The Cable

This Country Wants to Tow Icebergs From Antarctica to the Middle East

As early as 2018.

iceberg crop

The United Arab Emirates has a lot of things — massive skyscrapers, over-the-top opulence, oil, sand — but one thing it definitely doesn’t have a lot of is fresh water. If that seems like a problem, one UAE-based firm thinks it has the answer (No, not conserving water better, don’t be ridiculous): Tugging massive icebergs from Antarctica to the Persian Gulf.

Because why not.

Abu Dhabi-based National Advisor Bureau Limited (NABL) has plans to tow icebergs the 7,800 miles from the southern pole to the UAE to bring the small sun-parched country loads of fresh water. They even have a really clever name for it: The UAE Iceberg Project.

They created a video explaining everything (complete with some really sweet tunes and kind of okay graphics):

“This is how we bring the ancient greenery back,” the video says, recalling with nostalgia the good old days of 55,000 to 150,000 years ago.

Abdullah Mohammad Sulaiman Al Shehi, managing director of NABL, told in an interview his firm has it all planned out. He said it will take a about a year for boats to tug a massive ice chunk back to the UAE.

Once the iceberg made the journey to the UAE’s shoreline, his company would begin hiving off chunks of ice and crushing them into drinking water in a water-processing port. After that, the water would be stored in tanks and filtered to hit showers and sinks across the country. “This is the purest water in the world,” he said.

And al Shehi said it’s far from a pipe dream. “We will start the project in beginning of 2018,” he said. “We want it mainly for the water. It could also be good for tourism and the weather.”

Al Shehi said towing icebergs in would attract tourists (giant icebergs floating next to a barren desert would do great on Instagram) and could also create “microclimates” that cool the hot country off and bring in more rain.

He said “cold air gushing out from an iceberg close to the shores of the Arabian Sea would cause a trough and rainstorms across the Arabian Gulf and the southern region of the Arabian Peninsula all year round.”

Icebergs are about 80-90 percent underwater and good at reflecting sunlight, so they could feasibly make it all the way to the Persian Gulf without melting. They also hold a lot of water; Al Shehi said the average iceberg holds 20 billion gallons of water, enough to quench the thirst of a million people for five years.

He declined to comment on how much the project will cost. Or if jacking a bunch of floating ice from Antarctica complies with international law. Or why this would be any cheaper or easier than just building desalination plants.

But the quest highlights one thing: Water, not oil, may one day soon become the most precious commodity in the region – whether calved off the South Pole or not.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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