x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Time Frame: Donkeys en route to the desalination plant

This photo taken in Abu Dhabi the early 1960s shows a caravan laden with water containers heading to the emirate's new water desalination plant.

In this scene at Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi, a group of donkeys make their way past the Royal Palace, proudly flying the flag of the emirate. Courtesy of John Vale
In this scene at Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi, a group of donkeys make their way past the Royal Palace, proudly flying the flag of the emirate. Courtesy of John Vale

As the temperature continues to rise, it is worth remembering just how much effort it once took to survive a summer in the Arabian Gulf.

In this scene at Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi, a group of donkeys make their way past the Royal Palace, proudly flying the flag of the emirate.

The donkeys are laden with containers, probably disused oil cans scrubbed and made ready for an equally valuable cargo - fresh water.

This little caravan is probably on its way to the city's only desalination plant, which began operating from what is now the Corniche in 1962 and was capable of producing 57,000 litres of sweet water a day.

The water was distributed across the city by donkeys like these, and replaced a system of crude wells dug by hand and each useful only for a few days before becoming contaminated by salt water.

Tap water was to come later, along with a supply piped from Al Ain made possible by the first oil revenues. Incidentally, the water containers were sometimes known locally as "beebs" - a reference to the oil company BP, since in the Arabic alphabet there is no letter "p".

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae