Interview: Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak
What measures are being developed to reduce water consumption levels?
RAZAN AL MUBARAK: With an increasing population, Abu Dhabi’s water demand is expected to rise, and during challenging economic conditions this only increases the importance of the water budget. Groundwater, as oil and gas, are finite resources, which compels the government to find innovative solutions. The EAD is hence advocating for the adoption of a water budget system to ensure sustainability when demand begins to increase as a result of economic development. This system will allow water resources to be allocated based on overall supply and will set a fixed volume of water for all consumers.
The water budget proposal is still being refined, but the plan is a first step towards raising awareness in different economic sectors. The emirate is struggling to meet current household and industrial water demands. Thus the EAD’s initiative will allow Abu Dhabi to meet its economic objectives while limiting the construction of desalination plants and preserving groundwater reserves. The majority of Abu Dhabi’s water supply is sourced from desalination plants and recycled water. However, there remains significant progress to be made in terms of reducing the usage of groundwater. Demand for groundwater is highest in the agriculture industry, so they need to improve their irrigation systems and select crops that are adaptable to the dry climate. Also, the EAD is working diligently to help industrial manufacturers to switch to treated water. People are reluctant to use treated water, so there is also a mindset issue here.
The EAD estimates that Abu Dhabi will require three times more desalination capacity if water usage patterns go unchanged. The aim is to reach 100% treated water usage throughout the emirate. Building the necessary infrastructure in places where water is most needed and altering people’s mindsets will be the first steps towards developing a solution.
How will the introduction of Abu Dhabi’s first man-made aquifer contribute to water security?
AL MUBARAK: Desalination plants form the backbone of Abu Dhabi’s water supply. However, these major installations are an easy target to external threats such as terrorism, oil spills and pollution. Hence, the emirate needs to develop back-up plans to maintain water security. The construction of the world’s largest man-made aquifer should provide a three-month supply of potable water to the residents of Abu Dhabi in the event of a disaster.
The EAD started considering building the aquifer as water scarcity threatened to pose a serious problem to the emirate. The project took over a decade to complete and will eventually hold 5bn gallons of water. In case of severe drought, the water could be extracted via specially designed wells. Once this project is completed, a second aquifer will be built in Al Ain to provide both the eastern and western regions of Abu Dhabi with emergency water supply.
What steps are being taken to improve air quality?
AL MUBARAK: Improving air quality levels is high on the EAD’s agenda. Innovative air quality regulations are being imposed, and the response from different industries has generally been positive. Pollution levels in the UAE are regarded as safe, not exceeding levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.
However, the UAE finds itself on the receiving end of dust coming from neighbouring countries, which adversely effects air quality. There are 20 monitoring stations in the emirate to ensure pollution does not exceed critical levels. The EAD also operates two mobile stations to respond to air quality emergencies. Transportation is an area where further improvements can be made. For example, heavy-duty trucks from older generations are a major source of greenhouse gasses. To tackle this, stricter regulation will need to be developed and higher standards imposed.
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