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Integrated Sustainable Water Resource Management Dissertation


Water is an important resource for the sustainability of human life. Similarly, it supports the socioeconomic development of many countries and helps to maintain healthy ecosystems that nurture life. This important role of water to human and environmental ecosystems has led many researchers to derive a relationship between the sustainability of water resources and urbanization (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). Similarly, they have linked these two factors with climate change. Although the three variables (sustainability, urbanization and climate change) affect each other, they all fall define two points of one continuum – demand and supply of water. The supply of this precious commodity is mostly affected by the availability of ground and surface water reserves, while the demand is influenced by human factors, such as population growth, industrialization, and urbanization (Yigzaw and Hossain 1). Most of these human factors are intertwined with socioeconomic growth issues and affect the general demand for water. For example, population growth has been linked with rapid urbanization. Similarly, analysts have linked lateral urbanization with an increased strain on environmental resources (Ramadan 179). In the same breadth of analysis, they have associated population density increases with a surge in water demand.

The demand for water in many developing countries and cities is multidimensional (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). The multidimensionality of this resource corresponds with a direct demand for food production and energy. Changes in land use and land coverage patterns have also affected how different countries use their water resources, while climate change has affected the availability of the same resource. However, the role of these factors in influencing the availability of water is characterized by a spatial dependency of water. For example, in some areas, population growth may significantly outpace changes in land use or land coverage, while in others; climate change could overshadow all factors that would affect the availability of water (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). Economic developments may also have a significant influence on water availability because different economic sectors exert varied pressures on water availability.

Globally, researchers estimate that the agricultural sector causes the highest strain on water resources. However, currently, energy is responsible for the highest demand on water resources (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). A geological Survey Statistics based in the US affirms these findings after reporting that the agricultural demand for water resources in the US is 32%, while the demand for energy is about 45% (Davies et al. 7348). European studies have also highlighted the precarious situation energy production is in the continent relative to the environmental issues caused by climate change. They show that climate change has increased the vulnerability of energy production by up to 16% (Davies et al. 7348). American studies affirm the problem by presenting a different scenario of the same issue (Schwartz et al. 125). They say that the US population will increase by 30% in the year 2060 and this surge will likely cause a strain on available water resources. Comprehensively, their findings have heightened global attention to the need to balance human population growth with the ability of water resources that support the same.

Based on the above concerns, water scarcity has become a global problem especially for countries, which have limited resources. A scarcity in this resource could be analyzed from two perspectives: physical scarcity ad economic scarcity. Economic scarcity refers to a situation where water is available, but there are inadequate financial or technological resources to extract it. This type of scarcity is commonly associated with developing nations (Yigzaw and Hossain 1). More developed countries often grapple with the problem of physical scarcity because albeit there may be resources to extract water, it may be insufficient to cater to their needs. For example, Southern and Western states in the US suffer this problem (Schwartz et al. 125).

The major problem associated with understanding the future demand and supply of water is centered on the failure to comprehend the uncertainties associated with socioeconomic development in many countries and the influence of climate change on water sources. Although it may be difficult to predict the nature of water demand and supply in many developing cities, it is possible to quantify the problem because researchers say it is associated with water shortage and the lack of a proper infrastructure to distribute it (Schwartz et al. 125). Some of the solutions advanced to mitigate the issue largely involve the reduction of water use, modification of operations, and the exploration of alternative water sources.

Generally, the management of water resources has a direct impact on mitigating the effects of climate change in many countries as well as promoting the sustainability of various social and economic activities. For example, policy shifts to curb greenhouse gas emissions have had a direct effect on how authorities address the impact of climate change on the environment through a reduction in global surface temperatures. Some countries have also adopted transformation and adaptation policies to curb the effect of climate change. The impact of land use patterns can also influence the effects of climate change through modifications in groundwater supply and changes in rainfall patterns (Benestad et al. 1).

Based on the importance of this resource, many nations that have limited water resources often want to optimize their supplies for both ground and surface water. This is the goal of sustainable water resource management because it helps people to satisfy competing needs. Nonetheless, climate change and changing weather patterns have an effect on water resource management. Consequently, some parts of the world will have more water than others do. However, these variations do not alter the fact that the success of nations in managing water supplies for their domestic, industrial and agricultural use will largely depend on their ability to efficiently manage their water supplies as well as come up with innovative solutions of doing the same.

Background of the Problem

The United Arab Emirates is located in a desert area and stands the risk of water shortages if it does not manage this resource effectively. Based on this problem, the country has formulated a strong strategic framework that should meet the economy’s water needs, both in the short-term and long-term (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). However, despite the development of this framework, the UAE is an expanding economy and the demand for water from different economic sectors threatens to surpass the supply of the little water available (International Trade Administration). Indeed, an increasing population, heightened standards of living and new emerging economic sectors have caused a strain on the country’s water supplies. Notably, the harsh climatic conditions in the UAE have made it difficult for the country to improve its water resources because it receives very little rainfall in a year. This situation has decreased the capacity of the Middle East nation to improve its renewable water source capacity (International Trade Administration). Consequently, the need for adopting sustainable water solutions has never been greater.

The UAE’s primary water sources are groundwater and desalinated seawater. In earlier years, the country relied on groundwater resources by pumping it from wells and other groundwater sources. However, over the years, this extraction strategy has proved to be unsustainable because the groundwater reserves have been depleted in the last decades (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). At the same time, the quality of the water supplied has significantly declined within the period under assessment. Consequently, there has been a water supply gap in the nation, which has forced the government to rethink its water management strategy. This issue has prompted authorities to try and improve the nation’s water supply through the expansion of unconventional water sources. However, these strategies have failed to provide a sustainable source of water for the nation. Consequently, the UAE has to rethink its entire water management framework. This problem is further explained in the section below, which forms the basis for this study.

Statement of Problem

Out of all countries in the Arab League, the UAE has among the highest water consumption rates. The Federal Electricity and Water Authority affirm these statistics by saying that the average UAE resident consumes up to 550 liters of water per day (UAE Statistics Center). This volume is higher than the average global consumption of water per person which is pegged at between 170 liters – 300 liters (UAE Statistics Center). Relative to these findings, Al Awar says that the UAE has among the highest per capita water consumption levels in the world (1). Donat puts these statistics in context and says that the main sources of water for the Gulf Nation are desalination and groundwater only (581). Consequently, many cities in the country are “starved” of this vital resource. The situation is made worse by the seemingly inequitable use of water resources in the country because major economic hubs in the bustling nation tend to get the largest allocation of water sources. For example, the study by Al Awar reveals that Dubai consumes up to 98% of the total water generated from desalination (3-5). This statistic means that other regions of the country have to rely on alternative sources of water (mostly groundwater), which are limited in supply.

Many researchers have pointed out that the demand for water in the UAE has steadily increased in the last ten years (Gonzalez et al. 415). In fact, within the same period, it is only in 2011 that a slight decrease was observed. The demand for portable water has also adopted a similar trend because in the year 2000, it was about 1,000 million liters per day, but in 2012, this figure had dramatically increased to 3,700 million liters per day (Nunes).

The UAE’s heavy dependence on desalinated water has also come with a significant environmental cost to the nation because desalination has a heavy carbon footprint on the environment. Its emissions contribute to global warming, which in turn adds to climate change, which has worsened environmental conditions in the Middle East. Based on the above dynamics, the options for UAE to develop sustainable water solutions are slowly decreasing, especially because it cannot depend on rainfall, which is often low and erratic. Cloud seeding has been proposed as an alternative for mitigating the problem, but as Arnbjerg-Nielsen et al. points out, there is little scientific evidence to back up its use (16). Furthermore, studies have shown that it only has less than a 30% success rate (Arnbjerg-Nielsen et al. 16). Based on these findings, there is a growing threat of inadequate water supply for millions of UAE residents because climate change, changes in water management systems, rapid urbanization, and an increase in population have caused a strain on the country’s water resources. Consequently, many emirates in the country are struggling to show resilience in the face of this crisis by trying to improve their efficiency and at the same time maintaining high levels of water quality for their residents.

Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to improve sustainable water management in the UAE. A series of innovative strategies would be explored to understand the best one that would be applicable in the UAE after reviewing how other countries have adopted them and how their dynamics appeal to the UAE’s unique political social, and economic situation.

Research Questions

The primary goal of this paper is to establish sustainable water management solutions that could improve the supply of the valuable resource in the UAE. The objectives of the study are as follows:

  1. To evaluate the application of smart systems in rationalizing water consumption in the UAE.
  2. To examine how to enhance water security, protect groundwater, safeguard surface water resources, preserve the environment, and marine life in the UAE.
  3. To evaluate initiatives that the UAE could implement to enhance sustainable water resource management.
  4. To recommend ways of strengthening Federal laws, policy, and capacity to ensure sustainable water management in the UAE.
  5. To promote the use of treated sewage effluent (TSE) for irrigation in the emirate of Dubai

The research questions that will guide this review are as follows:

  1. What are the current water use practices, which threatens sustainability of water resources in the emirate of Dubai?
  2. What are the smart systems that can be used to improve water use in the agricultural and industrial sector and at the domestic level?
  3. How can policies be developed to address the negative water use practices in Dubai?
  4. How can strategies, which involve the use of renewable energy sources to increase availability of clean water, be developed in Dubai?
  5. Which approaches can be used to promote the use of treated sewage effluent (TSE) for irrigation in the emirate of Dubai?

Significance of the Study

This study is significant to policymakers around the world who are grappling with the problem of finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity in their jurisdictions. Indeed, many governments around the world (especially in developing nations) strive to provide their citizens with this vital resource with difficulty because they cannot seem to provide viable alternatives fast enough to keep up with the demand for water. The findings of this paper would also be significant to policymakers because they would help them to formulate a solid and proper management structure of water resources, as well as to encourage them to find new solutions to the water management problem in the country.

A severe water shortage in cities also comes with its political, social, and economic costs. For example, such a problem could have an impact on the health care standards of the affected communities because the lack of clean and fresh water often leads to a deterioration of water quality and the eventual development and spread of diseases (Parneet et al. 364). There is also a social impact to the problem because human populations are known to migrate to areas that have clean water. Therefore, the lack of a proper water management framework could lead to this problem because population displacements may occur in regions where such a crisis is acute. Research studies have also shown that the failure to address water management issues could stifle development.

Such is the case pointed out by Hasanean et al. who say, “Thirsty cities do not grow” (578). This problem could be disastrous for major cities in the gulf region that are depending on rapid economic development for their own survival. For example, Dubai is one city that is transitioning from oil dependency by expanding other economic sectors, such as the service and hospitality industries that depend on the availability of water to thrive. The failure to manage the city’s water resources will not only affect the industries, but also lead to energy and food insecurities for residents. Such a possibility should concern policymakers around the world because studies by Hasanean et al. demonstrate that the global production of food and energy needs to increase by up to 60% to match the demand for water caused by human population and economic growth (578).

Definition of Terms

  • Sustainable Development: The ability of countries or cities to meet their present developmental needs without necessarily compromising their ability to meet future needs.
  • Smart Technology: The use of advanced information technology tools and data management strategies to improve water management.
  • Salinity; The concentration of salt in seawater.
  • Desalination: The industrial process of removing salt from water to make it drinkable and safe for human consumption
  • Brine: A by-product of the desalination process, which has high concentrations salt.

Assumptions, Limitations and Delimitations

Assumption: One of the main assumptions in this study is that the materials relied on in this review to present the findings are credible and reliable. The researcher has made an effort to include only credible journal articles and websites to address this assumption.

Limitations of the Study: The findings presented in this paper are limited to research information published within the last five years. The findings of the paper are also only applicable to Dubai and the UAE.

Delimitations of the Study: The statistics presented in this report are relative to current estimates of water production and distribution. The technologies highlighted in this paper are also those that are presently available in the market.


This chapter shows that efficient water management is an important undertaking for countries that suffer from acute water shortages. The UAE is one such country. Its water management strategy has been undermined by an increased demand for the same resource. A surge in population and rapid economic growth has worsened fanned the problem because they have created an increase in the demand for water. Consequently, the country has to think of new ways of addressing the water supply gap that exists today.

Literature Review


This chapter is a literature review of what other researchers have said about the research topic. It contains an analysis of the water crisis in the Middle East and presents a detailed review of the main sources of water in this region. The scope of review is however not limited to the gulf region alone, because this chapter also contains evidence of what other countries outside this locus have done to manage their water problems, including an understanding of the applicable technologies that help them to do so. Nonetheless, at the center of this review is the need for authorities to assess their water resources.

Search Description

Generally, the data collection strategy pivoted on the use of four keywords namely: UAE, water, resource, and management. Research materials were obtained from credible sources of data such as Emerald, Sage publications and Google scholar. The inclusion criterion was mostly defined by the publication date and the perceived quality or credibility of the materials obtained. Only materials that were published within the last five years were considered for review in this paper. Furthermore, online websites that were credible, such as government publications and organizational websites were considered for analysis. Blogs, Wikipedia, and other commercial websites with questionable sources defined the exclusion criterion for this review. The main goal of applying the above inclusion and exclusion criteria was to safeguard the quality of information reviewed in this analysis.

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework for this study includes four key pillars of water management: increasing reuse levels, storing more water, conserving available water resources or looking for new sources of the same. At the center of efforts to manage water resources is the understanding that water resource management is a system and not an “event.” At the end of this system is an understanding of the main sources of water, such as groundwater seawater/brackish and surface water. The second step of the process involves the extraction and storage of the same commodity. Treatment and distribution processes thereafter follow and they pave the way for the use of water across different economic sectors. Figure 1 below explains the conceptual framework.

Conceptual Framework.
Figure 1: Conceptual Framework. (Source: Nunes).

Global Water Sustainability

Researchers have pointed out that there are three elements to a sustainable water future. They include efficiency, resiliency and quality (Consultancy). The concept of resiliency refers to water resources, water-related disaster risks, and vulnerabilities. The second concept of efficiency refers to leakage, metering water reuse, continuity coverage, and charges (Consultancy). Lastly, the concept of quality refers to health, sanitation, pollution, and environmental effects of water production and extraction. Global rankings of cities have used these categories to assess how they perform, in terms of water management.

In line with this view, the resiliency sub-index include waters stress, green space, water-related disaster risk, flood risk, water balance, and water reserves as its main constituents (Consultancy). The efficiency sub-index includes leakage, water charges, service continuity, wastewater, metered water, drinking water, and sanitation. The last sub-index (quality) includes drinking water, sanitation, treated wastewater, water-related disease, water pollution, and threatened fresh water species (Consultancy). Figure 2 below summarizes these elements, which experts have cited as integral to a sustainable water future.

Sustainable Water Future.
Figure 2: Sustainable Water Future. (Source: Consultancy).

Water Resource Management in the United States

Some parts of the United States, which suffer from acute water shortage often, grapple with the problem of infrastructure breakdowns and changing weather patterns such as the frequent occurrence of floods and drought (Davies et al. 7348). This problem has been acknowledged at the federal level where the government has commissioned investigations to understand the impact of climate change on their water resource management strategies (Schwartz et al. 125). Nonetheless, it is important to point out that the main sources of water for contiguous United States is surface and groundwater. Surface water mostly comes from rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Some of these natural resources are under strain because they serve huge areas and populations. For example, the Colorado River acts as the main source of water for most parts of Southern US. In statistical terms, this river serves more than 40 million people and irrigates more than 5.5 million acres of land (Schwartz et al. 125).

Given that population growth would soon make it difficult for residents of the region to depend on this river alone, experts recommend the adoption of innovative strategies of water resource management because most of these regions in southern America play a crucial role in the social and economic development of the country (Charron et al. 258). Consequently, the development of desalination plants has been touted as a viable solution to solve the water problem, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Technological advances have mostly contributed to the promotion of this water management strategy (Davies et al. 7348).

Stemming from these advances, the United States has built more than 300 desalination plants in different parts of the country (Schwartz et al. 125). Collectively, they can produce water at the rate of 95m3 per day (Charron et al. 258). Most of these facilities have presented good case studies for other cities to emulate. For example, the Tampa bay desalination plant has effectively helped local municipal authorities to supplement their water demand (Charron et al. 258). More innovative solutions have been introduced as models for addressing future water demand. For example, the USBR’s WaterSMART Program has been touted as a viable strategy for managing future water demand in America (Charron et al. 258).

Water Management in the UAE

Water shortage in the UAE is prevalent in the country because of insufficient rainfall and the arid nature of the Middle East. Many people are concerned about this issue because they are worried about the unreliability of the current water management structure, which seems unable to cope with the future demand of this vital resource (Yigzaw and Hossain 1). Observers have singled out the agricultural sector as the top consumer of water in the UAE because reports indicate that this economic sector could account for up to 70% of the total water produced in the country (UAE Statistics Center). For example, an article by Al Awar reveals that up to 120 million trees have been planted in the UAE and it has reduced the availability of natural water by 200 m3 per capita (4).

The UAE is part of the southern Arab peninsula, which is largely a desert region with little or no rainfall in a year. At the same time, it is characterized by high evaporation rates. Recent reports show that the highest and lowest rainfalls reported in Abu Dhabi were 2.8 mm and 150 mm respectively (UAE Statistics Center). In Dubai, the lowest and highest rainfall levels recorded were 8mm and 112 mm respectively (Al Awar 5). Generally, the UAE could experience heavy rainfall once every decade. Comparatively, the rate of evaporation could be as high as 200 mm annually (Al Qaydi 155). This high evaporation rate means that little water is preserved for future use, especially after the rainfall period.

Rapid urbanization in the UAE has seen an increase in human populations especially from expatriates who are either living or working in the country. Experts project that the current population could be in excess of 5 million people (Al Qaydi 155). The high population increase means that the UAE is experiencing among the highest demand for quality water in a century. For a long time, the UAE has relied on groundwater for its water supply. Consequently, many people got their water from major aquifers to meet their daily needs. However, this source of water is highly dependent on rainfall, which is scarce in the first place. Consequently, the demand for water has been unable to keep up with nature’s ability to replenish the reserves. This situation has created an imbalance in the demand and supply of water, which has further caused the deterioration in quality of water retrieved from water aquifers (Parneet et al. 364).

Desalination plants have been introduced in the UAE to meet the shortfall in the supply of fresh water. Some water treatment plants have also been installed in different parts of the country to reduce the stress on available water resources. Such efforts have been aimed at improving the quantity of water supplied for agricultural purposes (Parneet et al. 364). Nonetheless the inability of some of these strategies to live up to their expectations have prompted observers to rate the UAE as one of the poorest countries in terms of the water availability index (Consultancy).

Main Water Sources in the UAE

An assessment of water resources is considered a top priority for policymakers and environmentalists when formulating the right strategies for water management (Issa and Al Abbar 3). Several researchers have classified water resources into two categories: conventional resources and non-conventional resources. Conventional sources of water often include surface water resources, such as lakes, rivers and streams. Comparatively, non-conventional water resources rely on human intelligence to extract water from places that would ordinarily not be considered typical sources of fresh water. For example, wastewater treatment and the desalination process are proven sources of non-conventional water (Yigzaw and Hossain 1). The sections below explain these sources of water in detail.

Conventional Sources

Surface Water

As mentioned in this paper, surface water is a conventional source of water for many countries and cities around the world. In the UAE, this type of water source is limited and unreliable because of low rainfall levels (Hasanean et al. 578). The high evaporation rates in the region also compound the problem. Therefore, the few rivers and lakes that would ordinarily be the main source of water for the Middle Eastern nation are non-existent. Nonetheless, research shows that most surface water reserves of the UAE are located on the Southern part of Oman Mountains (Al Awar 3).

The most common types of surface water available in the country are springs and seasonal floods. The Eastern and Northern regions of the country are most likely the places that would register higher incidences of seasonal floods, which are similarly accompanied by short rains (Al Awar 3). The rainfall patterns in these areas are often attributed to high levels of precipitation (Hasanean et al. 578).

Surface water in the UAE is mostly stored in dams. Specifically the main dams in the emirate are Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman and Sharjah Emirates. Although some government agencies have been given the mandate to extract this valuable resource, people are also at liberty to do so through the construction of private wells (Hasanean et al. 578). The Ministry of Environment and Water also owns a couple of such facilities in the country and so does the National Drilling Company, which has assumed the responsibility of digging up the wells for private citizens, institutions, and the government (Hasanean et al. 578).

The estimated quantity of surface water in the UAE is projected at 39.6 billion gallons per year (Issa and Al Abbar 3). The government has also built more than 100 dams within the country to preserve surface water. Moreover, engineers have designed them to help in the replenishment of groundwater. Their overall capacity is estimated at 31,152 million gallons (Issa and Al Abbar 3). Plans are underway to build 68 more dams in the next five years to increase the country’s capacity further by 24,000 more gallons of water (Dakkak). More than half of these dams are set to be built in the eastern region of the country. Based on the limitations of surface water, it is important to point out that this source of water is not popular in the UAE. Furthermore, this type of water source is only available in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country, which receive short rains.


The volume of water extracted from ground wells can be assumed to fall into two broad categories: renewable resources and non-renewable resources. Chandran et al. says it is generally difficult to find water in shallow aquifers because of the over extraction of the commodity through this resource and the low amounts of rainfall received throughout the year (3-5).

The quantity of groundwater being produced in the UAE is slowly decreasing as is reported in the findings of Hasanean et al., which reveal that in the year 2010 the production volume was 35,557 million gallons, while in 2016, it was 20,033 million gallons (578). The main agencies involved in water production have also reported similar declines in numbers because in the year 2000, four agencies (ADWEA, DEWA, SEWA and FEWA) extracted 12429, 2792, 9907, 10429.25 million gallons respectively, but in 2006, the quantity of water produced had declined to 476.17, 3230, 9407.3, 6920.46 million gallons respectively (UAE Statistics Center). Based on the above figures, the statistics obtained suggest that the total production of groundwater may have declined by more than 92%. However, Hasanean et al.say that this situation is not applicable to all emirates because the production of groundwater in Dubai has remained relatively stable throughout the last decade (578). In fact, Al Awar adds that in 2006, there was a slight increment in the total production of groundwater (5).

Different agencies have also reported varied findings on water production because a graphical analysis of the total water production by SEWA showed that there was a slight decline in the volume of water produced in 2004, but in 2006, the same agency reported an increase in production (UAE Statistics Center). Comparatively, FEWA reported a decrease in production in 2006 by 33.65%. Figure 3 below shows that most of these agencies have witnessed a decline in production numbers.

Groundwater production for the UAE between 2000 and 2006.
Figure 3: Groundwater production for the UAE between 2000 and 2006. (Source: UAE Statistics Center).

Based on statistics provided by the UAE Statistics Center above, Abu Dhabi has the best record in managing its groundwater resources because recently, it curtailed the unregulated extraction of groundwater by increasing the production of the same commodity through the desalination processes. Nonetheless, related studies show that although such a move is commendable, the extraction of groundwater and the reduction in the same means that the quantity and quality of this type of resource has significantly declined.

A general overview of the figures presented in government reports and independent publications reveal that there are variations in the consumption and production of groundwater across different emirates (UAE Statistics Center). Consequently, it is correct to assume that the production of this resource varies across different years and across different emirates. The dependency on groundwater as a percentage of the total production of water in Abu Dhabi is about 14% (UAE Statistics Center). In Dubai, the percentage is six, while in Sharja and Eastern parts of the country, it is 47% and 64% respectively (UAE Statistics Center).

Generally, an assessment of current figures show that the demand for groundwater in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are among the most developed emirates in the UAE, has slowly declined amid an increased production of fresh water from unconventional sources such as desalination and water treatment. Even with this drop in the demand for groundwater, it is still important to point out that it is still higher than the rate at which this water source could be replenished. Statistics from Issa and Al Abbar affirm this position because they say that the total demand for groundwater is about 237,000 million gallons, while the aquifers recharge only 33,000 million (3). Here, there is a deficit of more than 200,000 million gallons, which will have to be filled through the production of water, using non-conventional means. The huge deficit has been attributed to an increase in population growth and rapid economic development in the UAE. Several publications sampled in this study have also revealed that the deficit is a product of the vibrant agricultural sector, which consumes up to 70% of the groundwater supply. Therefore, the reduction in the quality and quantity of groundwater has made it difficult for the UAE to rely on it as a main source of water.

Non-Conventional Sources


The UAE has increasingly relied on desalination as a way of filling its water supply gap. Sea and brackish water are the main sources water for the process. Together with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the UAE completes a trio of countries, which are the main users of desalinated water in the Middle East. In fact, an excerpt of a report by Dakkak shows that these three countries account for up to 70% of the total production of desalinated water in the Middle East. The first desalination plant was installed in Abu Dhabi in the mid 1970s (Charron et al. 258). This plant had a capacity of 66,000 gallons of water per day (Charron et al. 258). Relative to these facts, different researchers have pointed out that the water problem in the UAE is an old one and its existence today implies that it has worsened over the decades.

Since the population of the country is increasing and local industries are demanding more water, the UAE has found the need to build more desalination plants. By the end of 2006, 36 desalination plants were in operation (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). Additionally, FEWA operated 10 more desalination plants in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). Nonetheless, most of these facilities are in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharja, which collectively host 24 desalination plants. Additionally, Umm Al Quwain has two plants (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3).

The increased dependency on desalination as a way of bridging the water supply gap gained traction in the year 2000, when experts started to notice a significant reduction in groundwater levels (Benestad et al. 1). During this period, the total volume of water produced from the desalination process was 134,412 million gallons, while today the total volume of water produced is 277,942 million gallons (Benestad et al. 1). The increase in the volume of desalinated water has been reported in all emirates. However, Abu Dhabi and Dubai still register the highest production of desalinated water because they have a huge population of immigrants who are seeking stability and residence in these emirates. At the same time, the two regions have significantly high levels of economic development, relative to other emirates. Today, there is a strong dependency on desalinated water in all emirates, compared to past years, where groundwater was the main source of water in the UAE.

Many agencies within the nation are also increasingly relying on desalinated water to carry out their activities. For example, ADWEA’s operations rely on the desalination process by more than 90% (UAE Statistics Center). This percentage is in sharp contrast to past years when it only relied on the desalination process to support 80% of its operations. DEWA is another agency, which relies extensively on desalinated water. Reports show that 95.2% of its activities are supported by the production of desalinated water (UAE Statistics Center). Comparatively, in the year 2006, 92% of its operations relied on desalinated water. SEWA and FEWA have had a significantly lower dependence on desalinated water (UAE Statistics Center).

According to Gonzalez et al., the dependence on desalinated water varies across different regions because the Northern and Eastern parts of the UAE rely on a blend of both groundwater and desalinated water for their operations, while Abu Dhabi and the Dubai mainly rely on desalinated water for their operations (415). The reason for this disparity is informed by the fact that the northern and eastern parts of the UAE rely on groundwater because they are closer to the refill areas. However, experts estimate that the reliance on groundwater will drop within the next decade and they will soon join their counterparts in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in relying on desalinated water.

Based on the above developments, desalination is a critical source of water for the UAE. The Abu Dhabi government has recently strived to increase the quantity of water produced in this manner. For example, a report by the UAE Statistics Center reveals that between 2005 and 2015, the quantity of water produced this way increased by 57.6%.From 2014 to 2015, there was also an increase of 1.4% in the quantity of water desalinated in Abu Dhabi. Figure 4 below provides a summary of the production of desalinated water, as reported by the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company.

Production of Desalinated Water.
Figure 4: Production of Desalinated Water. (Source: UAE Statistics Center).

According to Saif et al., the annual consumption of desalinated water in Abu Dhabi is about 1,154.6 million cubic meters (329). The daily consumption rate is about 3.16 million cubic meters, while the daily per capita average is 1.14 cubic meters. Abu Dhabi leads all other emirates in the UAE in the consumption of desalinated water because reports show that the desalination process supports 57% of its domestic water consumption (UAE Statistics Center). Comparatively, Al Ain and Al Gharbia regions consume about 28.6% and 14.4% of the total water desalinated respectively, making them the second and third highest dependants of desalinated water for domestic consumption (UAE Statistics Center). Figure 5 below shows a summary of the average consumption of desalinated water between the year 2005 and 2015, according to the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company.

Average consumption of desalinated water between the year 2005 and 2015.
Figure 5: Average consumption of desalinated water between the year 2005 and 2015. (Source: UAE Statistics Center).
Treated Water

Treated water is considered an unconventional source of freshwater in the world and its adoption n the UAE has mostly been constrained in the agricultural sector, which accounts for up to 70% of water consumption in the country (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). Treated water is not a common source of water for the UAE because it accounts for only 5% of the country’s total water production. However, the shortage of water from conventional water sources has changed the dynamics of wastewater production because this type of water source is increasing in production by up to 10% a year (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority).

People are also accepting it for domestic use after authorities assured citizens that it is safe for this type of consumption (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). The number of waste water treatment plants have also increased recently because there are about 19 million waste water plants in the country, which have a capacity of 233,502 million per gallon (in terms of water production) today (UAE Statistics Center). Since 2006, experts estimate that the production of freshwater from wastewater has increased by up to 92% (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). Dubai has witnessed some of the most dramatic increases in wastewater production because from 2006 to 2015, the total volume of water produced from this type of water source increased from 19,008 million gallons to 37512.424 million gallons (UAE Statistics Center).

Sharjah Emirate is home to seven wastewater treatment plants in the UAE. Ajman emirate does not have the same number of wastewater treatment facilities, but is on course to build a few of them and allow the Ajman Sewage Service Limited to manage them (UAE Statistics Center). Comparatively, Fujairah Emirate is home to six water treatment facilities with an estimated production capacity of 3.1 million gallons of water per day.

Water Consumption in the UAE across Different Sectors

Different researchers have undertaken a sector analysis of water consumption in the UAE and they have presented almost similar percentages of water consumption patterns in the country. This lack of standardization is partly attributed to the disparities in the percentages of water consumption within the country. For example, a study by Dakkak investigates water consumption patterns in the UAE by dividing the general consumption levels across three sectors: private household sector, agricultural sector, and the industrial sector. A detailed review of the consumption levels in these sectors appear below.

Agricultural Sector

According to Voss et al., the agricultural sector is among the leading consumers of water in the UAE because it accounts for about two-thirds of all water consumed in the nation (904). The main reason for its position as the leading consumer of water is the rising population of the UAE, which has caused a significant surge in the demand for food. Since the agricultural sector is the main source of food, it has become a leading consumer of water. Some researchers have cautioned that this sector could also be responsible for some level of wastage of this precious resource Voss et al. (904). Those who advance this view say that low levels of efficiency in irrigation methods are largely responsible for this problem. Current statistics show that it takes about 15 liters of water to irrigate a 1m2 of agricultural land in the UAE (Voss et al. 904). About 30% of the water used in this type of irrigation is lost through evaporation (Dakkak).

Stemming from the problem of wastages through inefficient irrigation methods, the UAE government has advocated and supported the use of more effective water irrigation methods. For example, drip irrigation, which uses up to 35% less water than ordinary irrigation methods have been widely adopted in different agricultural subsectors in the UAE Dakkak). At the same time, there is a step taken by stakeholders in the agricultural sector to move away from water-intensive crops and instead plant those that require less water. Similarly, some farmers have started experimenting with using wastewater for irrigation. The adoption of these methods in the agricultural sector has been touted as a viable way of reducing the general water consumption levels in the UAE.

Industrial Sector

According to Dakkak, the industrial sector consumes up to 9% of the total water consumed in the UAE. Most of the water used in this sector is for purposes of machine maintenance. The wastewater often accumulates as run-offs and is released into the environment as impurities. However, as Joodaki et al. points out, this water is not necessarily lost because it could be used for purposes of irrigation (2679). The UAE government has introduced initiatives to better manage the quantity of wastewater produced in this sector and improve its efficiency as well. For example, the government recently introduced a wastewater treatment plant in Abu Dhabi that produces up to 600 million m3 (Dakkak). From this volume, about 50% of wastewater is used for cooling and landscaping (Dakkak). Stemming from such initiatives, some experts say that industrial wastewater should form a significant part of the solution for the water management problem in Dubai and the wider gulf region (Joodaki et al. 2679).

Private Household Sector

The domestic sector is considered a top user of water in the UAE. According to Al Awar, it accounts for about 24% of the total water consumed in the country (3-5). In this sector, a large quantity of the water is used for air conditioning purposes because it is inevitable that a large majority of homes would have such a system due to hot temperatures all year round (Al Awar 3-5). Most air conditioning systems not only use large quantities of water in cooling pipes, but also contribute to a high cost of energy through the electricity that powers them. A deeper review of the consumption of water patterns in the domestic sector shows that the UAE has among the highest per capita consumption of this resource in the Middle East (285 liters annually) (Joodaki et al. 2679). Most of the water is used to produce bottled water using the desalination process.

A general analysis of the consumption of desalinated water in the UAE shows that different economic sectors have different consumption needs. The commercial and industrial sectors are the top consumer of desalinated water followed by domestic water consumption, government, and agriculture. Figure 6 below shows a detailed analysis of the percentages of water consumption associated with different economic sectors.

Percentages of water consumption associated with different economic sectors.
Figure 6: Percentages of water consumption associated with different economic sectors. (Source: UAE Statistics Center).

Experts project that filling water bottles from the desalination process could cost up to 11.8 billion AED annually (Dakkak). The ratio of bottled water production standards vis-à-vis the quantity of water used is also inefficient because producers of bottled water use up to three liters of water to make one liter of bottled water (Joodaki et al. 2679).

Still in the domestic water use sector, observers have pointed out that water misuse is an impediment to the effective management of water in the UAE (UAE Statistics Center). For example, several of them have noted that the use of spray irrigation for purposes of landscaping and water gardening leads to the ineffective use of water (Dakkak). Since such methods cause water wastage, environmental experts have proposed a raft of measures that people could use in their households to reduce their overall water consumption levels (Dakkak). They include the introduction of new tariffs based on the current water billing system, increased sensitization of the public about water conservation methods, the promotion of new and efficient ways of irrigation (mostly drip irrigation), and the supply of safe drinking water through taps (Dakkak). Based on these recommendations, authorities have been challenged to rethink their strategies of water conservation in the country.

Regional Breakdown of Water Use and Sustainability Index in the UAE

Different regions of the UAE have varied water consumption patterns and needs. Indeed, an analysis of the water consumption patterns by Kumar et al. across different regions also show disparities in water use patterns (119). According to the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company, Abu Dhabi is a leading water consumer in the UAE. Figure 7 below shows a regional breakdown of the leading consumers of desalinated water in the UAE.

Regional breakdown of the leading consumers of desalinated water in the UAE.
Figure 7: Regional breakdown of the leading consumers of desalinated water in the UAE. (Source: UAE Statistics Center).

Although Abu Dhabi is a leading consumer of water in the UAE, it is also ranked among the top emirates in the country in terms of water sustainability index (UAE Statistics Center). Dubai is also another emirate that shares the same ranking. These indices are global, as pointed out by the Arcadis’ Sustainable Cities Water Index, which has explored how different global cities rank in terms of water sustainability, based on three key criteria: efficiency, resiliency and quality. Although these rankings show that Abu Dhabi and Dubai lead other emirates in terms of water sustainability, different experts have urged the UAE government to invest more in other emirates to improve their water sustainability levels (Kumar et al. 119). The goal is to improve their resiliency in water management, based on the rising urbanization levels in the country.

Challenges in Water Resource Management in the UAE

Periodic evaluations of the water management practices in the UAE have helped experts to find out the nature of the gap that exists between the supply and demand of water sources in the Gulf Nation. As mentioned in this chapter, water resource management in the country is being plagued by a declining supply of water. A review of the findings developed by several researchers who have delved into this issue shows that there is an uptake in the production of desalinated water compared to groundwater, which is decreasing in prominence (Kumar et al. 119). This situation means that the current water consumption trend is geared towards the adoption of non-conventional water resources as the main source of the commodity in the country. One of the most obvious challenge facing agencies that are involved in the management of this resource in the UAE is the desert climate of the country.

The location of the country is an arid area means that it will also have to experience the challenge of high evaporation rates. Relatively, statistics show that up to 75% of the UAE’s rainfall is lost in this way (Almulla et al. 1318). At the same time, groundwater that is located close to the surface of the earth is affected by this phenomenon. Furthermore, studies have shown that rainfall quantity can also be affected by high evaporation rates before it reaches the ground (Almulla et al. 1318). Such a phenomenon often leads to a deterioration of the quality of groundwater. This decline is often visible because there is a huge demand for water in the UAE.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai have the lowest concentration of rainfall in the entire country (Almulla et al. 1318). This is why the two emirates have been known to rarely rely on groundwater sources. Nonetheless, there is a relationship between rainfall patterns and the production of desalinated water, as is visible in Sharja emirate. Researchers have used this emirate to show that the amount of rainfall received does not necessarily contribute to an improvement in the water situation when all other factors, such as a rise in human populations remain constant (Almulla et al. 1318).

Groundwater salinity is also another problem in the production of freshwater in the UAE. It mostly affects the extraction of groundwater, which becomes limited in use especially when salinity levels are high. Consequently, people are left to rely on desalination, which is often an expensive process of water production (Bienkowski). Here, it is important to point out that different regions of the UAE have varied salt levels. Furthermore, over time, experts have notice changes in salt levels, as has been reported in the northern and eastern parts of the UAE, which have experienced tripled salinity levels (Bienkowski). The central parts of the UAE have also seen a doubling of the salinity levels.

Another challenge associated with water management in the UAE is the burgeoning human population, which has been mainly fanned by an increase in economic activities. Many immigrants around the world come to look for work opportunities and find the UAE a viable location to live and reside. Therefore, the number of immigrant workers in the country has increased the demand for water (Gonzalez et al. 415). Comparatively, an increase in the birth rates within the nation has also added to the pressure. The surge in human population has also spurred an increase in food production, which has a domino effect on the agricultural sector that has recently registered an increase in water demand for purposes of food production (Gonzalez et al. 415).

Since groundwater production is declining, an increase in the reliance on desalinated water also accentuates the financial challenges associated with the process because experts have confirmed that setting up and maintaining a desalination facility is expensive (Bienkowski). In the US, they estimate that a thousand gallons of water produced from the desalination process could cost citizens up to $5 (Bienkowski). Comparatively, it would cost the same person only $2 to get this resource from conventional water sources (Bienkowski). The establishment of desalination plants also comes with huge energy demands because collectively, it is estimated that these plants consume about 200 million kilowatts each day (Bienkowski).

To put these figures in context, one cubic meter of freshwater produced from the desalination process could consume about 10 kilo-watts of energy, while freshwater only takes less than 1 kilo-watt of the same energy (Bienkowski). Relative to this data, energy is considered a significant cost of production for such plants because it accounts for up to 55% of operation costs (Gonzalez et al. 415). The desalination process also comes at a significant cost to the environment because it could affect salt water levels in the ocean. This outcome may affect marine animals that live around water extraction zones. At the same time, the process involves huge extractions of water from the sea, thereby affecting sea levels. Although the desalination process is energy-intensive and expensive, it is an old technology in the Middle East because, for many centuries, communities often evaporated brackish water and used the condensed by-product for domestic and agricultural use. The concept has often been simple – remove salt from the water. However, over time, the process has become more complex because of the wide scale nature of water demand experienced today.

Middle Eastern countries have dominated the desalination industry out of necessity because of the harsh climatic conditions in the region. Around the world, experts estimate that there are 17,000 desalination plants, which are located in more than 140 countries (Bienkowski). Although nations, which have harsh climate, are leaders in the adoption of the desalination technology, an increasing demand for water around the globe have seen countries that do not share the same climate also adopt the same water production method. The International Desalination association says that the industry’s capacity is growing at an annual rate of 8% per annum (Bienkowski).

Australia and Singapore are some regions of the world where heightened activities in the establishment of desalination plants have been reported (Bienkowski). However, currently, the Middle East is still home to more than 70% of the world’s desalination plants (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). The leading gulf countries that have adopted this technology are Saudi Arabia, the UEA and Kuwait. Other countries that have also embraced this method of fresh water production are Bahrain and Qatar (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). Collectively, they are investing hundreds of billions of dollars to set up desalination plants. Saudi Arabia alone has invested up to $25 billion to improve its water desalination infrastructure (Bienkowski).

Although this method of freshwater production is promising, experts have warned Middle Eastern countries that the process could soon become unsustainable because when the wastewater (brine) is pumped back into the sea, it further increases the salinity levels of the water, thereby making it much more difficult and expensive to extract fresh water from the same source (Bienkowski). This phenomenon has been referred to as the “peak salt” phenomenon. In fact, reports show that brine could be twice as salty as the seawater from which the initial desalination water was extracted (Issa and Al Abbar 1-3). The UAE faces a challenge of preventing further contamination of its seawater reserves because geologists have warned that this source of water is not adequately reliable because the gulf coastline is shallow (more like a lake, as opposed to an ocean) (Bienkowski). Its depths have been estimated at only 35 meters (averagely) (Bienkowski). Most of the rivers that feed the water body have been diverted upstream, further increasing the salt levels in the sea. When these factors are combined with the deposit of brine in the same water body, it becomes easier to see how the desalination process could become more expensive for the Gulf States.

What the Government is doing

Based on the current water problem experienced by the UAE, the government has tried to take proactive measures to alleviate the situation by injecting desalinated water into strategic water reserves (UAE Statistics Center). The initiative has been spearheaded by associated government agencies, such as the Environment Agency and Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) (Government of Abu Dhabi). The strategic reserves are known as aquifers and they are expected to provide water supply for up to 90 days (UAE Statistics Center). However, the reserves are not intended for everyday use because their application has been limited to times of peak demand or emergencies (Government of Abu Dhabi). Stemming from such guidelines, some water conservation experts in the Middle East have proposed the adoption of more immediate government intervention to set standards for the use of water-saving installations (UAE Statistics Center).

According to the Government of Abu Dhabi, the water management strategy for the UAE is divided into different jurisdictions. Every emirate has its water management plan. For example, Abu Dhabi has its water management plan, which is in line with its vision 2012 strategic plan (Government of Abu Dhabi). The Abu Dhabi Executive Council (in conjunction with the national government) spearheads the plan and it strives to promote a 5-year roadmap that would see the emirate improve its water management strategy (Government of Abu Dhabi). The overarching goals of the water management strategy are as follows:

  1. Set the overall direction of the water management plans including the set targets and how to achieve them
  2. Provide necessary guidelines for every stakeholder involved in the water management sector for purposes of improving alignment and coordination
  3. Set a framework to monitor and evaluate progress made in the realization of the aforementioned goals.
  4. Inform all stakeholders in the water management sector (including private and public partners) about the importance of better water management techniques for purposes of inculcating proper water management strategies in their lives.

The general design of the water sustainability framework is to help people understand where the country is in terms of water management, where it should be, and how it should get to the desired goal.


This literature review has pointed out key dynamics associated with water management in the UAE and the wider Middle East region. Special attention has been given to show the status of water consumption and management in the UAE because the country has among the highest water consumption levels and the lowest quantities of water resources. A comprehensive review of the water management level supports the research problem highlighted in the first chapter of this paper, which shows that the country faces an acute water problem because of a rising demand for the resource, depletion of aquifers, and the threat of extreme weather (brought about by global warming). These problems mean that most cities in the UAE could suffer acute water shortages because of the lack of this vital resource.



This chapter reviews the methods chosen by the researcher to undertake the study.

Research Design

The sequential transformative technique was adopted in this study because it does not give preference to either qualitative or quantitative data. In other words, qualitative and quantitative data are both included in the study without any bias. The justification for doing so stems from the fact that the research investigation was exploratory in nature.

Research Questions

  1. Which approaches could be implemented to enhance sustainable water management in the UAE?
  2. What is the rate of depletion of water resources in the UAE
  3. What approaches could be implemented to improve water resource management in the UAE?

Setting and Sample

This paper was a desk research. Therefore, no human subjects were involved.

Data Collection

This study relied on secondary data as the main source of information. The researcher selected this data analysis method for the study because its scope was nationwide, thereby making it difficult to adopt other methods of data collection without considering the possibility of a budget escalation. Secondary data was mostly obtained from reliable sources of information such as the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority and the Federal Electricity and Water Authority. Other research data sources that were included in the study came from the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, and the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority. Additional information was obtained from journals and credible websites. Generally, the data collection strategy pivoted on four keywords namely: UAE, water, resource, and management. Research materials were obtained from credible sources of data, such as Emerald, Sage publications and Google scholar. From the process, 70 articles were retrieved using this data collection strategy.

Data Analysis

The data analysis method selected for this paper was the thematic and coding technique. As its name suggests, this technique involves the classification of data into themes and codes (Tripathy 1478). The themes were defined by the research objectives. Thus, there were five themes identified in the data analysis section and they helped to answer each research question.

Assumptions in the Study

This study was premised on the use of secondary research data to answer the research questions. Using published information comes with its own merits and demerits, some of which form the basis for the assumptions, limitations and delimitations of this study. For example, one basic assumption in this study is that the data collected from the secondary sources are credible and reliable. This view comes from the fact that the data relied on in this study were developed by other researchers. While it is easy to account for a researcher’s bias in primary research, it is difficult to account for the same in secondary research. Therefore, while the current paper relies on secondary data, the basic assumption is that the researchers took all necessary care to produce quality findings.

A second assumption of the study is that the technology applications proposed in this paper for improving water resource management are freely available and could be implemented in the UAE without much resource limitations or legal constraints. Here, the premise of this assumption is that there is a general willingness for local authorities and UAE residents to improve their water conservation efforts by employing better and more efficient technologies in their water resource management.

Limitations of the Study

The main limitations of this study are enshrined in the quality of information collected. For example, some of the materials used in the current research may be influenced by research biases related to the original studies. In other words, it is difficult to know whether the original authors of the documents reviewed may have had biased views, which could also have affected their findings. Relative to this concern, the current research was only focused on including credible and reliable research documents for assessment. Furthermore, to overcome this limitation, precaution was taken to only include quality secondary research materials by closely scrutinizing their origins. Additionally, careful attention was given to evaluate the reliability and validity of the materials used. The process involved a keen review of how the primary researchers, collected, analyzed and presented their data.

Another limitation of this study is that the secondary information obtained for review in this paper is not proprietary. In other words, the information relied on for purposes of conducting the research was not meant for the study; instead, it was produced to meet other research goals. Consequently, the researcher has no information advantage to employ in the paper. Another limitation of this study is that some of the statistics, facts, and technologies mentioned in this paper, as possible and useful contributions to the UAE water management strategy, may change over time and differ in form, design or application. Therefore, their application is limited by the relevance of their contribution to current water management problems in the UAE.

Time was also another limitation of the study because the study had to be submitted within a specified period. This reason explains why it was difficult to undertake a primary research. Therefore, the researcher had to analyze the findings and present it within a relatively fixed duration. Lastly, the findings of this study may also not be applicable to countries that do not share the same water problem or climatic conditions as the UAE. For example, some of the technologies proposed in this paper for supporting water management may not necessarily be applicable to countries that do not share the same resource constraints as the UAE. Similarly, some of the information highlighted in this paper may not be applicable to all emirates in the UAE because of geographical differences, which may affect water production and conservation efforts. Furthermore, the UAE does not have uniform water problems across all regions; some of them have dire water management challenges, while others have a relatively manageable water crisis.

Delimitations of the Study

The delimitations of a study refer to processes that the researcher deliberately chose not to undertake. One of the delimitations of this study is the exclusion of research materials published outside a five-year time scope. The aim of doing so was to make sure that the information included in this research was current and relevant to the research topic. Evidence gathered and analyzed in this paper also only applied to arid and semi-arid regions. In other words, the data relied on in the study were particularly relevant to countries that have similar environmental conditions as those of the UAE. The aim of doing so was to come up with technology applications that would be relevant to the UAE and Dubai. This expectation is cognizant of the fact that certain types of technologies may not be applicable in Dubai or countries that have arid and semi arid climate.


This study used the mixed methods research approach as the overall framework for analysis because of the exploratory nature of the research investigation. The researcher also chose to use secondary data as the main source of information because of the expansive scope of the research investigation and the limited time available to complete the paper. Lastly, the data was analyzed using the thematic and coding method.

Research Findings


As highlighted in chapter 3 above, secondary data was used to explore the research issue. More than 67 articles were generated from the process, but only 39 of them were included in the review, based on an examination of the same articles using the exclusion and inclusion criterion mentioned in the chapter above. The findings analyzed within the framework of the four themes (preservation of the environment and water sources, improvement of the policy and legal environment, application of SMART systems to enhance water conservation, and setting up of new systems to enhance water quality and supply) are highlighted in this chapter.

Sustainable and Integrated Water Resource Management

Based on the evidence gathered in this paper, it is difficult to understand the importance of water resource management, without comprehending how it fits within the wider analysis of sustainable development. Their relationship is defined by the fact that sustainability is the overall goal of community development, while integrated water resource management is a strategy to achieve it. There is little debate regarding whether water is a dwindling resource, or not, in the UAE; the main point of discourse has been how best to address this problem. In line with this goal, the adoption of effective and sustainable water management practices appear to be the best solution to addressing the problem.

Although the UAE has been a leader in spearheading sustainable development initiatives in the UAE, there is little evidence to show that the same goal is trickling down to how residents of the country use water. Indeed, as Arnbjerg-Nielsen et al. point out, the evidence gathered from the UAE regarding water resource management seem to demonstrate inappropriate water use patterns that are worsening the problem (16). Evidence supporting this fact appears in studies and reports that have shown how the bustling country has among the highest water consumption per capita in the Middle East and arguably around the world. In this regard, it is ironic that a country that has few water resources is among the highest water consumers in the world. Integrated water resource management should help to highlight this problem because it advocates for a holistic approach to water management.

Nonetheless, current water management strategies in the UAE have been mainly focused on promoting a top-down management structure, where authorities and the government try to increase the nation’s capacity of water production without tackling the rising demand of water, which is equally a significant contributor to the problem. For example, many communities in the UAE are digging deeper wells to tap into groundwater resources, but they fail to realize that this strategy will soon max out their reserves. Similarly, other communities have chosen to pipe their water from distant surface water sources (Al Qaydi 155). These strategies could provide short-term relief, but they come at an incalculable cost to the environment.

Smart Systems

Smart water management strategies have been voiced as a viable solution for the management of water resources (International Water Resources Association). Its application has not only been confined to countries that have an acute water problem because cities and nations that have the resource, but want to manage it more efficiently, also use it (International Water Resources Association). Smart water management is unique from other types of water management solutions because it uses information technology tools to manage water. At the same time, it relies on the use of large quantities of data for the same purpose (International Water Resources Association).

The application of smart water management systems to solving problems associated with water resource management is widespread and covers different aspects of the same problem. For example, several reports sampled in this study show that it has the potential to be applied in the improvement of water quality, efficient agricultural use of water, increase in water quantity, drought and flood mitigation among many others (International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). The same studies have shown that different tools exist in the management of water resources through the smart system. GIS technology, satellite mapping, smart meters and sensors are among the most commonly used resources because they are readily available technologies and have a proven record of accomplishment in different fields (and not just water quality management) (International Water Resources Association).

Most of the literatures sampled in this paper and that focus on the smart system of water management have confined their analysis within the context of sustainable development (International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). Therefore, the adoption of smart systems in water management is an offshoot of a larger framework of sustainable development that not only includes water resource management, but also energy management, and materials development. Sustainable water management is a subsection of resource management, which Dubai and many developing cities have included in their general visions and goals. This view is not only limited to the economic sector, but also in the social development sector, as is visible in the transformation of the global millennium development goals (MDGs) to sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Different researchers have varied opinions about smart water management systems, relative to what they believe are its constituents (International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). However, most of them agree that this model tries to tackle the economic and social behavior of water users as a management strategy to conserve this resource (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). For example, the International Water Resources Association says this model should include principles of water resource economics within a management or policy context. It also adds that attention should be paid to the financial challenges that poor water resource management cause and the possible adoption of sophisticated management strategies to remedy the problem (International Water Resources Association).

One notable suggestion made by different researchers who have explored such smart management solutions is the introduction of smart meter pricing models (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). Relative to this context, some of them suggest that smart meters could be used to bill customers in a way that reflects the realities of water management and conservation standards (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). Particularly, the article developed by the International Water Resources Association suggests that such a smart water-billing model could open new horizons in water management because authorities would start to understand the importance of lining the consumer demand of this valuable resource to short-term and long-term water scarcity issues. Specifically, such proposals have been designed to influence consumer behavior.

Smart systems emerge as critical aspects of water resource management, which should be protected and supported. Three reasons underlie why this necessity exists. The first reason is centered on the fact that the smart system is instrumented (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). This feature means that Dubai now have the ability to measure, sense and see what is happening on practically every stage of the water management process. The second reason focuses on the principle of interconnectedness, which means that people, systems and objects can easily be integrated in the smart system to develop or coordinate new ways of water management. The intelligence system that is embedded on the smart system could also be beneficial to Dubai and the wider UAE (including countries that want to adopt the model for water management) because it allows them to respond to changes quickly and accurately. Similarly, it allows the same entities to respond to changes faster and more accurately (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). Predicting and optimizing for future events allows them to do so much more efficiently.

Policy and Legal Environment

Many studies examined in this review did not expressly point out the importance of the policy and legal environment in influencing water management standards in Dubai. However, they alluded to this fact when outlining some proposals that would be useful in improving water resource management. Some of these proposals are highlighted in the subsequent chapter. Nonetheless, the policy and legal framework underlying water resource management in the UAE appears to be a prerogative of specific water management authorities (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). The national government formulates the overarching policy framework that guides all other processes involved water management, but specific emirates also have an input into how such frameworks are implemented (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). The influence of the policy framework in water conservation efforts could have a significant impact on the outcome of water management in the nation because it is unlimited in the scope of its application. In other words, by tweaking the policy framework, it is possible to influence both demand and supply side issues of water management.

The UAE policy and legal framework governing water management appears to be segmented in the sense that different emirates have specific powers that influence how they manage water in their jurisdictions (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority). These disparities are partly informed by variations in water supply and economic potential to extract water or improve its infrastructure (Government of Abu Dhabi). Understandably, population pressures and differences in economic activities also influence how such regions choose to manage their water resources. However, the problem created by such a system is the lack of coordination in water resource management. Similarly, there is a lack of a big picture perspective in the production and distribution of this resource. This problem could be highlighted from the failure of one emirate to understand how its economic activities or water management initiatives could affect the operations of another emirate. Therefore, the policy and legal framework that influences water resource management is disjointed in this regard.

Setting Up of New Systems to Enhance Water Quality and Supply

The third theme that emerged in the review was the establishment of new systems to enhance water quality and supply. Extensive studies sampled in this review did not show better alternatives of supplying water besides surface water sources, groundwater sources, and desalination plants. As highlighted in chapter two of this paper, surface water sources in the UAE are rare because of the harsh climate. Similarly, those that are available are overstretched and have declined water quality because they have been overexploited over the years. The same fate characterizes the extraction of water from groundwater sources because water levels have been steadily declining and climate change has made rainfall more erratic and unpredictable. This way, the water source does not replenish as fast as it is being depleted (because of human activities).

Preservation of the Environment and Water Sources

The preservation of the environment and water sources emerged as the last theme of this paper. Several studies sampled showed that the extraction of water through groundwater and the desalination process were destructive to the environment. More importantly, the greatest environmental impact associated with water production in the UAE was the energy-intensive nature of the process, which many researchers pointed out to have a significant carbon footprint on the environment (Almulla et al. 1318; Bienkowski). They also showed that an expansion of the country’s infrastructure to support the process could have a significant impact on marine life because the desalination process often leads to the production of brine, which affects alkalinity levels in the water, thereby affecting plant and animal life in the sea. The extraction of groundwater in the UAE has also been associated with a decline in water quality standards (Almulla et al. 1318; Bienkowski). Collectively, the review showed that the UAE faces an environmental problem with the current methods of water extraction.


The findings of this paper drew the researcher’s attention to four themes in the study. The themes were about the preservation of the environment and water sources, improvement of the policy and legal environment, application of SMART systems to enhance water conservation, and setting up of new systems to enhance water quality and supply. These areas of discussion show that Dubai and the UAE in general have unique opportunities to address their water management problems, but limitations in understanding the nature of the issue inhibit their ability to act decisively.



As highlighted in this paper, several factors have caused a serious strain on the available water resources in the UAE. It is untenable for the country to continue relying on its available water supplies and the associated technology without thinking of new and better ways of increasing its water supply. Consequently, this chapter highlights specific areas the country could focus on to address this problem. Innovation is key among them.

Summary of Findings

Reviews of several articles that have focused on water management show that few technologies have been introduced to solve the problem. The same finding is applicable even in some of the most developed nations of the world because they use the same technologies of water production and extraction that have existed since the 1970s. The desalination process seems to be the direction most countries in the gulf region and that have a serious water problem as the UAE are pursuing (Gonzalez et al. 415). Innovation in water sustainability is a relatively underexplored area of water management. There are few examples of the same in the world and more particularly in the Middle East. However, the UAE government has spearheaded an initiative to include the same strategy in the development of new and sustainable cities in the Nation. Masdar city is one such example.

The developers of Masdar city built it as a model metropolis centered on the theme of sustainable development. Sustainability is not only factored in the development of the city’s infrastructure, but also on the resources that make it work (International Trade Administration). Water is one such resource. However, based on the challenges that the UAE faces in terms of increasing the supply of this precious commodity, Masdar city experiences the same issues other cities within the country face. Nonetheless, what is unique about it is its design and management.

Unlike other cities in the UAE, which have grown organically over the years, Masdar city is planned and designed to be a sustainable one (International Trade Administration). As such, there have been different experiments done within this city’s framework to make sure that it operates sustainably. These experiments have focused on improving energy sustainability, encouraging the use of sustainable materials for infrastructure development, and maintaining the use of sustainable modes of transport (among others) (International Trade Administration). Water sustainability is a key part of the city’s sustainable framework as well because through the accomplishment of this goal, other cities within the UAE cold adopt the same model. In line with this vision, the UAE government has invested many resources in making sure that Masdar city has a water sustainable future. Its investments are still centered on extracting water through non-conventional sources.

As part of the innovation strategy, the UAE should consider implementing smart systems to improve its water management record. This approach is essential to the overall accomplishment of its strategic goals because the system will help it to better gather and analyze information more efficiently. We could use the model proposed by the International Water Resources Association to understand how the country could benefit from the adoption of such a water system management technique. This model has three main components that include smart water, smart traffic and smart energy (International Water Resources Association).

The first concept of smart water is relevant to this analysis and it outlines how the UAE would benefit from the integration of smart technology to help in water use and management. This system could also help in the reduction of water use as well as create a decline in the use of related chemicals and energy that are often involved in water production and extraction. Broadly, the adoption of smart technology in the management of water resources would give the country an opportunity to rethink its water management strategy by acting more intelligently. One way of doing so is the efficient flow of data that would enable authorities to act faster and have a broader access to relevant information (International Water Resources Association). Evidence exists that show how smart water management would also benefit the country by increasing the importance of water management to different aspects of community and organizational development. Since the UAE is engaging in the expansion of its infrastructure, the smart water management technology would help it to focus its efforts on developing the most important aspects of water infrastructure and get the maximum returns from returns.

As part of the focus on innovative solutions to address water problems in Dubai and the UAE, there have been proposals made by some experts for the UAE government to introduce concessions/discounts for people and organizations, which use water below a set minimum threshold (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). Other researchers have proposed that since the UAE greatly relies on ground and surface water to meet its water demand, it should formulate policies that link the two (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). In other words, the country’s policy framework should acknowledge the relationship between the two because the management of surface water could have an impact on groundwater and the management of groundwater could equally have an impact on surface water quantities. Therefore, researchers who support this view say future planning and management processes should acknowledge this relationship (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). Furthermore, the government should make sure that there are adequate resources to make these approaches effective.

Relative to the above proposals, for a long time, the UAE government has been willing to introduce subsidies on different economic sectors to boost economic development and at the same time improve the standards of living of its residents. Water subsidies have been a huge part of this plan because this resource is essential for the sustainability of life. Similarly, it determines largely the quality of life of its residents. As part of its mandate to ensure proper water management, the UAE government has been cutting this subsidy. The recent subsidy cut happened in 2016 and another one preceded it in 2015 (Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority).

In terms of managing its water resources, some researchers have also proposed that the UAE needs to synchronize its water sustainability strategies to create a more comprehensive one that will not only appeal to the needs of each emirate, but also address the country’s water requirements in general (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). This view stems from findings that have shown how each emirate has its own unique water sustainability plan. For example, as highlighted in the literature review section (chapter 2), Abu Dhabi and Dubai have their own unique water sustainability plans aligned with the vision of the respective emirates (Government of Abu Dhabi). This framework means that what Abu Dhabi is doing could possibly not be related with what Dubai is doing. Worse still, the strategies chosen by Dubai could inhibit the effectiveness of the water management plan of Abu Dhabi. Such a disjointed strategy in water management could prove to be costly for the UAE because it may breed the lack of coordination and synchrony in the management of water (Ramadan 179). Of importance is the need to understand that the resource is a natural one and it is for the entire country. A proper management of the same would require a holistic understanding of the management framework.

Relative to this finding, the evidence gathered in this paper has shown that there are multiple agencies in the UAE involved in water management. While this approach may be instrumental in covering different areas of water management, some researchers have said the UAE could improve its water management strategy by giving one organization the mandate to oversee the process (Donat 538; International Water Resources Association; Al Awar 3). This approach could prevent incidences of duplication of roles or multiplicity of functions. This one body should further improve the coordination of water management initiatives across different sectors (such as the industrial, agricultural and domestic sectors, which are the biggest water consumers in the UAE). Since different tasks are associated with water management, such as education, awareness, distribution and production, the central water management body should also be in a position to institutionalize partnerships among different agencies that are assigned to undertake unique responsibilities within the water management chain.

Part of the problem with the current water management structure in the UAE is its failure to provide a holistic understanding of stakeholder involvement in the process. Future strategic approaches of water management should make sure there is adequate public participation and stakeholder involvement in the process because their input is essential in the formulation and implementation of water management plans. Religious involvement should particularly be encouraged because, currently, religious institutions in the UAE are not primarily involved in water conservation and management efforts. If they are allowed to participate in water conservation programs, people would be more aware about the need to conserve water, thereby providing a more sustainable way of managing this resource.

As highlighted in previous chapters of this paper, the management of wastewater is also an important tool for improving the water sustainability standards of the UAE. The government has recognized this fact and its expanding its capacity to collect and treat this resource. In Abu Dhabi, the emirate’s water and sewerage company has spearheaded such an effort through the Strategic Tunnel Enhancement program, which aims to expand the region’s infrastructure to collect more wastewater and treat it (Government of Abu Dhabi). Estimates show that such a project could expand the current capacity of 450,000m3 to 800,000m3 (Government of Abu Dhabi). More than $1.6 billion has been invested in such a facility (Government of Abu Dhabi). The expansion is expected to cover anticipated growth in demand within the next decade.

Such projects are adopted within a larger understanding that there is a lot of potential in wastewater management that could help improve the efficiency of the country’s water management system. For example, evidence shows that most wastewater collected in the country happens at the tertiary level and 45% of it is treated and reused (Government of Abu Dhabi). This statistic means that up to 55% of wastewater could be treated and reused if the country expands its capacity to do so.

There are several solutions for solving the water problem in the UAE that could be sorted by rethinking the management of water in the country. As explained in this paper, water use in the nation could broadly be classified into three categories: private household sector, industrial sector and agricultural sector. The agricultural sector is the main target for a rethink of management styles because it accounts for more than 60% of the total water consumption in the UAE. The problem with this sector is its reliance on traditional water irrigation methods and the failure to realize that it reliance on water-intensive crops contributes to the country’s water problems. New water management efforts need to be introduced to curb this problem. Particularly, the introduction of sub-surface drip irrigation methods need to be further adopted. Already, there are efforts to adopt this method as a replacement of the current traditional irrigation methods and this strategy needs to be hailed more and supported further by all stakeholders. Planting crops that are more native could also contribute to the same goal of water conservation because they typically have less water requirements compared to foreign crops.

Using wastewater for irrigation purposes is also a viable solution for improving the management of agricultural water.


Researchers have proposed different opportunities for the UAE to improve its water management strategy. Most of the proposals highlighted in this paper are designed to improve the supply of water. Few innovative solutions have been sought. More importantly, few suggestions reported in this chapter have a long-term appeal. The last section of the paper below addresses how these concerns could be mitigated.

Conclusions, Recommendations, and Suggestions for Future Research


Green Building

Green building is a solution that should be adopted in Dubai to improve the demand-side issue part of its water management efforts. This approach also aligns with the quest for countries that suffer from such acute water challenges to manage their water consumption levels. Green building includes water conservation as a key component of its implementation. The United States Green Building Council also advocates for its adoption and it recommends that the first step contractors should make is to ascertain the quantity of water used in a building (Clemen). More importantly, they recommend the ascertainment of the relationship between water and energy consumption because both concepts affect water management (Clemen). By doing so, it would be easier for users to make well-informed decisions about their water use patterns. Similarly, monitoring water consumption levels could provide a strong ground for which users could monitor the performance of their water conservation programs. Generally, three types of technologies highlighted in the subsequent sections of this paper could complement water management efforts in the UAE.

Aerator Taps

Generally, green buildings are designed to maximize the efficient use of water. Different approaches could be used to reduce water consumption in such types of buildings. For example, the use of mixed taps could help to regulate the temperature of water used in the buildings, thereby leading to low energy consumption and improved levels of comfort for users. In line with this technology, experts propose that contractors could install aerator taps to reduce the quantity of water used in these buildings (Rodin Group Company). This technology most involves the installation of filters on taps to regulate the flow of water in buildings. Studies show that aerators could lead to up to 87% savings in water use because they use isoflow technology, which minimizes water flow by providing a steady, but minimal, water flow for users (Verità; Rodin Group Company). The isoflow technology is different from conventional technologies used in regular taps because it ensures the precise control of water. Notably, it has the ability to maintain the flow of water, despite fluctuations in its pressure (Rodin Group Company).

These kinds of taps often have a pressure-sensitive membrane, which regulate the water flow at any given time. Similar taps also contain a distributor disc, which, if in perfect working condition, make sure that the water runs steadily (Rodin Group Company). This technology also draws in more air, thereby making the aerator gentler with the flow of water. By doing so, users get to experience a comfortable and even water supply. Studies show that well-functioning aerators could save between 40% and 60% of water (Rodin Group Company). When properly installed and used well, these aerators are able to pay for themselves in water, cost and energy savings within a couple of weeks (Rodin Group Company). Their unique design also allows the taps to be self-cleaning, thereby requiring little maintenance compared to regular ones. Additionally, the filter design makes sure that no dirt particles obstruct water flow because when dirt passes through the fine stainless steel filters, they are trapped and released through the coarse filter (Rodin Group Company). Since the water supply is centralized in the taps, it becomes difficult for any trapped dirt to affect the water spray through the nozzle.

This type of technology also prevents taps from dripping. Relative to this view, the Rodin Group Company says that dripping taps could cause several thousands of water annually. Such a technology could also reduce the quantity of water wasted through negligence. If applied well, this technology will provide a constant supply of water in buildings without any compromise to the comfort and effectiveness of the commodity’s supply. Aerators have a wide application base because there is evidence of their use in different institutions, such as universities, sports facilities, schools, gyms, industrial washrooms, offices, care homes, and hotels (Rodin Group Company).

Use of Rainwater

Although this paper shows that Dubai and the wider UAE region receive little rainfall in a year, it is possible to save the little quantity of water received during the rainy season. This is possible through the adoption of water harvesting technology. Such a technology is not widely adopted in the UAE because few building contractors consider rainwater to be a reliable source of the commodity. However, research shows that it is better to harvest the little water available rather than letting it go to waste (Rodin Group Company). According to Clemen, rainwater should be harvested from the rooftops of buildings and stored in a percolated reservoir. Doing so could help to reduce the quantity of portable water that would be used in a commercial or residential property.

Besides installing pipes and rails for trapping rainwater, contractors should also be required to install panels on the roofs to help in energy management. A key feature of this technology is the reliance on green energy to power facilities that will be used in the buildings. The most common application of this technology in the construction sector is the use of solar panels as part of the roofing structure. Old buildings have also adopted the same concept through the addition of solar panels on their roofs. Most contractors prefer to use this technology because of its ability to convert solar energy into electricity (Clemen). This type of technology could be easily adopted in the UAE because it does not require extra space to install; instead, the solar panels are easily mounted onto existing roofs.

Although households in the UAE that have adopted this type of technology get to harvest significant volumes of water during the rainy season, they mostly use it for irrigation and gardening purposes (Rodin Group Company). However, its application could be widened to include the restoration of groundwater. If collected and treated well, this type of water collected could help boost water conservation efforts in the UAE. Comprehensively, this green building technology could help to save water that would otherwise go to waste whenever rain falls.

Naturally, rainwater is acidic because it mixes with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Rodin Group Company). Consequently, it needs to be stored in plastic or metallic water tanks. Experts have proposed the use of a concrete or limestone tanks for domestic water storage (Rodin Group Company). They have also shown that such types of technology are in line with green building solutions. In many parts of the UAE, rainwater is rarely recuperated and even when this happens, its use is mostly confined to irrigation purposes. The use of green building technologies provides an opportunity for people to optimize rain water in ways that would make UAE households to be autonomous in rainwater management.

Thermostatic Meter Taps

There are different kinds of thermostatic meter taps that are often used in green buildings. They include taps that use infrared technology for water conservation and those that use short-lever thermostatic processes. The latter is among the most widely adopted features of green building technology and is commonly known for its ability to prevent scalding. It is also simple and easy to install because most of its parts are readily available and done on the surface level of the water basin. This design feature ensures little “down time” in the installation of the same. It also has flexible water inlet pipes for easy installation and could be used in different types of buildings. Experts have recommended its use in different kinds of projects because it is compatible with many plumbing systems (Rodin Group Company). The taps also contain a level with sequential control, which could allow users to shift between hot and cold temperatures. Nonetheless, schools and hospitals (or environments which have a high safety standard) often use it.

Taps that have the infrared technology normally provide a pre-mixed supply of water, which gives users an option to get water at the right temperature (automatically), whenever they open the tap. An infrared sensor is often included in the design of such taps and its purpose is to regulate the temperature of water at any given time. It also leads to significant water quantity savings because the taps only pass six liters of water per minute (Rodin Group Company). The maximum time that the tap could run is 2 minutes and then it automatically shuts itself to conserve water. It is also easy to maintain because it has in-line filters.

The installation of thermostatic meter taps could lead to the realization of water savings in Dubai because it helps to save water that would be otherwise lost when people adjust the temperature for water use. Some literatures refer to this technology as the “adaptive heating unit” process (Rodin Group Company). It works in the same way as the thermostatic meter taps because it adjusts the water temperature to the right measure before a consumers start to use it. By regulating the power distribution accordingly, residents are not only able to save on water, but also on energy. Although the above-cited recommendations are likely to yield an increase in water savings in the long-term, it is important to mention that their efficiency depends on the existing knowledge of green building solutions and the correct estimation of water demand of the UAE in the short-term and long-term.

Generally, it is important to point out that the adoption of green building solutions could improve water conservation efforts by up to 50% (Katz et al. 335). This view is in line with the recommendations of the Rodin Group Company, which says that water conservation in an average household can be increased twofold if innovative water management solutions are adopted. Here, it is also important to point out that the proposed green building strategies highlighted in this paper align with the goals of the UAE’s water security strategy 2036. Furthermore, the same strategies proposed in this paper will help to reduce the demand for water and its associated energy input. They would also contribute towards the improvement of water productivity index by a significant margin because they are part of the UAE’s efforts to reduce its reusability capacity. Based on a reduction in water demand, it is also possible to project a situation where there would be a decline in water scarcity in the future. Since most of the green building technologies adopted in this study have a low cost of implementation, it is easy for early adopters to see its payback. The adoption of demand-side solutions for water management has been done in different parts of the world. The following section of this paper explains some of these examples.

Evidence from Spain

Some parts of Spain share the same climatic conditions as the UAE and consequently suffer from the same water problems the Middle East country experiences. Notably, the Segura Basin in Southeast Spain has the same water problem as the UAE. The region receives less than 400 mm of rainfall annually and is characterized by periodic droughts (Uche et al. 196). Consequently, there is an insufficient supply of water in the basin to meet an annual demand of 1488 mm3 of water. At the same time, the volume of water stored in the country’s reservoirs is only about 380 mm3 (Uche et al. 196).Similar to the UAE, Spain also relies on desalinated water to meet its water shortfall.

It also depends on groundwater for the same. Most aquifers are carefully controlled to establish a strong balance between the supply and demand of water. Studies by Uche et al. have shown that in this European nation, a demand-side issue and not a supply-side issue cause the greatest damage to human ecosystems (196). Particularly, the researchers found that water used for irrigation and domestic purposes accounted for about 85% of the total environmental impact in the region (Uche et al. 196). Based on this fact, experts recommended that the best way to solve the region’s water problem was to regulate water use and not necessarily to increase the supply of water. Consequently, the government has advocated for the promotion of green building technologies and subsidized new technology to help champion this cause.

Evidence from Texas

A core theme that is emerging in this study is the need for the UAE to focus more on water conservation as opposed to increasing its water production. Texas, which also shares the same climatic conditions as the UAE has also acknowledged the importance of improving its demand side solutions (as opposed to supply-side solutions) because it recognizes that doing so is the only way it would sustainable manage its water resources. According to a 2014 report prepared by the Supporters of the Texas Leadership Roundtable on Water, they agreed that water conservation is not only going to be an option for the state, but a priority as well.

Although Texas has reexamined its water conservation strategy and chosen a demand-side solution, it is still pertinent to point out that the southern US state has chosen to follow a legal route in doing so (Wurbs 1). The government has vested a lot of authority on state organizations to provide policy solutions for managing its water supply issue. Consequently, residents of the state experience a coordinated and multiagency response to the water management. This is unlike the UAE’s disjointed policy framework that fails to realize the need for a common approach to water management across all emirates.

Texas is also engaged in educating the public about the need for water conservation because it has realized that without doing so, people are able to conserve water as they should. Recently, there has been a lot of attention directed at its legislature because some environmentalists and experts demand that the Texas government should fund the implementation of water IQ, which is a measure of how well people understand their water management needs and how to meet them efficiently (Supporters of the Texas Leadership Roundtable on Water). The state also has a nationwide education program that helps to educate the people about their main sources of water and how they should conserve it.

Evidence from Singapore

Singapore also has similar water management problems as Dubai. However, unlike the gulf city, its resource problems are mostly caused by the lack of land (United Nations Environmental Program). The main challenges in water resource management affecting the nation include protecting its water resources, processing safe drinking water cost-effectively, minimizing wastage in the country’s water supply system, and water conservation (United Nations Environmental Program). The latter has been a key part of its water integration management plan because relevant authorities have taken proactive steps to educate the public about water conservation.

This water management plan aims to nurture a culture of responsibility where people are more educated about the need to conserve water than in the past. Based on this strategy, Singapore has quickly realized the importance of demand-side management and has put in place specific plans to ensure there is a reduction in the demand for water across different socioeconomic sectors (United Nations Environmental Program). Current efforts have mostly been focused on reducing the demand of water in the domestic sector through a program called “Water Efficient Homes” (United Nations Environmental Program). It involves the installation of technological devises on home water taps to allow users to assess their water demands (such an addition aligns with the principle of smart water management). This holistic approach to water management in Singapore means that the country is checking its demand for water, while increasing its supply at the same time. This model could be beneficial for Dubai.

Comprehensively, the examples highlighted in this paper about water conservation in Spain, Singapore and Texas show that many developed countries are focusing on finding demand-side solutions to water resource management, as opposed to supply-side solutions, which has characterized the UAE’s efforts to improve its water management strategy. At the center of the quest to find demand-side solutions is the need to change people’s perceptions about the water crisis and empower them more to be champions of water management. This approach reflects the reality of the water problem in the UAE.


Water is an important resource involved in the operationalization of different economic sectors. It is also central to the sustainability of different socioeconomic sectors and pivotal to the realization of human development goals. Cities that thrive around the world do so based on the platform of providing their citizens with this important resource and giving investors and stakeholders in the economic sector free access to it. Therefore, countries starved of this vital resource are at a disadvantage compared to those that have an abundance of the same because they have to be more creative in getting water and using it well. Such is the case of the UAE and the wider gulf region because they are located in arid areas that have little or no rainfall in a year. At the same time, they are experiencing probably one of these fastest growth rates in the world owing to their economic strategies of diversification from oil. The UAE is at the forefront of this economic shift because it is more visible than other gulf states in terms of international appeal to investors. Consequently, many people around the world have trooped to the country to look for economic opportunities to work and live. The UAE is also home to some of the most vibrant tourism sectors in the region and a model for how countries that rely on oil could transform their economies to be more robust.

These economic and social pressures have increased the country’s water demand and strained the ability of its cities to generate and distribute enough water that would be available for all citizens. Indeed, conventional water sources, such as surface and groundwater are already on the decline and it is becoming untenable for the country to continue relying on these sources of water. The findings of this paper show that the UAE is already engaged in increasing the supply of water by investing more in the expansion of its water infrastructure. Although the government is still making some investments in increasing the supply of groundwater, the evidence gathered in this report has shown that most of the resources directed to this sector have been used to improve the quantity of water generated through the desalination process.

Understandably, this type of water resource is available for the country to continue exploiting because the UAE has access to seawater. However, the desalination process has its own challenges. Top among them is the high cost of the desalination process, which runs into billions of dollars. Heavy investments made in this sector mean that the country is losing most of its resources to a process that does not necessarily yield the best returns, relative to the investments made. At the same time, it is staring at the prospects of paying more money to desalinate seawater because brine is increasing the quantity of salt in the sea, thereby making it more salty and expensive to treat. These factors notwithstanding, the desalination process is still the best alternative for the UAE to solve its immediate water challenges. By increasing its capacity to desalinate more water, the Gulf Nation would be in a better position to supply more water to its “thirsty” economic sectors and provide better quality water for its residents.

Alongside the desalination process, the UAE has also tried to increase the investments made in the wastewater treatment. Several chapters in this report have shown how the country has made plans to collect more water and treat it, mostly for purposes of providing a greater supply of the resource to the agricultural sector. This sector has been known to account for up to 70% of the total water consumption in the gulf state (Almulla et al. 1318). Wastewater treatment is a commendable step that the UAE has made in addressing its water management problem, but it is important to point out that most of the steps taken by the government to address the crisis have all been supply-based. This paper has proposed a reexamination of this strategy by drawing our attention to the need to focus on demand-side issues, as the long-term solution to the water crisis in Dubai and the wider UAE.

Even the evidence gathered on Masdar city to improve the production of desalinated water is a supply-side issue because the entire framework of Masdar city is premised on improving energy efficiency. Therefore, instead of looking for new ways to reduce the demand for water, Masdar city is essentially premised on making the desalination process of water production more efficient (through the use of solar powered desalination plants). Demand –side solutions need to be sought more because they provide a long-term solution to the water crisis in the country. Evidence of this view has been produced through the analysis of water resource management in Spain. In this example, researchers demonstrated that the long-term solution to water crises in arid regions is to check on the demand for the commodity.

Therefore, most of the solutions voiced in this paper for water management center on addressing the demand problem in the UAE. Doing so depends on the country’s ability to institute behavioral change in water management among residents and industry players alike (Kendel and Lazaric 231). The example of Singapore has been highlighted to show how the UAE could better increase its efficiency in the management of this valuable resource. Therefore, while initiatives such as Masdar city are largely commendable because they could revolutionize how arid regions desalinate their water, the greater focus on water management should be in instituting behavior change.

The responsibility for doing so largely rests on the government, which should introduce a smart water billing system as a first step to creating awareness about the realities of water scarcity to residents of the UAE. The current subsidized model of water payment is not complementary to the government’s vision of realizing a sustainable water future because it makes it difficult for people to support initiatives’ aimed at saving a resource that they get at little or no cost. Therefore, the current UAE water management structure does not reflect the realities of water scarcity in the region. Thus, country should consider rethinking its water management plan and formulate one that is more realistic and representative of the current realities of water scarcity in the country. Based on the findings of this study, it is important for the UAE government to stop further investments in the extraction of groundwater because this resource is diminishing fast. Instead, it should refocus its efforts on improving the country’s capacity to desalinate water.

To realize the goal of sustainable water resource management in the UAE, the public should be sensitized about the realities of water management in the region including the cost of delivery, the scarcity of the resources and the importance of conserving the same resource. This holistic view is in line with the conceptual approach of the study, which views water management as a system. Creating this awareness should be the first step to the realization of any meaningful progress in water conservation and management in the country. Nonetheless, it is important for authorities to present credible information when doing so because honesty is a key principle in Islam, which is the main religion in the UAE. However, when imams, water policy experts and the government educate the public about the realities of water scarcity in the region, they should expect the people to reciprocate the initiative through improved water conservation practices. Nonetheless, as has been highlighted in psychology, changing human behavior is a slow process. Therefore, stakeholders should not be expecting meaningful change in the short-term.

Introducing ad hoc public awareness campaigns will only make the situation worse because they would not have the expected impact on the population. Instead, authorities need to embark on a relentless public awareness campaign to sensitize the people about water conservation. The ministry of education and religious organizations should particularly be at the forefront in the development and implementation of this campaign because they have immense social and ethical responsibilities of making sure the public is informed about sensitive issues that affect their welfare.

Some of the water conservation initiatives may be paid for using taxes and government revenue. For example, improving the water infrastructure and repairing leaking water pipes are done by the government, which sources its money from the people. Since some of these costs need to be offset by some incentives, adding a religious (Islamic) incentive to water conservation and management could go a long way in institutionalizing effective water management.

The awareness campaigns should not merely be directed at domestic users, but also agricultural and industrial users who are also big consumers of water in the UAE. This approach will ensure that water conservation is not a burden shouldered only by domestic users of water, but also industrial and agricultural consumers of the same commodity. The need to appeal to everyone makes mosques ideal places for educating the public about the importance of water conservation and management because most people go to these centers at least once every week.

The message of water conservation is likely to be received well by the people this way because the preservation of environmental resources and nature conservation is a key hallmark of Islam. Such initiatives are not new in the faith because, in the past, Imams have preached the message of water conservation and sustainability with commendable success, as was seen in the World Water Day of 1998. While there is an abundance of evidence that demonstrate how religious teachings have helped to promote environmental conservation, it is pertinent to understand that water conservation efforts should be implemented within a broader goal of behavior change. Lastly, the need to change water consumption patterns should be regarded as a long-term approach to sustainable water management. In the current setup, the government should continue investing in increasing water supply through an expansion of water production capacity using the desalination process. However, in the long-term, water conservation should take center stage as the UAE and other Gulf Nations shift their focus from development-oriented to conservation-oriented growth.

Suggestions of Future Research

Future research should explore the potential of using smart technologies to create behavior change in the UAE. Such studies should broadly strive to predict the extent that such technology tools would contribute to behavior change in the end.

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