Dubai finds itself at Number # 9 on the list of 10 cities with the greatest predicted increase in water stress over the next two decades. Unlike the other nine, which are plagued by diminishing supplies of water, Dubai’s problem is runaway demand.
The United Arab Emirates and the other arid Gulf oil states have never had enough water to support the vast cities that have sprung up so quickly.
They are reliant on desalination, powered by gas and oil. As Dubai has imported more and more expatriates, so each year the demand for water has increased, along with the environmental and financial cost of producing it.
Governments are aware that this escalation is insupportable. In 2017 the UAE unveiled its Water Security Strategy, aiming to ensure sustainable access to water by reducing average consumption per capita by half by 2036.
It’s a tall order. In the UAE, water consumption is at 550 liters per person per day, which still is 80% higher than the global average.
Saudi Arabia produced almost 2 billion cubic meters of water in 2018, quenching a growing thirst that by 2030 will be consuming an estimated 50% of the country’s oil and gas output. It will be demographics, not technology, that saves the day.
Over the past 50 years, countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia have seen rampant population growth that may have facilitated rapid development but has also created the resource problems they now face.
Between 1970 and 2018, Saudi Arabia’s population increased from under 6 million to more than 33 million. The UAE’s population expanded from just 234,000 to 9.6 million, most of them expats.
In 1996, 24% of the UAE population was Emirati. By 2006 it was 15% and today it is little more than 10%.
The largest single element of the population (27%) is from India, followed by Pakistan (12.6%) and the Philippines (5.5%), with the rest from the nearly 200 other nations whose citizens live and work in the Arab country.
New technologies, from artificial intelligence to automation, will see many expat jobs disappear. Turn the key and the Dubai of tomorrow will be a leaner, more sustainable and far less thirsty place than it is today.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.