HOME I. Introduction

United Arab Emirates (UAE), federation of seven independent states located in the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by the Persian Gulf to the north, Saudi Arabia to the south and west, and Oman and the Gulf of Oman to the east. Before the discovery of oil in the 1950s, the UAE was a group of largely undeveloped emirates under the protection of the British. Oil brought rapid growth and modernization to the area, and the emirates became independent as the UAE in 1971. Its seven member states are Abu Dhabi (Abu Zaby), 'Ajman, Dubai, Al Fujayrah, Ra's al Khaymah, Ash Shariqah, and Umm al Qaywayn. The city of Abu Dhabi, located in the emirate of the same name, is the federal capital and the largest city.

II. Land and Resources

The total land area of the UAE, including its islands, is 83,600 sq km (32,300 sq mi). The federation is roughly crescent-shaped, extending for about 420 km (about 260 mi) from north to south and, at its widest, for about 480 km (about 300 mi) from east to west. It has a coastline of 1,320 km (819 mi) on the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Much of the UAE's international border, running through empty desert, is undefined or disputed, and some minor interemirate border issues are still unresolved. Most of the country is desert, with a flat coastal plain consisting mostly of tidal salt flats. The land slopes down from the Al Hajar al Gharbi mountain range in the northeastern extremity of the country to an elevated desert plateau. The plateau slopes gently northward to the coast and westward to the Sabkhat Matti, a huge, sterile salt flat spreading into Saudi Arabia. The UAE's highest point, at 2,500 m (8,200 ft), is in the Al Hajar al Gharbi. Some natural vegetation is found on parts of the plateau, sustained by rainfall runoff from the mountains.

A. Water Sources

There are no rivers or lakes in the UAE, but underground water deposits are found at several desert oases, including Al 'Ayn and Liwa. Wells dug to tap natural aquifers (underground layers of earth or stone that hold water) and reprocessed wastewater provide water for irrigation. Ocean desalination plants produce water for drinking and industrial purposes.

B. Plant and Animal Life

The soil of the UAE is almost entirely sandy and only 0 percent of the land area is suited to cultivation. Palm, acacia, and tamarisk trees grow naturally in the oases and along the coast, and hardy shrubs and grasses survive in the desert. Irrigation around the major oases and cities supports the growth of eucalyptus trees, decorative plants such as bougainvillea, and fruits and vegetables. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nuhayyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the president of the UAE, has sponsored a massive forestation scheme designed to reduce soil erosion, protect crops from wind damage, and beautify cities. Since 1966 more than 70 million acacias, eucalyptus trees, and palm trees have been planted on more than 300,000 hectares (700,000 acres), in the desert as well as throughout the cities of Al 'Ayn and Abu Dhabi. In addition to livestock, such as camel, sheep, and some cattle, the UAE has numerous birds, including trained falcons for hunting. The desert oryx and gazelle, as well as other wildlife previously hunted almost to extinction, have been preserved due to recent conservation efforts. The waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman contain a variety of fish and crustaceans. The dugong, or sea cow, is also found along the UAE coast.

C. Natural Resources

The UAE's proven oil reserves make up almost one-tenth of the world's total, with about 90 percent in the emirate of Abu Dhabi and significant amounts in Dubai and Ash Shariqah. Estimated natural gas reserves amount to about 3 percent of the world's total, with Abu Dhabi again possessing the largest share. Other mineral resources include modest deposits of chrome, iron, copper, and uranium.

D. Climate

Weather can be extreme during the summer months (May to October), with interior temperatures reaching 49° C (120° F) and coastal temperatures slightly lower but combined with high humidity. Pleasant weather prevails during the rest of the year, with temperatures between 20° C (68° F) and 35° C (95° F). Annual rainfall varies from an average of 43 mm (1.7 in) in Abu Dhabi to 130 mm (5.1 in) in Ra's al Khaymah, but with great variations from year to year. Sandstorms occur frequently and are associated with both the shamal, a powerful wind from the north or west, and the hot khamsin, coming from the south in summer.