United Arab Emirates

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

Last published date: 2019-10-13


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) faces several water management challenges, including the scarcity of groundwater reserves, high salinity levels in existing groundwater, the high cost of producing drinking water, limited re-use of water, and limited collection and treatment of wastewater outside of urban areas.  With water demand growing annually, the country’s water infrastructure is under significant pressure.  There is an increasing need to invest in infrastructure and water efficiency technology to meet the future demand and to avoid a shortfall.  However, budget cuts, as a result of falling government revenues due to low oil prices, have affected existing projects resulting in calls for proposals and more innovation.  The government is managing the demand by investing in water utilization efficient technology, energy efficient seawater desalination and in education.  To address the high cost to the government has reduced subsidies for water and power since January 2015 and increased tariffs in 2016 and 2017.  However, in early 2019, the UAE government approved $1.6 billion for water and energy projects[1].   

Published by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), Environment 2030 forecasts that both fresh and brackish underground water from UAE. aquifer systems will be exhausted within fifty-five years if mitigation measures are not taken.  The government has addressed this issue, by using treated waste water to increase the efficiency of water use for irrigation.  In 2017, the Abu Dhabi Municipality reported that 76 percent of the water used in landscapes is treated water and plans to have all fresh water replaced by treated sewage effluent by the year 2030. 

The UAE has one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world (500 liters per day).  As a result, the government is working to reduce demand by educating youth, reducing cost by eliminating subsidies, storing water in aquifers, regulating groundwater extraction, and investing in new energy efficient sea water desalination.  They have also started a ‘UAE Water Security Strategy 2036’ to reduce total demand for water resources by 21 percent, increase the water productivity index to $110 per cubic meter, reduce the water scarcity index by three degrees, increase the reuse of treated water to 95 percent and increase national water storage capacity up to two days[2].  According to Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), the consumption of desalinated water increased by around 3,500 million imperial gallons.  Currently, substantially all of the drinking water used in the Emirate is produced through thermal desalination, requiring the combustion of fossil fuel.  Measures to find alternative energy-efficient ways to produce drinking water are being explored. 

In 2015, Masdar awarded contracts to four water technology companies to build four small-scale desalination plants, designed to test solar energy-desalination processes through reverse-osmosis: Spain’s Abengoa and Degrémont, France’s Veolia and US Trevi Systems.  A fifth plant was launched in October 2016, run by the French engineering company Mascara, using forward osmosis.  The combined daily output of all five pilot plants in Ghantoot is 1,500 cubic meters. If these desalination processes succeed in reducing energy consumption, this would lead to reduction of costs, a smaller carbon footprint, and the ability to power plants with renewable energy.  By 2020, Masdar has also planned to build a commercial-scale, renewably-powered desalination plant[3]In the wastewater sector, one of the key projects undertaken by Abu Dhabi’s Sewerage and Services Company (ADSSC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Government established in 2005, 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.  Completion of the next phase of STEP will expand its capacity to handle 1.7 million cubic meters of waste water per day by 2030.  ADSSC sources explained that additional investment is needed to connect the recovered water treatment plant to the system and the potential irrigation sites for reuse, thereby reducing the quantity of desalinated water used and reducing the impact of discharges to the Arabian Gulf and desert receiving areas. 

Regulatory Environment >

The water sector in the UAE is fully government-owned, regulated by a number of agencies, including ADWEA, ADSSC, EAD, and other agricultural organizations.  Contracts are granted by both federal and emirate-level governments, with a rigid bidding process and price as the ultimate determinant.  The UAE has a distinctive system in place.  Companies should be familiar with the business culture and the singular way of negotiating contracts.  In the past, the government has demonstrated a high level of support for private sector involvement in water sector development. 

Commercial Environment  >

Pressure on meeting increasing demand makes providing clean water a priority for the UAE.  The country has seen heavy investment from both the public and private sector.  A large number of new projects are in the pipeline despite the financial pressure from the oil crisis.  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.  The integration of water and sewage networks offers potential synergies for infrastructure companies in the sector over the long term.

Leading Sub-Sectors>

Ground Water
About 51 percent of the UAE’s water supply comes from groundwater, and it is vital to ensure that as much as possible of the rain that falls replenishes water supplies, as there is a need to improve the natural renewal of groundwater resources.  The Abu Dhabi Government is interested in enhancing desalination at the farm level for cropping through hydroponic or soilless systems, according to an EAD expert in water resources.  The EAD initiated the project Groundwater Wells Inventory and Soil Salinity Mapping for Abu Dhabi Emirate to compile a comprehensive inventory of groundwater wells in the Emirate.  Most of the groundwater resources are used for agricultural purposes.  Data from farms, irrigation systems, and related soil salinity levels were gathered to study the impacts of irrigation water quality on agricultural land.  The Groundwater Atlas of Abu Dhabi Emirate presents the results and findings of this project.  
Drinking Water 
The country is looking at new desalination technologies (solar-powered and nuclear) to produce drinking water, as well as exploring the harvesting of brine water from the desalination units to produce sale.
Waste Water 
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.  These plans are re also more environmentally friendly, as less water needs to be extracted from the surrounding environs.  Treated wastewater caters to most industrial and agricultural requirements.  This would free up freshwater and desalinated water supplies for domestic consumers. 


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

  • Companies that build water plants and desalination plants
  • Firms that offer solar-powered, reverse-osmosis desalination technologies and other cutting-edge technologies to produce drinking water
  • Companies that offer the technology to separate black water networks from grey water networks and to treat the black water at the treatment plant level and the grey water at the district level
  • Companies with new and efficient technologies to recycle wastewater and improve water treatment 
  • Water/Wastewater equipment opportunities to supply membranes, pipes and components to build tertiary wastewater treatment plants or water desalination plants
  • Water monitoring equipment such as auto samplers and flow meters, as well as more water efficient faucets, flushing toilets and pipes with low leakage.  High competition is anticipated in terms of pricing and offers
  • Technologies to enhance and capture rainfall, including storing it  and pumping it underground to replenish the groundwater and use it as needed
  • Ground Water - A demand for international consulting engineering firms with the ability to detect engineering problems such as the problem faced with residuals and design evaporation ponds to deal with the brine solution

Trade Shows and Exhibitions> Water Energy Technology Environment Exhibition (WETEX)
Date:  October 21-23, 2019
Venue:  Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Center
Website:  www.wetex.ae     Web Resources> Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA)
Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA)
Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA)