The interview with H.H. Sheikh Sorour Bin Mohamed Al Nahyan was a pleasant and informative one. He started the interview stating that he was assigned with the responsibility of regulating the Water and Electricity services in Abu Dhabi Emirate during the first years of the UAE foundation. The water and electricity services represented the core of modern life in an emirate which was aspiring for better living conditions and bid farewell to the past conditions in the sever arid environment where water resources were rare or almost missing and temperature and humidity shot up to record levels. The lack of essential infrastructure and qualified local cadres represented an additional challenge.
Although a lot of literature has been written about economic and social developments witnessed by our beloved country, yet we don't have a clear picture of the feelings, of those who witnessed the hard days to enable us draw a better understanding of how they lead their living. In an endeavor to outline a better understanding of that period, ADDC Media Office conducted this special and exclusive interview with H.H. Sheikh Sorour Bin Mohamed Al Nahyan, the former chairman of Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Department, (1974—1998) for publishing in the ADDC Newsletter special issue marking the 40th anniversary of the UAE national day.
Taking our seats in H.H. office, he started recalling the eventful history of the water and electricity industry since its inception till its full establishment.
He stated:, " H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the leader and founder of the union, May his soul rest in peace, has assigned me with such a significant designation as chairman of water and electricity Department and I got full support and care from H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the then crown prince and president of executive council.
Earlier when H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, took over the leadership of Abu Dhabi Emirate in 1966, he issued instructions to form a council for managing water and electricity services under the chairmanship of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed Al Nahyan. In 1970, the Water Department and Electricity Department were merged into “Water and Electricity Department" and was chaired by H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Mohammed Al Nahyah till 1974 when H.H. Sheikh Sorour took over as chairman till the establishment of the present Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority in 1999. During this period the water and electricity sector witnessed major significant developments.
H.H. Sheikh Sorour then stated, "When H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin sultan Al Nahyan took the reins of government in Abu Dhabi Emirate, there was only one power plant generating 6 megawatt of electricity which hardly met the demand of the city populations. The Power House Plant which was then under the management of the British company Hawker Snidely, was located in the area currently known as Madinat Zayed which has till recently been known as Powerhouse area.
During the early seventies another power plant was erected in the Tourist Club Area on the opposite side the Zayed Port. It comprised desalination plants with a total capacity of approximately 500 thousand gallon per daily and was managed by the Pakistani engineer Habib Ahmed who was delegated by the Pakistani government during the presidency of the former president Zul Fukar Ali Potu. He acted as the department general manager, and was such a hard worker. Thereafter we appointed an Egyptian engineer called Ghonaim Abdul Baqi to act as station general manager in the Water and Electricity Department and was in charge of the water and electricity supply in Abu Dhabi.
Water and Electricity Department
H.H. Sheikh Sorour continued “one day in 1974, while I was sitting with H.H. Sheikh Zayed, he charged me with the chairmanship of” Water and Electricity Department. I then felt the great responsibility bestowed upon me as I lack the experience in this area taking into account that the city witnessed a huge demand for water and electricity services which resulted in recurrent service interruptions.
Water supply challenge
"Upon taking over the responsibility of the department, he continued “I realized the big challenge that I have to face for securing water supplies in our arid climatic conditions which is deemed as one of the most sever worldwide in addition to the scarcity of water resources. There was only one 6 inch diameter pipeline supplying Abu Dhabi with potable water from Al Sad in Al Ain area. Consequently I realized that we have to solicit foreign expertise to overcome this issue. After discussions with the concerned engineers, I contacted the British ambassador in Abu Dhabi to request his assistance in procuring specialists in this area from Britain to undertake the supervision, planning and maintenance works of our projects. The response came within twenty four hours when two experts arrived from the London Electricity Company and two local engineers, who studied in Britain: Abdul Nasser Bin Howailel Al Mansouri and Sayah Bin Mousa Al Qubaisi joined them. This was the commencement of actual water and electricity services planning in Abu Dhabi and a five-year development plan of the sectors was set up.
According to the plan 15 gas turbines in addition to two water desalination plants each of a capacity of 3 million gallons a day were ordered from General Electric Company and installed. These were the first desalination plants in Abu Dhabi. The supply and installation of these equipments took 12 months and An Egyptian engineer with experience in desalination was recruited to undertake the responsibility of their operation. In addition, a local engineer Dr. Darwish Al Qubaisi was assigned with the responsibility of planning. However, due to the lack of spare parts in stock, the city continued to experience recurrent electricity and water interruptions and I remember that our local engineers had to stay at the plant site round the clock hours to restore the services. Water from Fujairah Sheikh Sorour stated, “I recall that in 1977, we asked an American firm to conduct an investigation study on the water supply issues in Abu Dhabi. The study was completed in 1978 and recommended installation of a water desalination plant at Fujairah as the percentage of impurities and salinity of Bahr Al Arab water are 30% less than that of the gulf waters. in addition, the study revealed that the natural gradient from Fujairah to Abu Dhabi will be a favoring factor for reducing the production and supply of water to Abu Dhabi by 45%. This study represented the initial step for the Fujairah water project which has been recently executed.”
Water from Pakistan
H.H. Sheikh Sorour pointed out that in the early seventies, the department received a study prepared by the Pakistani government to supply water to Abu Dhabi via a marine pipeline to Fujairah; In other words the idea embarked on constructing a dam in Pakistan, to convey water via Bahr Al Arab to UAE eastern region and Abu Dhabi". However, the idea was abandoned due to the difficulty of its execution of the pipeline through the deep waters of Bahr Al Arab.
Um Al Nar Plant
Um Al Nar plant story still occupies the memory of H.H. Sheikh Sorour who stated,: “based on a recommendation the German company Maya, the plant has been shifted to its present location in Um Al Nar and its trial operation started in 1978 when two local engineers Hassan Al Nassai in charge of water and Ahmed Saeed Al Muraikhi as electricity chief engineer joined the department.
Performance and diligence of the local engineers:
H.H. Sheikh Sorour pointed that local engineers were performing with diligence and sparing no effort in looking after the business interests of the department. For instance, I remember that Engineer Hassan Al Nassai stayed on site for more than twenty four hours to supervise the repair of a broken main water pipeline in Mafraq area. H.H. further added that local engineers; Dr Darwish Al Qubaisi and Hassan Al Hossani conducted a joint study and undertook the planning of a new power plant which was executed in late eighties with a total capacity of 1000 megawatt at a total cost of 75 m. dollars. H.H then added that however the same plant was then sold out for 125 million dollars when an international shortage has taken place in power generation equipments in the early nineties.
“We also issued a special tender for supply of water desalination plants with 12 million gallon a day each to be installed at Taweelah" H.H continued adding that “this project was considered a major and unique event on the regional level at that time. These desalination plants are still functioning well till the present date and they are capable to operate for a similar period.
The Emirate now has three giant plants at Um Al Nar, Taweelah and Marfa’ which collectively exceed the water and electricity demand of the Emirate. We then paid special attention to the development of the water and electricity distribution network which was completed over several stages achieving a large pace in water and electricity supply.
State of affairs with Zayed
H.H. Sheikh Sorour still recalls a particular situation that he met with during his chairmanship of WED. He stated " one day I was in the car with H.H. Sheikh Zayed about to leave Al Bahar Palace (which was then still under construction) when a power shut down leading to a black out occurred all over the city. I felt very embarrassed and asked his permission to go to investigate the matter but he, with his usual wisdom, asked me to cool down and told me don't worry, it will immediately be restored. This situation gives a glance on Sheikh Zayed wisdom in that he never takes hasty decisions even when dealing with all those around him.
H.H. Sheikh Sorour paused a while and said “ I remember that when Um Al Nar plant was still under construction, H.H. Sheikh Zayed instructed us to order desalination units with a capacity of 12 million gallon a day. He justified it saying: “Don’t forget that we will one day need such big quantities of water “In all aspects this confirms his deep insight in future perspectives Far away from water and electricity memories, we moved to explore other aspects of HH. Private life
H.H. Sheikh Sorour sums up his daily life schedule in that whoever misses the scene of the morning rising sun will certainly lose all the pleasures of the day". Therefore, H.H continued I used to start my daily activities immediately after the Fajr prayer, in practicing the walking sport, and then take my breakfast and head to the Majlis to receive my visitors and friends and chat with them on various life affairs. Thereafter, I pursue my private affairs and business." His
Highness and social responsibility
H.H. is known for his contribution to charity activities such covering the costs of a number of pilgrims and sponsoring the treatment of needy persons, construction of mosques, drilling of water wells in poor regions of Africa and Asia. His door is always open for the needy persons.
His relation to Sheikh Zayed
H.H. Sheikh Sorour was born in 1948 in Al Ain city. His father is the cousin of H.H. the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan - may mercy be upon his soul. H.H. Sheikh Sorour is gifted with four sons; Sheikh Mohamed, Sheikh Zayed, Sheikha Fatima and Sheikha Sheikha as well as one granddaughter Sheikha Shamma.
H.H. Sheikh Sorour never veils his passion in hunting, swimming and walking which he practices on daily basis in the early morning and evening.
The last meeting:
H.H. Sheikh Sorour , during his interview, has spared no chance to express his deep sadness for the demise death of H.H. Sheikh Zayed, God’s mercy be upon him “ I’ve been in constant contact with H.H. Sheikh Zayed for about forty years during which I’ve felt that his soul never stopped loving this country and its citizens, and that his mind never got tired or bored of working for its development or saved his efforts for anything else, I consider him in the position of father and teacher not only a leader."
When we asked HH about his last meeting with the late HH. Sheikh Zayed, God’s mercy be upon him, he was deeply touched, and his eyes sobbed for his loss stating that “It was just before his death, I’ve been with my brother Sheikh Tahnoun Bin Mohamed when I received a call from the late Sheikh Zayed asking me to see him. We then met him near a flyover in Mussafah road,( as it was his habit to go around to explore the general conditions in the Emirate), he held my hand tightly enquiring about my health and conditions as though he knew that it will our last meeting. I’ve been deeply touched “at that moment, Sheikh Sorour kept silence for a while and then added: “I’ll never forget that moment throughout my whole life"
A word to staff:
At the end of his speech, H.H addressed all staff members engaged in the water and electricity sector reminding them of the important role the sector plays in the development of nations. H.H further drew attention to the fact that the development which the state enjoys today is the outcome of the great achievements, sacrifices and relentless efforts, of the first generation of citizens throughout the first years of union establishment to secure a decent and prosperous living for its people. It is therefore a responsibility upon you to safeguard and promote the advancement of this sector for the welfare of next generations.