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Water Supply in Abu Dhabi

Water is one of the most valuable and important social goods on Earth, and there is a need to have proper measures for controlling its use and its management to prevent the depletion of natural water resources. The purpose of this research is to give an overview of the water supply in Abu Dhabi with a focus on the demand for water in this region, population growth, water supply, distribution, and quality. The study also aims at giving an overview of the way forward and what needs to be done to effectively manage natural water resources. Basically, secondary data sources were used to gather and analyze information, and therefore, the descriptive study was adopted. Data was collected from research journal publications, other scholars, and government departmental reports. Abu Dhabi is faced with a serious water crisis, and hence, something needs to be done as soon as possible to prevent the depletion of natural aquifers.

Water, its availability, and management are among the primary issues of great concern in the modern world. Abu Dhabi is not an exemption in this case. Since its independence in 1971, Abu Dhabi has experienced an explosion in population and economic growth. The main source of water supply by then was groundwater, which was very scarce as a result of limited recharging due to saline aquifers. Therefore, there was a need for an alternative, and the option available was the desalination of seawater. Abu Dhabi is located in the United Arab Emirates. It is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. The region is faced with numerous water management challenges, namely the escalating costs of production of drinking water, scarcity of groundwater reserves, and lack of adequate collection and wastewater treatment facilities. The country’s water infrastructure is under enormous pressure following the surging population, hence creating a skyrocketing demand for water. As a result, there is a necessity to invest in the water infrastructure to cater to the rising demand and prepare for the future. Another challenge is the fact that oil prices have drastically dropped over the past few years, which has caused a significant drop in revenues, thus resulting in the lack of funds to support current and future water projects. Therefore, the study is aimed at giving a holistic approach to water supply in Abu Dhabi, paying attention to the organization in charge of water supply in Abu Dhabi, water sources, demand, population, water quality, and treatment facilities. Consequently, clean water production and supply in Abu Dhabi continue to be a priority with a primary focus on technological innovations to make the production of drinking water more efficient, improve storage and wastewater treatment, and reuse techniques with a focus on water management systems.

Objectives of the Study

The following are the objectives of the study:

  1. To give an overview of water resources and water supply in Abu Dhabi.
  2. To find out which measures can be taken to improve the water management and supply in Abu Dhabi.
  3. To identify the possible alternatives or techniques to produce safe water for drinking and give the way forward for problems and challenges facing the water supply in Abu Dhabi.


For the purpose of this research, several research designs and methodologies were employed to make it a success. One of the main methods used in this research for data collection was participant observation. The researcher conducted observation and analyzed the current state of the water supply in Abu Dhabi. Data was collected from secondary sources, such as government reports, publications, and research reviews. Focus was also shifted to making use of current and historical information in relation to the water supply in Abu Dhabi. For the purpose of this research, there were no interviews conducted, and the main sources of data were secondary ones.

The information for this study was mainly obtained from a review of various reports, peer journal reviews, and research publications. The research was also guided by the directions given by other researchers regarding areas for further study. The work adopted descriptive research, which is the most appropriate when secondary sources are used as the main sources of data.

Description of Water Supply in Abu Dhabi

Water resources are one of the most important ones around the world. Water is critical for the survival of both flora and fauna. Its availability and management in general are very vital. Abu Dhabi is located in one of the most water-scarce countries around the globe, even though it has the highest demand for water. According to Bollaci, Hawkins, Mankin, and Wurden (2010), Abu Dhabi has the highest per capita water consumption in the world, standing at 550 liters per day. The demand for water is mainly satisfied through the groundwater, which accounts for approximately 72%, desalinated waters at 21%, and retreated water at about 7% (Bollaci et al., 2010). However, the government is working to reduce such high and increasing demand. The state authorities are educating the youths, eliminating subsidies to reduce costs, and investing in new cost-friendly technologies for desalinating water and also string water in aquifers. Therefore, being the scarcest country in terms of water and its consumption, Abu Dhabi is a center of focus for numerous studies.

Main Sources of Water Supply in Abu Dhabi

Freshwater is one of the basics for the survival of flora and fauna. However, freshwater is not uniformly distributed within the space and quality. Some areas have ample and excess water in supply, while others have minimal or no water at all. Such imbalance in water supply results in problems for the inhabitants of these areas. The two main sources of water supply in Abu Dhabi are desalinated (non-conventional) water and groundwater (conventional) (Bollaci et al., 2010). Thus, the water resources in the United Arab Emirates can be classified into two categories, namely conventional and non-conventional ones. The former refers to surface water, such as springs, dams, and groundwater, which include both deep and shallow aquifers (Bollaci et al., 2010; Fragaszy & McDonnell, 2016). On the other hand, non-conventional water resources include desalinated water (such as from the seas), treated wastewater, and also cloud seeding. Abu Dhabi has the second-largest desalination capacity in the world with Saudi Arabia being the largest (Bollaci et al., 2010). Desalination plants make use of multi-effect distillation (MED), while other plants use reverse osmosis technology. The process removes salt and other elements from seawater through high pressure and temperatures to produce drinkable water. The water is then supplied to be used in businesses, homes, and public spaces, such as parks and landscaping.

Desalination is mainly used to meet domestic demand and accounts for about 99%. According to Bollaci et al. (2010), desalinated water is either used directly or blended with the groundwater. Treated water is basically applied for urban purposes. Desalination is one of the best alternatives to meet the current deficit in demand for water. Lastly, there is seeding; Abu Dhabi is one of the countries that lead in the seeding process and artificial rain-making processes (Bollaci et al., 2010). The government has made enormous spending on implementing the project. Cloud seeding is aimed at raising the levels of water in aquifers and water reservoirs within the region. In addition to water resources classification, water consumption can be classified and divided into three main sectors. The sectors are water for private household consumption, the agricultural sector, and the industrial sector.

Organization Responsible for Water Supply in Abu Dhabi

The central government authorities are linked to the federal structure of Abu Dhabi. The central government oversees the supply of water in conjunction with the federal government of the UAE. The local authorities have joined their efforts to ease the burden on the central government for supplying water. However, the primary organization in Abu Dhabi responsible for the supply of water is Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA). It is in charge and supplies water to homes, schools, and businesses. It also oversees the generation, transportation, and distribution of water and electricity. The organization is mandated with the role of guaranteeing the residents in the UAE security in water and electricity supply. It achieves its mandate through long and short-term balancing of demand and supply (through forecasting and expansion planning) and power and water purchase agreements (through bulk supply tariffs), thus making sales agreements with the distribution companies and fuel supply agreements with the fuel suppliers.

Abu Dhabi Population

Abu Dhabi is considered the second-largest emirate in terms of population just behind Dubai. Abu Dhabi is also the capital city of the United Arab Emirates and has the largest space. Abu Dhabi occupies 67,640 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 87% of the total area of the UAE; islands are not included (“Abu Dhabi Population,” 2017). It is home to all the government offices. Currently, according to “Abu Dhabi Population” (2017), the city’s population is estimated to have grown from 4,000 in 1950 to about 1,252,000 in 2018. Since 2015, the population of Abu Dhabi has increased to approximately 107,000 persons, which represents a 3.02% increase annually (“Abu Dhabi Population,” 2017). It is expected that Abu Dhabi’s population will grow by 2.8% by 2020 to reach 1,323,000 people. The population estimated is a summation of Abu Dhabi’s urban population and that of its immediate suburban areas. Moreover, there are more males than females in Abu Dhabi, with an average life expectancy for males being estimated at 76 years and that of women at 79.9 years (“Abu Dhabi Population,” 2017). Abu Dhabi has a large portion of the UAE national population, which stands at approximately 536,741. The population has a low level of illiteracy, which is attributed to the excellent school system within the city.

Water Demand in Abu Dhabi

Approximately 3.5 million people die annually due to the lack of adequate water supply (“Abu Dhabi Population,” 2017). The scarcity of water is closely associated with challenges in energy and food security. Hence, water is one of the most precious resources in the world. The demand for water in Abu Dhabi emanates from two main sectors, which are private and public. The private sector can be divided into two: residential and commercial or industrial demand. The residential is either indoor or outdoor, where the indoor is purely for daily domestic consumption. On the other hand, there is the public sector that is present in landscaping, fountains, and parks or public institutions, such as government buildings, schools, and hospitals. The main reason for the surging demand is a rapid growth in population and economic growth.

Abu Dhabi is one of the areas where water is very scarce. Water demand in the Abu Dhabi Emirate is very high. Currently, on average, a person in Abu Dhabi consumes 565-920 liters per day (Fragaszy & McDonnell, 2016). The is rate is almost double the one in developed countries. Consumption has been steadily rising over the years. For example, in 1997, the rate was 492 liters per day, which increased by 53% or 753 liters per day in 2002 (Fragaszy & McDonnell, 2016). The demand is also expected to continue rising with time, as the population continues to grow. Fragaszy and McDonnell (2016) estimate that the demand for water in Abu Dhabi will rise by more than 123%, which is equivalent to more than 5,000 liters by 2030.

The current demand is the highest ever in the world, and it has now gone far beyond what the natural environment can provide. The demand is more than 26 times the natural production and continues to grow. With the current rate at which the demand for water in Abu Dhabi is rising, it is expected that if something to control and manage the demand is not done, natural groundwater will be totally depleted in the next 25 years (Fragaszy & McDonnell, 2016). Therefore, there is a need to look for alternatives to curb the escalating demand for water.

Water Quality in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is one of the emirates that are considered to produce the safest and most quality water in the UAE. As a result of increasing demand, there is also a need to have quality water supplied for use. To achieve that, there are rules and regulations that are set to guide the provision of quality water. Wholesome water is the water supplied for the purposes of cooking, drinking, washing, and food production (Ghaffour, Missimer, & Amy, 2013). Generally, the rules require that such water should be without any elements, organisms, and concentrated substances, which would be detrimental to public health. Alternatively, the wholesome water supplied should not contain such said elements beyond the values exceeding the standard norms (Ghaffour et al., 2013). The standards are streamlined with the guidelines spelled out by the World Health Organization for non-bottled water and also in line with the International Food Code for bottled water. Therefore, water production must be guided and controlled for quality water.

Since desalination is the main source of water for supply in Abu Dhabi, there is a need to maintain high quality, as the water supplied is treated using various methods. Excess salt in water for consumption is not good for the health of the public. Water from desalination treatment plants in Abu Dhabi is safe for human consumption (Ghaffour et al., 2013). Moreover, most of the residents in Abu Dhabi live in flats, and therefore, they rely on the landlords for water cleaning. The former are required to disinfect their tank’s pipelines and also clean them regularly. It is preferred to do so every six years. However, most landlords leave this to their entrusted watchmen, who may not always be in a position to fulfill this requirement. Regular inspections are carried out by the Abu Dhabi municipalities.

Water Treatment Facilities in Abu Dhabi

Over the past few years, Abu Dhabi and its immediate suburbs have been experiencing population growth at an alarming rate. It affects water treatment facilities. Abu Dhabi municipalities have made tremendous efforts to maintain world-class wastewater treatment plants for their citizens. Such efforts started as early as the 1970s. For example, in 1973, the first wastewater treatment plant was built to guarantee a supply of 4,545 meters cubic of water per day (“History of Wastewater Treatment in Abu Dhabi,” 2016). Early wastewater treatment plant was designed to basically rely on gravity to maintain a continuous flow of water. However, over the years, wastewater treatment plants in Abu Dhabi have undergone tremendous renovations to make it possible for the municipal to cater to the rapid development of the region.

Some of these wastewater treatment facilities include the Mafraq wastewater treatment plant, which was constructed about 40 kilometers away from Abu Dhabi with an elevation of more than 40 meters above sea level (“History of Wastewater Treatment in Abu Dhabi,” 2016). The project was carried out in phases with the first phase being commissioned in 1982. It had a capacity of 100,000 meters cubic of water per day and was aimed at serving about 332,500 residents. Phase 2 of the wastewater treatment plant had an increased capacity of 260,625 meters cubic of water per day and was commissioned in 1997. It was estimated to serve more than 900,000 people (“History of Wastewater Treatment in Abu Dhabi,” 2016). As the population continued to grow, so does the wastewater treatment plant. It has undergone upgrading to cater to the new demand. For example, phase 1 has undergone advanced renovation and upgrade between 1999 and 2001. The upgraded project was designed to incorporate a new system for odor control and management of biosolids.

In addition to Mafraq, there is the Al Ain Zakher wastewater treatment plant, which was set up in 1980. The plant had an initial design capacity of 27,000 meter cubic of water per day. It was expanded to double its capacity to 54,000 meter cubic per day owing to surging population pressure within Abu Dhabi and its environs (“History of Wastewater Treatment in Abu Dhabi,” 2016). With time, demand for more wastewater treatment plants has been experienced, hence leading to the construction of other smaller wastewater treatment plants in different regions with the aim of protecting the environment as well as increasing public health. Such small projects have been designed with state-of-the-art technologies to enable a 100% recycling process, basically for irrigation purposes (“History of Wastewater Treatment in Abu Dhabi,” 2016).

Moreover, four new projects are underway, which have been divided into two major parts. The projects are part of the strategic future development of the region, starting from 2010 to 2030. In addition to the four projects is the implementation of the Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Program (STEP) (“History of Wastewater Treatment in Abu Dhabi,” 2016). It is a construction of a 40-kilometer-long wastewater tunnel in Abu Dhabi that aims to meet the predicted demand for wastewater treatment services (“History of Wastewater Treatment in Abu Dhabi,” 2016). STEP is earmarked for implementation to cater to the collection and transportation of wastewater from the developing areas and to those territories that are identified as part of the project. STEP will accommodate more wastewater in the future developed areas.

Pipe Distribution Network

Once the water sources have been identified and the water has been treated, there is a need to maintain an efficient distribution network system. The water supply business in Abu Dhabi involves activities, such as meter reading, billing, maintaining customer accounts, and maintaining an efficient call center (Ghaffour et al., 2013). The activities are carried out by two companies that are owned by the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, namely Al Ain Distribution Company and Abu Dhabi Distribution Company.

Water in Abu Dhabi is distributed in pipes of varying sizes, starting from 80 mm to 1,200 mm in diameter. The water is directed to small-sized reservoirs and pump stations. The pipes are mainly made up of ductile iron although high-density polythene pipes are being used. The piped distribution network serves 99% of the customers. The water in the pipe is maintained at an average pressure of 1.25 bar and is used to serve more than 77% of the whole of Abu Dhabi’s population (Ghaffour et al., 2013). Due to high demand and many customers and clients, there is a need to maintain proper records and documentation for connection and interface agreements. To achieve this, the companies work closely with the bureau, which helps in maintaining the said records. Among the services that the bureau offers are ownership boundaries identifications, location of power and water connection points, review and approval of connection and interface agreements, maintenance, ownership, and control sites.

The Way Forward

Following the above analysis, there is a need to deal with the increasing demand for water in Abu Dhabi. According to Abdelfattah (2013), reducing the demand for water does not necessarily mean a slowed growth and development rate but rather an alternative route for these processes. The government should invest and encourage research and development to help create new technologies, which can be used to retreat water for use. Such alternatives include solar-powered or renewable energy-powered wastewater treatment plants to cut down the costs associated with the maintenance of traditional wastewater treatment plants (Abdelfattah, 2013). According to Abdelfattah (2013), some of the challenges faced by the water system in Abu Dhabi are the increasing demand for water, contamination of desalinated water, lack of proper rules and regulations governing the water cleaning of water facilities, and lack of adequate awareness on the benefits of water conservation.

The government has made tremendous efforts in streamlining the water supply in Abu Dhabi. However, much more should be done to address this water problem. In addition to its efforts in improving the water supply system, the government should consider hiring inspection experts and professional cleaning experts to help in cleaning exercises, enforcing the law to deal with noncompliance with the law, replacing old pipes and tanks to deal with the contamination issues, as well as encouraging people to use tap water and educate people create awareness of using tap water as opposed to tap water (Abdelfattah, 2013). In the agriculture sector, which is one of the sectors that consume a lot of water, there is a need to encourage farmers to make use of advanced irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation, to reduce the demand for irrigation water.


With the skyrocketing population and demand for water in Abu Dhabi and the fact that underground aquifers are becoming more and more depleted (aquifers will completely be depleted in the next 25 years if something is not done), the government cannot ignore the fact that there is a looming crisis ahead; not forgetting that the effects of climate change are being felt and experienced all over across the globe. If the trend continues, water might even become more expensive than oil. Therefore, there is a need for an excellent water management system and control of the use of water resources, which are one of the most valuable social goods. Among the main challenges in the management of water resources are the increasing population, which is accompanied by the high rate of globalization and the dwindling of natural resources such as aquifers. Abu Dhabi should find ways how to reduce the demand for water. Such efforts are a catalyst for the development of the region. For example, water conservation measures can be employed to increase the conservation of this resource. Additionally, for success and efficiency in water conservation and water supply, there is a need for the implementation of effective rules and regulations, thus making laws as well as digging for public support and goodwill. The research has also highlighted a need to have efficient wastewater treatment for quality water supply and improved public health. To achieve and have quality water being supplied, the government should invest in projects for wastewater treatment.