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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 November, 2004, 14:45 GMT
Gulf state Muslims pray for rain
By Julia Wheeler
BBC Gulf correspondent in Dubai

Park in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi
Lush golf courses and palm trees consume huge quantities of water
People in the United Arab Emirates have been holding special rain prayers after an appeal by the country's president.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other sheikhs have been leading Muslims across the country in the prayers.

Demand for water has far outstripped supply in the UAE in recent years and the country has the highest per capita consumption in the world.

Praying for rain is an ancient ritual in Arabia, dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

In the modern burgeoning cities of the Emirates, the need for rain has arguably never been greater.

As it is provided free of charge to citizens, there is no incentive for Emirati nationals to save water.

Gradual greening

The UAE has been forced to develop alternative water sources other than ground water.

But it is not that people necessarily waste more water here than anywhere else - instead there has been a gradual greening of the desert country.

Imported palm trees, golf courses covered in lush green grass and oases extended for agriculture all increase the demand for water.

So, too, do the huge construction sites which are continually sprouting up in or near the big cities.

Rainfall within recent years has been well below the seasonal average, so groundwater has not been replenished.

With demand high and rainfall low, it is no surprise the UAE is believed to be the world's largest producer of desalinated water.

Forecasters say the temperature in the Emirates is due to drop in the next few days but the chance of rain currently appears slim.

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