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Youth and water scarcity: is the UAE's pursuit of water security sustainable?

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By Khalid Mohammed Al Blooshi

· 5 min read

Water scarcity is a critical issue facing the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a nation situated in one of the world's most arid regions. This challenge has profound implications for the country's sustainability, affecting everything from agriculture to industry and daily life. In recent years, the voices of the UAE's youth have become increasingly important in discussions about water security and environmental sustainability. This article explores the multifaceted issue of water scarcity in the UAE, the role of desalination in addressing it, and the concerns and innovative solutions put forward by the country's youth.

The UAE's water scarcity challenge

The UAE's water scarcity challenge is a complex issue rooted in its arid climate and limited freshwater resources. With a growing population and a rapidly expanding economy, the water demand has soared. Traditional sources of freshwater, including groundwater and natural springs, have been overexploited, leading to depletion and saltwater intrusion.

The historical context of water scarcity in the region underscores the gravity of the challenge. For centuries, the people of the UAE have developed ingenious systems for collecting and preserving water, such as falaj systems and underground aqueducts. These historical practices reflect the deep-rooted connection between water and the region's culture.

The sustainability of desalination

Desalination has emerged as a crucial strategy to address the UAE's water scarcity. This process involves removing salt and impurities from seawater or brackish water to produce freshwater suitable for drinking, irrigation, and industrial use. Desalination plants, often located along the coastline, have become a lifeline for the nation's water supply.

While desalination has unquestionably improved water availability, it raises several critical sustainability concerns:

  • Energy consumption: Desalination is energy-intensive. The UAE's reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation has significant environmental implications, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. As the world shifts towards cleaner energy sources, the carbon footprint of desalination remains a pressing concern for the country's youth.
  • Environmental impact: Discharging brine, a byproduct of desalination, back into the sea can harm marine ecosystems. Elevated salt levels and temperature changes can disrupt aquatic life and negatively impact biodiversity. Young environmentalists are increasingly vocal about the need for more sustainable brine disposal methods.
  • Economic cost: The high energy and infrastructure costs associated with desalination could potentially strain the UAE's economy in the long run. Youth in the UAE are concerned about the sustainability of this financial burden, especially as technology becomes more energy-intensive in a warming world.

The youth perspective

The youth of the UAE, as the custodians of the nation's future, have emerged as influential voices in the conversation about water scarcity. They bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table:

  • Environmental advocacy: Many young Emiratis are passionate environmental advocates who push for sustainable solutions to water scarcity. They call for increased investment in renewable energy to power desalination plants, thereby reducing the carbon footprint of freshwater production.
  • Innovation: UAE's youth are keen on exploring innovative approaches to water management, such as wastewater recycling and rainwater harvesting. These practices could reduce the reliance on desalination and alleviate environmental concerns.
  • Education and awareness: Youth-led initiatives focus on raising awareness about water conservation and sustainable practices. They believe that education is the first step towards fostering a culture of responsible water use.
  • Climate change concerns: The youth recognize the link between water scarcity and climate change. They emphasize the importance of addressing both issues concurrently to ensure long-term sustainability.

Future directions

The concerns and perspectives of the youth are shaping the UAE's approach to water scarcity. To ensure a sustainable future, several strategies should be considered:

  • Investment in renewable energy: Transitioning desalination plants to run on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of freshwater production.
  • Research and innovation: Continued investment in research and innovation is essential for finding more sustainable desalination technologies and improving brine disposal methods.
  • Water conservation programs: Implementing water conservation programs at individual and community levels can reduce demand and alleviate pressure on freshwater resources.
  • Environmental impact assessment: Comprehensive environmental impact assessments should be conducted for desalination projects, ensuring that the ecosystem is protected.
  • Education and advocacy: Promoting water literacy and environmental awareness among the youth is crucial. Youth-led initiatives can be supported and encouraged to drive sustainable practices.


In conclusion, while effective in the short term, the UAE's pursuit of water security through desalination raises critical questions about its long-term sustainability. The youth of the UAE, passionately advocating for a balanced approach to water security and environmental preservation, are essential stakeholders in shaping the nation's path forward. Their voices, ideas, and commitment will be instrumental in guiding the UAE towards a future where water security is achieved without compromising the well-being of the environment and future generations.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Khalid Mohammed Al Blooshi is a student in Zayed University's dual credit program for computer science. He is a sustainability ambassador for Youth 4 Sustainability.

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