United Arab Emirates - Country Commercial Guide

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2020-09-12


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) faces several water management challenges:

  • Scarcity of groundwater reserves.
  • High salinity levels in existing groundwater.
  • High cost of producing drinking water.
  • Limited re-use of water.
  • Limited collection and treatment of wastewater outside of urban areas.

The UAE’s new policy is to decouple power generation from water generation, pursuing alternative technologies such as sea water reverse osmosis (RO) to improve energy and water efficiency and help meet other energy and water security goals.

The UAE has one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world at 477 cubic meters per day. With water demand growing annually, there is an increasing need to invest in infrastructure and water efficiency technology. In early 2019, the UAE government approved $1.6 billion for water and energy projects. However, budgets have been cut as a result of falling government revenues due to low oil prices, and this has affected existing projects.

The government is working to manage and reduce demand by:

  • Educating youth.
  • Reducing cost by eliminating subsidies.
  • Storing water in aquifers.
  • Regulating groundwater extraction.
  • Investing in new energy efficient sea water desalination.
  • Investing in water utilization efficient technology.

The UAE’s Water Security Strategy 2036, set out by the government at the end of 2017, established several targets for the water industry: 

  • Reduce total demand for water resources by 21%.
  • Increase the water productivity index to $110 per cubic meter.
  • Reduce the water scarcity index by three degrees from 6.58 in 2017.
  • Increase the reuse of treated water to 95%.
  • Increase national water storage capacity by establishing six connecting networks between water and electricity entities across the UAE.

In the wastewater sector, one of the key projects undertaken by Abu Dhabi’s Sewerage and Services Company (ADSSC) is the Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Program (STEP) to collect and treat wastewater discharged from residential, commercial, and industrial buildings in Abu Dhabi to increase the capacity for wastewater collection and treatment. 

Regulatory Environment

The water sector in the UAE is fully government-owned, regulated by a number of agencies, including ADSSC, Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), and other agricultural organizations. TAQA, a diversified utilities and energy group in Abu Dhabi, has 13 operational power generation and water desalination plants across the emirates. Contracts are granted by both federal and emirate-level governments, with a rigid bidding process. Companies should be familiar with the local business culture and negotiation style.

Commercial Environment

The country has seen heavy investment from both the public and private sector for providing clean water. A large number of projects are in the pipeline despite the financial pressure from low oil prices.

Abu Dhabi’s Department of Energy announced a plan to build the world’s largest desalination plant in 2018. The Taweelah power complex will use the RO process rather than thermal-powered distillation, which draws power from the national grid rather than rely on an adjacent power plant. The plan is to start production in 2022, when it would raise Abu Dhabi’s RO output to 30% of total desalinated water production from 13% currently, according to the UAE State of Energy Report.

DEWA awarded a $237 million contract to a joint venture comprising ACCIONA Agua and Belhasa Six Construct to build a RO desalination plant in the Jebel Ali industrial complex in 2018. The facility is part of Dubai’s overall goal to produce 100% of desalinated water using a mix of clean energy and waste heat by 2030. This includes a target to raise RO production from a current level of 5% of Dubai’s desalinated output to 41% by 2030.

Opportunity exists for technology and innovations that can make drinking water production more efficient, solutions for storage, and wastewater treatment and reuse. The wastewater treatment and sanitation sectors are also in need of large investment.

Leading Sub-Sectors

Ground Water

About 51% of the UAE’s water supply comes from groundwater, and there is a need to improve the natural renewal of groundwater resources. The Environmental Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD) initiated a project to map and compile a comprehensive inventory of groundwater wells in the Emirate. The Groundwater Atlas of Abu Dhabi Emirate presents the results and findings of this project.

Drinking Water 

The UAE recognizes the importance of innovative new water solutions and several strategic government and private sector partnerships are working to develop advanced and adaptive technology that will help the UAE avoid a future water crisis.


The government is looking at new technologies to recycle wastewater and improve wastewater treatment, as wastewater treatment facilities are far cheaper to construct and maintain than desalination plants. Treated wastewater caters to most industrial and agricultural requirements.


Opportunities lie in technology and innovations that can make drinking water production more efficient, solutions for storage, and wastewater treatment and reuse, to include:

  • Architecture, construction, and engineering for water plants and desalination plants.
  • Solar-powered reverse-osmosis desalination technologies and other cutting-edge technologies to produce drinking water.
  • Technology to separate black water networks from grey water networks and treat the black water at the treatment plant level and the grey water at the district level.
  • Technologies and solutions to recycle wastewater and improve water treatment. 
  • Water/Wastewater equipment, membranes, pipes, and components for wastewater treatment plants and water desalination plants.
  • Water monitoring equipment such as auto samplers and flow meters, as well as more water efficient faucets, toilets, and pipes with low leakage.  
  • Technologies to enhance and capture rainfall, including storing it and pumping it underground to replenish the groundwater and use it as needed.
  • Ground water technologies including international consulting and engineering firms with the ability to detect engineering problems.  


Trade Shows and Exhibitions 

Water Energy Technology Environment Exhibition (WETEX)

Date: October 26-28, 2020

Venue: Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center (virtual)

Key Websites

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA)

Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD)

Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA)

Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA)

UAE Water Security Strategy 2036