Programme OS2b Environment and its
Changing Perceptions: water quality and demand in the United Arab
Author(s): Isaac Wait
Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, American University of Sharjah
Keyword(s): Water, arid, desalination, valuation, reclaimation,
Session: OS2b Environment and its
The natural availability of water in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is low, but due to rapid economic and
population expansion in recent years, water consumption has increased dramatically. Groundwater supplies are being
rapidly depleted, and reliance upon relatively expensive desalinated water is growing. In spite of the relatively high
cost of desalinated water and the natural scarcity of water, usage of water on a per-capita basis in the UAE is among
the highest in the world. Agricultural ventures that would be impossible without desalination are subsidized by the
low water fees that are charged by governmental water utilities. Public water use is growing as the standard of living
rises and the use of non-native plants and grasses expands.
Despite heavy governmental investment in water
production and delivery infrastructure, most people in the UAE rely on bottled water for drinking. In this research,
surveys gaging public opinion on the quality of municipally-provided water supplies identified that most water users
do not believe desalinated water is fit for regular drinking. Respondents identified a variety of reasons, including
perceptions of mineral imbalances, concern about the sanitation of intermediate water storage tanks, and overall
cleanliness of the seawater source used for production. While the majority of respondents responded unfavorably to
direct human use of reclaimed water, there was broad acceptance of agricultural and irrigation uses. User-provided
water cost estimates were correlated to general opinions about water scarcity and value.
It is proposed that by
working to improve user perception of water quality within the UAE that the available water will be viewed as a
resource that is more precious and worthy of conservation.