Two UAE universities to start water institutes

September 21, 2018

By Dr Nidal Hilal

AL AIN // Two universities are setting up water institutes in an attempt to tackle the UAE’s growing water scarcity.

In the autumn, Dr Nidal Hillal will be launching the Masdar Institute’s dedicated centre which will focus on the development of clean water technology, desalination technology, waste water and water treatment technology and water reuse.

“In Abu Dhabi, water consumption has always been among the highest in the world but now we know it’s more than 24 times its natural recharge capacity,” he said. “It’s frightening in a way and this issue is key for the UAE’s economy and security.

“The UAE is one of the world’s most water-scarce nations.”

Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, president of the Masdar Institute, said other areas such as conservation and policy will also top the agenda.

“We have had several discussions with the likes of the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority,” he said. “We know punitive measures don’t work here, like telling people you only have so much water to use per day will not work here. We’re looking at developing more incentive-based policy to encourage people not to use so much.”

United Arab Emirates University’s water institute was given the seal of approval last month and will launch in October.

Dr Moavenzadeh said the two centres’ goals will vary slightly, with the institutions trying to complement each other’s work as opposed to competing. Both, however, have expressed the necessity of running short courses and workshops for local government and industry professionals, as well as more water-focused graduate programmes.

Dr Peter Werner, dean of the college of science at UAEU in Al Ain, will head up the centre, which will be a dedicated applied research centre, conducting projects for government entities such as local municipalities and water authorities, and private companies. Despite the challenges of garnering research funding for universities, he said this focus will ensure funding, secured through contracts targeting industry needs such as waste water management.

The university has given seed money of between Dh2 million and Dh5m to the centre, but industry contracts will be a primary source of funding, Dr Werner said. He added that mobile laboratories, to be used to go into the field and take water samples, are among the equipment needed.

“We have to reduce water consumption,” he said.

“The UAE has the highest water consumption in the world. It is 10 times more than Europe and 20 times more than Germany per capita.”

Issues to be tackled will include desalination, corrosion in the drinking water system and treatment of sewage and waste water.

In Al Ain, the municipality wants to address overflowing groundwater, which Dr Werner said will have many implications, not least, cracking the roads.

The centre will initially be staffed by academics from the colleges of health science, agriculture, science and engineering. Dr Werner will make additional hires as the agenda becomes clearer.

Professor Mohamed Baniyas, provost of UAEU, said there is much expertise at the university to man the centre even before any new staff are hired.

“The purpose of this centre is to bring all this expertise together. We found that engineering had good expertise in the areas such as desalination, science had people with good experience with natural water resources and their preservation and in medicine we found there was the expertise on contamination and extracting materials from water.”