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Changing Perceptions: water quality and demand in the United Arab Emirates

IWRA World Water Congress 2008 Montpellier France
2. Towards the Future: Water Resources and Global Changes
Author(s): Isaac Wait
Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, American University of Sharjah

Keyword(s): Water, arid, desalination, valuation, reclaimation, scarcity

AbstractThe 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.
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