DUBAI // A pre-school found to be using the same amount of water in one month as the entire emirate of Umm Al Quwain in a day has underscored the problem of wasteful utility consumption at educational institutions, authorities say.
The school in question is based in Dubai and has more than 450 pupils. It was found to be using more than a million imperial gallons in a typical given month, according to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
This is close to the average consumption per day in the emirate of UAQ, which has a population of around 60,000.
The unnamed pre-school was used as an example at a contentious Federal National Council (FNC) session recently, when members reviewed a report on the country's water supply and identified it as a national security issue.
"By what we have seen in this report, we are facing not just a problem, but a tragedy or a catastrophe," said FNC member Mohammed al Zaabi.
Fatma al Marri, CEO of the Dubai School Agency at the KHDA, said most public schools were unaware of their electricity and water bills because utilities are free.
At a recent forum on Education for Sustainable Development hosted by KHDA, Mrs al Marri said the case was an eye opener for the authority, which decided to host workshops and education sessions with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) to address the concerns.
The authorities also worked with the school to reduce its consumption.
"The problem was that schools weren't fixing their leaks and broken pipes," she said.
"We also found that cleaners at the schools were using the fire hoses to clean the corridors."
Hamad al Midfa, an FNC member from Sharjah, has called for a survey of all schools and government departments to analyse water usage.
"The consumption at government institutions of water resources is as if they possess unlimited resources that will remain forever," said Dr Amal al Qubaisi, a member of the committee assigned to investigate water usage. "A lot of our government institutions do not even get water bills and do not know how much they consume."
An incentive-based programme for schools was initiated by Dewa four years ago. The "Conservation for a Better Tomorrow" award offers cash prizes of Dh10,000 to schools and students for reducing the energy consumed.
This year, Dewa said educational institutions saved 117 million imperial gallons of water through their conservation programme.
"It does not matter if money is the motivation behind this, as long as we see results," said Abdalla al Qassab, senior technical engineer at Dewa, who works with the schools.
"There are simple things they need to implement that does not require additional costs," he said.
Mohamad Mostafa Ahmed Mohamed, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UAE University, said he would be unsurprised if a school was discovered to be using such huge amounts of water.
"Some people do not know how much they use unless they receive a bill," he said.
Mr Mohamed recently received funding for a study to look at the factors that influence water consumption in Al Ain, which he hopes to extend to across the country.
Sheikha al Shamsi, CEO for educational affairs at the Ministry of Education, acknowledged the problem and said plans were under way to create "sustainable" schools.
"We have started changing the facilities at existing schools but this is a long-term project," she said.