and currently the main feeders of many water reservoirs. According to the government data, drilling of groundwater has increased by almost 70% in the last 20 years. For instance, in the late 1980s, usable groundwater could be reached after drilling 250 to 300 feet. However, at present, drilling has to go deeper than 900 feet to tap groundwater (Government.ae, 2018). All the respondents agreed that abundant seawater is the primary alternative in increasing water supply in the UAE. The government data confirmed this view as indicated by the extensive installation of desalination plants over the years (see figure 4).

Seawater desalination capacity from 1970 to 2014.
Figure 4. Seawater desalination capacity from 1970 to 2014. (Source: Saif, 2014).

Interviewee C and J indicated that the entire UAE water supply network is sustained by desalinated water from the sea. As part of the water security strategy, the government of the UAE has committed $15.78 billion to upgrade distribution and desalination plants for the next 6 years (Government.ae, 2018). As captured in figure 5, the increased investment is expected to inject at least 200 MCM in the current water supply network.

Desalination plants that are to be upgraded in the next six years.
Figure 5. Desalination plants that are to be upgraded in the next six years. (Source: Government.ae, 2018).

The secondary data from government publications indicated a sharp rise in population and general water consumption despite declining supply due to climate changes. The data over a period of more than ten years, that is from 2005 to 2015 indicated a sharp rise in water demand in the UAE in the three major sectors, that is, agriculture, domestic, and commercial users (Chowdhury et al., 2016). Due to the decentralized data management approach, the researcher could not get data from some domains or years from the government reports (Todorova, 2014). However, the data collected were adequate for establishing a trend and addressing the research questions comprehensively. Interviewee C noted that the estimated annual demand for water is 4.5 BCM which is 150 MCM higher than the current production capacity. It is further projected that the demand might double in the next 15 years, especially if the current population growth rates persist (Gelil, 2013).

Specifically, the interviewees noted that commercial, domestic, and agricultural sectors are projected to have the highest increase in demand for water. The Ministry of Energy and Water (MoEW) has forecasted that the UAE’s current pursuit of economic growth will only be realized through adequate and effective water resources management (Government.ae, 2018). As illustrated in table 6, the population growth rate has increased steadily in the last ten years, that is, from 2005 to 2015 from 4 to 9 million (Government.ae, 2018). The interviewees associated the rapid increase in population with a rising demand for water and other government services. Water consumption has also increased steadily between 2005 and 2015 from 250,000 MIG to 389,000 MIG (Chowdhury et al., 2016). Interviewee H was worried by the high per capita consumption of water in the UAE, which is three times the average worldwide usage of 630 liters/capita. The interviewees noted that the erroneous levels of consumption should be bridged through government initiatives to promote water conservation and proper usage culture. The respondents further agreed that there is an urgent need to improve the current water management system in the UAE.

Population growth in the UAE from 2005 to 2015.
Table 5. Population growth in the UAE from 2005 to 2015. (Source: Government.ae, 2018).

Conclusion

The findings from secondary and primary data confirmed that the UAE government is facing challenges of sustainability in water resources management due to rapid population growth, climate change, high cost of desalination, wastages, and depleting water sources. The respondents suggested improvement in water production and supply network through the integration of new technology. Moreover, the respondents recommended that the government should attempt to change the public culture of wasteful water usage and create a strong policy network for ease of enforcement.

Discussion

Introduction

This chapter relates the findings to best practices as part of a policy initiative to improve water resources management in the UAE. This section relates the results of the study to current challenges in water resources management in an attempt to present alternative supply and demand governance that integrates the elements of trust/engagement, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Summary of Findings

As expounded in the literature review, the research study framework was based on examining the water resources management in the UAE and current challenges using the OECD’s resource governance principles, which are engagement, effectiveness, and efficiency. The qualitative part of this study drew several inferences as suggested by the nine interviewees. Specifically, the interviewees identified climate change, increasing population, wastages, and rapid industrialization as putting pressure on water management sustainability. The respondents suggested a paradigm shift in water management approach through integration technology, change of public wastage culture, and focused policy to guarantee sustainability. In specific terms, the integrated sustainable water resources management system in the UAE should include the principles of efficiency, effectiveness, and engagement.

The effectiveness principle institutionalizes policies and processes defining proper sustainability goals targeting all water governance levels. This principle entails meeting and implementing set targets through a policy-oriented establishment of clear roles for stakeholders and water governance using appropriate scales. The framework should be coherent for all the sectors for ease of enforcement. For instance, a comprehensive capacity building plan could address challenges associated with end-user wastages to increase water sustainability.

The interviewees suggested that water governance should be centralized for ease of managing data as opposed to the current fragmented approach, which is delimiting the effectiveness of the UAE’s Water Conservation Strategy (WCS) through increased inefficiencies. Since the respondents noted that integration in the management of water resources would balance the demand and supply domains, a policy laden approach would make the process efficient and optimal to reduce the persistent shortages. For instance, a strategic water reserve was identified by interviewees C, D, H, and I. It is apparent that the UAE government has rolled out several strategies and initiatives to address sustainable water governance. At present, the nation is a party to several international and regional protocols encouraging long-term water resources sustainability.

The efficiency principle in an integrated water resources management examines the benefits of optimal supply and demand management at the least cost to the UAE society. In order to achieve this principle, the interviewees recommended sharing of information and data through a centralized communication network, efficient allocation and mobilization of finances, heighten research innovation, and proactive building of regulatory frameworks. As noted in the OECD principles, centralized data management in water governance would reduce fragmentations associated with inefficiencies. For instance, interviewee H proposed a digital water resources atlas for the entire UAE to fasten tracking of problems and their solutions.

Moreover, there is a need for expanded investment in the water infrastructure to curb the current shortage and align production to demand through the use of new technologies. The interviewees agreed that desalination is a very expensive project because of direct and indirect costs to the environment. Therefore, using the new technology would increase the level of efficiency. This principle is complete with relevant and comprehensive legislative and regulative frameworks are integrated as proposed by all the interviewees. These frameworks will address extraction, production, supply, and usage within standard global consumption per capita. Respondent J confirmed that the government is implementing most of the GCC initiatives on water resources sustainability, despite budget constraints. However, the consumption data indicated that more need to be done to meet the demand of the ever-growing population against depleting water resources.

Within the principle of building trust and engagement, the respondents noted that the UAE government. For instance, respondent B, C, D, F, and I opined that safeguarding stakeholder inclusiveness and building public assurance through promoting proactive engagement and transparency in water resources management may improve on sustainability. Moreover, respondent A stated that the current water management frameworks should be enforced to manage trade-offs among end-user sectors. For instance, respondent H suggested increasing water prices to encourage conservation through reduced consumption. This means that a simple reduction in the demand or per capital consumption management would lower pressure on the supply side. In addition, the findings indicated that the UAE government does not have any comprehensive report on the progress of its water management initiatives. This has made it difficult for water institutions to evaluate and monitory existing water policies.

Conclusion

This chapter has related the literature review findings to research study inferences. Under the proposed OECD water governance principles, it is apparent that the UAE government is attempting to integrate efficiency, effectiveness, and engagement in water resources management through policies, plans, and initiatives. However, there is a need for an expanded, inclusive, and demand management approach to lower pressure on the supply side. Moreover, new technology and increased investment in the water infrastructure may seal the current shortage while guaranteeing long term sustainability.

Conclusions, Recommendations, and Suggestions for Future Research

Recommendations

Enforcing green building codes for water efficiency

The UAE government should consider expanding the existing Unified UAE Water Strategy to ensure that the green building codes are enforced for water efficiency. The unification will ensure that the UAE conforms to GCC’s Unified Water Security Strategy. Moreover, government agencies will be empowered by a more focused enforcement policy with a clear legal framework (Madden et al., 2013). The green building codes could be institutionalized across the water management authorities and other relevant government bodies into a coherent policy to avoid the current challenges in enforcement such as poor coordination among stakeholders.

The green building codes could be centralized during enforcement to improve water efficiency (Singh & Singh, 2014). For instance, it would be appropriate to open offices across the seven Emirates to enforce the codes with their headquarters in Abu Dhabi. This will avoid the scattered approach and internal divisions among enforcement agencies. From the data gathered, FEWA recorded an annual shortage of 4,000 MIG (Lubega et al., 2014). Through the effective endorsement of the green building codes, this shortage could be reduced substantially and may evenly end over a longer period of correct mapping (Dawlabani, 2013).

Promoting the use of Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) for irrigation

To reduce the high water consumption rate in the agricultural sector, there is a need to roll out a comprehensive, inclusive, and incentive-laden campaign for the use of Treated Sewage Effluent for irrigation as opposed to clean water. This initiative should be backed with common legislative and regulatory frameworks for ease of enforcement. For instance, the water resources management stakeholders such as private institutions, semi-government authorities, water institutions, and ministry could partner to spearhead a national campaign that is done at the regional level, especially in agricultural areas (Battor & Battour, 2013). The farmers could be motivated to use treated effluent in irrigation instead of desalinated water to lower the cost of farming from the end-user perspective. At the same time, the burden of production of desalinated water will reduce once farmers embrace the new irrigation suggestion (Eman, Ayman, & El-Nahas, 2013). When implemented, the UAE will be in a position to meet the GCC’s Unified Water Strategy aim of building awareness across the level of water consumption sectors.

Updating the country’s infrastructure to include smart metering systems and modern desalination plants

The UAE has a robust economy with one of the highest rates of urbanization in the world. The commercial and municipal water consumption has been rising to serve the expanding demand. In order to sustain the supply and demand sides of water resources management, there is a need for updating the current water infrastructure through the use of reliable, efficient, and effective modern technology (Harrison, 2018). For instance, the integration of smart meter technology might reduce wastages associated with leakages due to end-user negligence.

The smart meters could also empower the end-users to track their consumption periodically and to be in control of how much water they consume (Al-Ansari, 2015). Moreover, the smart meter can detect uneven flow or leakage in the water system (Chowdhury et al., 2016). As a result, the government will be in a position to accurately manage consumption while minimizing wastages that are threatening the current water management approach (Harrison & Wicks, 2013). Moreover, it is necessary for the UAE government to invest more resources in new technologies for water desalination plants to reduce the high costs associated with running these production factories. The new technology in desalination and general supply network will substantially improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire water network (Guiso, Sapienza, & Zingales, 2015).

Collect the non-revenue water

As part of inclusive engagement and building trust in the water resource management approach, there is a need to implement the collection of non-revenue water as part of the incentives and recognition of efficient users (Daft & Marcic, 2016). These initiatives should be aimed at encouraging individuals and institutions to reduce their usage and be part of the conservation movement as positive contributors to reducing the cost of water production and supply (Chowdhury et al., 2016).

Awareness for the public to change the mindset

Improved information dissemination in building awareness among the general public is needed to change the wasteful water consumption mindset. The relevant authority should put in place initiatives for building engagement and trust among the UAE population. For instance, government agencies should improve on their current efforts in disseminating information on water consumption and the need to increase green living as part of conservation strategies (Abusa & Gibson, 2013). Private and public organizations could partner to provide nationwide consumer education programs and initiatives. These campaigns should integrate multilingual, simplified, illustrated, and visible messages directed at building awareness in the UAE (Battor & Battour, 2013). Through this approach, the relevant water management bodies will improve the value and importance of water conservation to reduce end-user wastages.

Conclusion

The aim of this study was to comprehend the current strategies in water resources management and the challenges faced by the stakeholders in sustaining these operational frameworks. The seven Emirates making up the UAE have more or less similar climate ranging from hyper-arid to arid with scarce natural water resources. The scarcity is further complicated by the high evaporation rates, even increasing demand and harsh environmental conditions. As established in the study, the dependency rate on desalinated water is very high at over 70% of total production per annum. The researcher examined current water management strategies for these water resources and initiatives the federal and regional governments have put in place to secure the quality, efficiency, access, and sustainability of the conventional and non-conventional water sources.

The study has discussed the impact of climate change and population growth on UAE’s water governance in addition to existing challenges. Specifically, rapid population growth, agriculture, and commercial activities were attributed to the increasing pressure of the UAE water resources. Literature review evidence indicates that the UAE government is at the forefront in attempting to address water management concerns through the Water Conservation Strategy and several short and long-term initiatives in the form of strategic plans per Emirate. The qualitative data collected from primary interview research confirmed that the government has put in place initiatives aimed at promoting public inclusion and continuous water resources use training for different user sectors and segments. However, these policies, strategies, and initiatives are not adequate for the creation of integrated sustainable water resources management for the UAE.

The research study has made several recommendations to the relevant authority to ensure trust, effectiveness, and efficiency in the water resources management system. These suggestions include enforcing green building codes for water efficiency, promoting the use of Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) for irrigation, updating the country’s infrastructure to include smart metering systems, collecting the non-revenue water, and building awareness for the public to change the mindset. However, it is significant for the UAE federal and regional governments to continue implementing the Emirates-specific and state Unified Water Strategy besides reducing subsidies on water through increasing tariffs.

Moreover, there is a need to develop coherent policies to integrate the water management authorities from a central data center. These proposed initiatives should be merged into an appropriate technology to advance the supply and demand control water resources system. When implemented, these recommendations will ensure that the UAE government is able to cap average water consumption, which is currently four times higher than the rate of consumption in the entire world. The inferences from this study contribute to the analysis of challenges in the water resources within the UAE and could be used to create a policy framework. The proposed recommendations could be integrated into the United Arab Emirates’ 2036 Water Security Strategy to ensure the aspects of suitability, efficiency, inclusiveness, quality, and access are achieved in the demand and supply sides of the water resources management.

Suggestions for Future Research

This research examined all the domains related to water resources management for the entire UAE. The study also generalized the water resources and sources for all the seven Emirates. This makes the findings general and might not address unique water resources management needs for a specific region. Therefore, further research should be carried out to examine specific domains that are unique to each of the seven Emirates in order to draw inferences that match the water resources and sources. For instance, a study on the management of treated wastewater or desalinated water plant governance could make the findings more specific. Moreover, further studies should be carried out to compare the water resources policies and management across the seven Emirates using the framework of unitary versus federal states.

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Appendix 1: Summary of Interview Data

Primary Themes Respondent Code Raw Interview Data
Regions affected most by water shortages Respondent A Since nearly 99% of all water resources in the UAE are from desalination plants, the entire UAE is at risk of water shortages. However, the Northern region is at the highest risk.
Respondent B The country is right in the middle of a desert. Every part is exposed to water shortage risk.
Respondent C Areas that over relied on wells and springs are the most exposed to water shortages since these sources are depleting.
Respondent D The interior region has less rainfall as compared to the eastern and northern regions.
Respondent E The depleting fresh water sources and ever declining rainfall exposes the entire UAE to water shortage risks, especially the coastal regions.
Respondent F The desert climate exposes the UAE to high evaporation rate that takes up to 3% of water sources.
Respondent G The groundwater sources are predicted to deplete by 2050, exposing UAE to further shortages, especially when nothing is done to find alternatives.
Respondent H Water shortages are minor since the UAE has not even started using its water reservoirs.
Respondent I Abu Dhabi is the most exposed region to water shortages since most of its groundwater sources are salinized and most reservoirs exhausted.
Challenges in water resources management and the government should do Respondent A UAE has the highest per capita water consumption, which is three times that of the world’s average usage. There is a need to integrate water conservation and proper usage culture.
Respondent B Agricultural sector uses up to 60% of the total water supplied, despite the low productivity plants. This should change and farmers should switch to treated affluent for irrigation.
Respondent C A lot of wastage occurs in the supply network due to old technology. Smart meters and modernized water network might reverse this trend.
Respondent D The entire water management network is disintegrated and managed by many entities, thus a lot of inefficiencies. There is a need to merge these organizations into a centralized management and data network for efficient response to any water management challenge.
Respondent E The ever increasing water demand has compromised conventional water resources and put a lot of pressure on the production and supply sides. There is a need to research for more efficient and cheaper alternative for water treatment. Moreover, the algae bloom might affect quality of water in the long run if high temperatures persist. The government could consider investing resources in research and development of modern, advanced, and efficient production cycle.
Respondent F There is an urgent need to promote conservation in domestic and agricultural sectors due to high wastages in irrigation and human consumption. Moreover, poor water supply network has increased incidences of water pollution and spills along the pipeline. Improved technology will solve this.
Respondent G Mismanagement of water resources due to disintegrated approach to governance is affecting the supply and demand side of water usage. The government should consider creating a centralized management system, such as a state water atlas for ease of governance.
Respondent H Desalinating water is a very costly affair and is laden with many negative environmental impacts. Moreover, usage of water is around 650 liters per household, which is very high and unsustainable. There is a need to invest in advanced desalination technology in addition to public engagement to change the wastage culture.
Respondent I The climate change has negatively impacted water security in the entire UAE. The high temperatures, low rainfall, intense evaporation, and overexploitation of water has put immense pressure on the UAE water management policies. There is a need to change the management policies to integrate systematic, focused, and endorsable laws for ease water governance.
What the government is doing Respondent A There are laws and regulations to ease management.
Respondent B The government has invested billions in desalination and research.
Respondent C Several campaigns across the UAE are in place to sensitize farmers and other users on the need for conservation.
Respondent D The government has a comprehensive water management plan under the vision 2036 besides other regional plans.
Respondent E A lot of resources have been invested in research to conserve and efficiently manage the production and supply sides of water management.
Respondent F There are policies in place, improved investment in water infrastructure, and integration of modern technology.
Respondent G The government has put up extensive water management plans besides increased investment in new modern desalination plants across the UAE
Respondent H The government is a party of several regional and international water conservation conventions, which are used to benchmark progress and authenticity of local management policies.
Respondent I The government has improved its investments in water management infrastructure in addition to reducing wastages through a behavioral change campaign. Moreover, there are several policies and plans in place for short and long term management plans to guarantee sustainability in production, supply, rejuvenation, and consumption of water resources.
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