Groundwater in the UAE is fast depleting because of prolonged draught conditions. About 80,000 wells including 13,000 in Abu Dhabi and 12,000 in Sharjah are at the risk of depletion and comprise high salinity, according to a scientific study conducted by the UAE University.
About 40% of wells in Fujairah and other Eastern Region are also affected, reported 'Al Ittihad' newspaper. Dr Saif Al Qaidhi, Professor of Geography, UAE University, who conducted the study, said scanty rainfall compared to previous years was the main reason for water depletion and said action must be taken by the Federal Government and not individual states.
Earlier fresh water was available at six metres below ground level, but today the wells go upto 100 metres before we see water, said Qaidhi. As the UAE progressed, many industries and iron and steel plants also cropped up, which added pressure on the strategic reserve.
Similarly, farmers must be provided with modern irrigation methods which can conserve and save water to a larger extend, he said.
Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) has warned of water shortage in 50 years if consumption by agricultral sector in the UAE continues at this pace without steps taken to conserve groundwater.
'The farms consume about 1.5 billion cubic metres of water annually, accounting for 52% of total water consumption,' ADFCA was quoted as saying by the paper. Water renewal is less than 4% annually, which is a major challenge for the agricultural sector in Abu Dhabi, especially as rainfall does not exceed 100mm per year.
Meanwhile ADFCA said it plans to educate farmers on reduced use of water so as to rationalise consumption in the next two years.
About 95% of farmers in Abu Dhabi depend on well water, while fresh water does not exceed 1%, and not to mention the high rates of nitrates in the wells, ADFCA added.
Irrigation efficiency in most of the farms is 30% only because of wrong irrigation practices.
ADFCA confirmed it aims to bring about a major shift in the agricultural sector in the emirate by 2013, a plan that includes environmental, social and economic development, apart from actively taking steps to help farmer rationalise water consumption.
It said lack of cultivation of Rhodes grass in the Western Region would reduce water consumption for irrigation by more than 17% at the emirate level. Of the total 23,682 farms, the cultivated area is 61,000 hectares. And the government is spending Dh4 billion dirham a year in Abu Dhabi, while the sector's contribution to GDP is about 2.4 per cent, according to the last available statistics.