Irrigation Systems in the United Arab Emirates

Driving down the streets of Dubai, one cannot ignore the large puddles of water that cover the side of the streets and sidewalks. These puddles, which are the result of attempted irrigation of green patches and plants, are a big waste. As a result, a very important question comes to mind: Does the UAE have that much water to spare? 

Water in the UAE is in very short supply. The United Arab Emirates is one of the top 10 most water-scarce countries in the world, and has one of the highest per capita water usages globally. With 550 liters per person per day, a UAE resident consumes more than double the global national average of 250 liters per person per day.  

Why do people use this wasteful method? Simple: it's the cheapest and fastest way to irrigate the plants, or it may seem so. Although the upfront costs are cheaper, there's a large hidden cost of water that underlies the use of conventional irrigation methods. There are a number of problems concerning spray irrigation but the most important is its inefficiency.

When using spray irrigation (sprinkler systems) in a country as arid as the UAE, 60% of the water evaporates before it is absorbed by the plants. As a result, only 40% of the water intended for irrigation is used, which itself is not evenly distributed. This lack of uneven distribution coupled with the decrease in the amount of water used is detrimental to the plants' health.

However, as awareness about water scarcity increases, more efficient methods are being used. Drip irrigation is one of the methods being used as an alternative to spray irrigation. Drip irrigation consists of perforated tubes placed along the floor, or buried near the roots of plants, which deposit water directly to the plant roots. The result is not only a drastic decrease in the amount of water evaporated, but also uses 25% less water than spray irrigation systems. 

A second method being used in the UAE is an irrigation system consisting of gravel and pipes 60cm below the surface. Before anything is planted, the plot is excavated and lined with a water-proof tarp followed by layers of gravel and dirt placed around a half pipe. The pipe is drilled at strategic areas in order to let water flow through but sand and soil stay out. This method only requires 2.5 litres of water in order to maintain a plot which usually requires 10 to 12 litres.

Some are quite simple and you can take action immediately:

  1. Adjust sprinklers so only the grass and plants are watered and not the streets and side walks. 
  2. Water during cooler times of the day such as in the morning or evening to avoid large amounts of evaporation.
  3. Coordinate irrigation with seasonal rains.
  4. Grow more drought-tolerant plants.

Other solutions could be more complicated such as transitioning to more efficient methods of irrigation (see above). Of course the government has a role to play in incentivizing the adoption of environmentally friendly behaviors. The government of the UAE can:

  • Subsidize the installation of more complex irrigation systems (e.g. drip irrigation).
  • Provide preferential loan and credit conditions for farmers that abide by environmentally friendly laws or standards. 
  • Launch different campaigns across the the UAE that aim at educating farmers and residents about environmentally conscious water consumption.  

With water scarcity continuing to reach an all time low, there isn't enough water to be equally distributed between the people of the UAE, let alone water to waste. The time to act is now.

You May Also Like

About Amir Dakkak

Amir Dakkak, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, is in his fourth year at the University of Edinburgh majoring in Environmental Sciences. His main passion is water scarcity and water sustainability in the MENA region. He runs the blog Water Source that addresses water problems and sustainability. Amir has worked with Emirates Environmental Group on various environmental issues including water scarcity.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Irrigation Systems in the United Arab Emirates

  1. Pingback: Ravtul's Blog – THE CONCEPTUAL PROJECT

  2. Pingback: Irrigation Systems in UAE « Cleantech Solutions

  3. Naseem Aziz says:

    A very good article it would be interesting to know the quantity of Waste water generatred
    in UAE and its present method of treatment and disposal.

  4. Chahbani says:

    Very interesting article. Please let me introduce myself. I'm Dr. CHAHBANI Bellachheb, I spent more than 25 years in research with a high desire to improve the human life. My motivation was driven by an unfailing wish to save water for the next generations, combat famine, combat hunger, combat desertification… I invented an innovative irrigation technique called "The Buried Diffuser". It is a new irrigation technique which can be used for trees (fruit trees, forest trees, ornamental trees) and shrubs, vegetables in fields and in green houses, and plants in containers, pots or boxes. The buried diffuser uses 3 times less water then drip irrigation to get the same yield. This means that for the same volume of irrigation water the “buried diffuser” produces 3 till 4 times more than drip irrigation. This worldwide patented (PCT) invention won multiple awards such as "Grand Prix Innovatec" (France 2012), TOP 20 Info Dev World Bank (Helsinki 2011), International water price by UNESCO (Hungary 2009), etc. It was also tested and approved in many arid and semi-arid regions, the results are scientifically guaranteed. We are convinced that the added values of this invention will allow farmers to get better crops although drought periods and although the lack of water. This has been scientifically tested and approved in arid regions. Best regards,

  5. maddy says:

    very good effort for increase the production with fighting the lack of water availability…. definitily i would like to serve there… i m an irrigation engineer… 

Leave a Reply