The United Arab Emirates (UAE) may be heading for a major drought unless the country starts taking drastic remedial action, according to a report entitled "Hydrogeology of An Arid Region: The Arabian Gulf and Adjoining Areas," published by Abu Dhabi Economy, a monthly magazine published by the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The study shows that groundwater levels in the country have dropped at a rate of one metre every year for the past 30 years and may soon dry out altogether. Water extraction far outstrips replenishment as consumption in the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are the highest in the world.
Findings show that the situation has been compounded with the drying up of freshwater wells and contamination of groundwater in coastal areas, particularly at Dibba, Kalba and Fujairah.
Dr. Zenelabidin S. Rizk, Director of Institute of Environment and Water at Ajman University of Science and Technology, said that extraction of UAE groundwater had reached its limit. He explained: "While water is extracted from the ground at random, there has been no significant recharge of the amounts leading to a steady increase in groundwater salinity in water fields throughout the UAE."
Experts contend that recent droughts in Masafi could have been the result of excessive pumping of water at the East Coast. Water pumped near the East Coast can result in the migration of seawater inwards, contaminating fresh groundwater inland.
Dr. Rizk said that the estimated annual recharge for groundwater in the UAE was 20 million cubic metres (Mm3) while the rate of groundwater extraction has been around 880 Mm3/year. He said that this grave disparity between extraction and annual recharge of water has reduced groundwater level and caused saltwater intrusion. Population growth had also placed a great deal of pressure on water resources in the GCC. The current water gap of 15 Mm3 has been projected to reach nearly 31 Mm3 by 2005.