x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 November 2017

Answer to UAE’s water security crisis could lie in Pakistan, says head of Geowash

Mr Al Shehi, chief executive of Geowash, has written a paper suggesting that part of the solution to the water crisis is creating an underground pipeline from Dasht, a Pakistani river 500km away, to Fujairah.

Abdulla Al Shehi plans to connect a Pakistani river to the UAE through underground tunnels in an attempt to irrigate the emirates. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Abdulla Al Shehi plans to connect a Pakistani river to the UAE through underground tunnels in an attempt to irrigate the emirates. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // The answer to the UAE’s water shortage could lie in a pipeline from Pakistan, according to an Emirati businessman.

Abdulla Al Shehi, chief executive of Geowash, has written a paper suggesting an underground pipeline from Dasht, a river 500 kilometres away in Pakistan, to Fujairah.

“Technology is not a problem. We are at an advanced stage in engineering where it is possible politically as well. I don’t think there will be any problem. It is beneficial for both countries,” he said.

He said the Dasht River floods annually, which prompted the Pakistani government to empty the excess water through channels leading to the sea. That excess water, said Mr Al Shehi, could be put to use in the UAE.

The idea may sound far-fetched, but Mr Al Shehi is something of a specialist in saving water.

Since its inception, Mr Al Shehi has run Geowash, which washes a car using only four litres of water, compared to the 220 litres conventional cleaning takes.

Mr Al Shehi’s technique has allowed the company to save 500 million litres of water since 2008.

The pipeline, if built, would not be the longest – that honour belongs to Turkey’s 9,300km pipeline in the Harran Plain.

Nor will it be the most difficult feat of engineering. However, it would face other issues that Mr Al Shehi admitted.

“There will be an environmental impact. There might be a negative effect, which I think is minor,” he said.

“However, the benefits in saving water from desalination and the amount of biological life it will spur will offset the effects.”

However, for Professor Hussein Amery, who wrote a book titled Arab Water Security, the concept of creating a pipeline is fraught with political issues.

“I won’t discuss the economics of engineering challenges. I am suspicious of a project of this sort, because let me remind you that Qatar and Kuwait both have explored importing water from south-west Iran,” he said.

The problem with creating cross-country pipelines, he said, was that it created a security situation where a nation is dependent on a neighbour – described by Prof Amery as “hydro-dependency”.

“Gulf-Pakistani relations are different than Gulf-Irani relations. I am totally aware of that, but the engineering would be challenging and difficult considering the terrain,” he said.

He said that the political and technological hurdles can be overcome, but even then, the idea still would not be efficient.

“We use a very small amount of water in our homes in the Gulf states,” he said.

“Anywhere between 70 to 80 per cent goes to agriculture.

“It’s much cheaper and much more efficient to have the Pakistanis grow wheat and feed cows, then export the food [than import the water and grow food locally].”

Furthermore, he said, the UAE relies heavily on a very energy-intensive water source.

“The biggest threat is that it [the UAE] is hyper-arid and it doesn’t have any permanent water source, which created the reliance on desalination technology, as such it has become the destiny for the Emirates and other Gulf states,” he said.

Dr Ahmad Belhoul, chief executive of Masdar, said although it is investing heavily in researching renewable energy to provide energy to desalination plants, he welcomed new ideas, especially as the year of innovation comes to a close.

“I think that the very spirit of creating a company like Masdar is to encourage people to come up with ideas, some which are very practical and others more ambitious,” he said. “Either way, it warms my heart that Emiratis and expats alike are thinking proactively of solutions.”

nalwasmi@thenational.ae