DUBAI // The nation’s groundwater is being depleted at such an alarming rate, experts warn it may be gone in 20 years’ time.
According to a panel of pundits speaking yesterday at the Future Cities Conference the situation is so severe, future wars may be fought over water instead of oil.
“Fifty per cent of the UAE’s water consumption comes from groundwater, and we are using it so quickly, it can’t be renewed,” said Dr Ismahane Elouafi, director general of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).
“In 20 years, most groundwater will be depleted. It’s hard to understand how we will cope when 50 per cent of our water resource is gone,” she said.
Geoff Turnbull, senior planning and landscape architecture manager for Aldar Properties, said groundwater in the UAE was being extracted at 23 times its recharge rate.
“You can’t stop the need to grow a city,” said Mr Turnbull. “In areas like this you need to find ways to deal with this issue.
Subsurface irrigation techniques have proven to greatly improve water conservation, as it delivers the water to the source, the roots, without losing anything to evaporation which is a big problem here.”
The panel agreed that water scarcity is a problem worldwide and, with climate change, it is a growing problem.
“What is needed is to look at the problem globally,” said Dr Elouafi. “People in this region are using more water than people in Canada who are at much less risk.
Dr Elouafi praised the UAE’s efforts in enforcing a change in crops that consume too much water, but added: “There should be better policies and regulations with regard to agriculture to control their consumption of water.
“You can’t change the evolution of populations, but you can change the way they consume water, by changing crops species, types of water used in irrigation and irrigation techniques.”
A recent study conducted in Al Ain seems to directly contradict the dire warnings issued by yesterday’s panel. It found groundwater had been increasing dramatically in the Al Ain Wadi area, with some parts the water table was as close as five meters from the surface.
Dr Ahmed Murad, associate professor of hydrogeology at the UAE University (UAEU) Faculty of Sciences, lead a team of six researchers and five UAEU students who tested groundwater levels between October last year and June 2012.
“During the study we tested around 12 water wells in the area, which showed the water table was surprisingly up. We found in these wells that the water table rose to 10 to 15 metres.”
But the lead researcher said their findings were the exception and not the rule. Speaking outside of the conference, he agreed water scarcity was severe.
“This is a very special case and it was only in parts of the Al Ain Wadi,” he said.
“Water scarcity is a huge global problem. Only 0.6 per cent of the world’s water is groundwater, and that is what everyone is using. We are not just facing problems with water quantity but quality as well. World governments are struggling to come up with regulations for groundwater governance,” he said.
Dr Murad said his team had not tested the quality of the water, and still did not know what the reason for the increase of the water level in parts of Al Ain was.
“A complete comprehensive geological survey of the area and the UAE has to be done to understand how this is happening, but I do suspect the reason is geological.”
In the meantime, he said, efforts to save water remain crucial.
“It’s not realistic to expect to stop economic growth [to save water],” said Dr Murad. “We must conserve and manage our resources through responsible behaviour on the part of the residents, governments, and industry alike.”