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More than 10 per cent of UAE's precious water supply leaking away

The vital commodity lost is just like pouring money down the drain for countries in the Middle East, Dubai summit hears from experts.

DUBAI // At least 10 per cent of the UAE's precious water supply is wasted due to poor welding and uncertified contractors, experts say.

"Supervision needs to be improved," Reda Ashkar, regional business development manager at the German quality-assurance company SKZ, told the Middle East Water Leakage Summit in Dubai last week.

"These leakages are mainly due to a lack of knowledge, experience, training and certification of welders, installers, companies and consultants putting up specifications for the projects."

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) says more than 11 per cent of Dubai's water is lost to leaks, down from 40 per cent less than a decade ago.

This month, a Dubai-based family was charged Dh54,000 in water bills after almost a million gallons leaked from a crack in the underground pipe to their home.

That kind of problem is all too common. "I get at least 30 water leaks a month in Dubai," said Mohammad Waseem, the owner of WM technical services, which fixes leaks.

"The reasons are usually fitting or material problems, contractors and welders don't do their work very well, and sometimes it's even the architect's fault."

Detecting leaks can also be difficult. "Sometimes, it's very complicated to fix because water leaks inside the wall so we have to break it," said Mr Waseem.

"It's all very costly, from Dh150 to thousands, and a lot of water is lost."

Leaks are a huge problem worldwide. "[Globally], 25 per cent of drinking water which is put into the system is lost," said Lucas Grolimund, the chief executive of Gutermann, a Swiss firm that provides leak-detection technology. "This is water that is perfectly good so everything that goes away is just a pity."

Such leaks are a particular concern in the Middle East, where water is a scarce natural resource.

"Some areas have an abundance [of water] but here, it's a very serious problem because you have to desalinate all of it," said Mr Grolimund. "It's very important to put efforts to reduce leakages."

Yet the region is hit by some of the most serious water losses. Saudi Arabia loses up to 60 per cent of its water through piping leaks due to old networks. Syria and Jordan lose up to 45 per cent. UAE figures are not available.

"Desalinating water is costing everyone a lot of money," said Mr Ashkar. "A litre of water is costing almost more than a litre of fuel and we're wasting it in the wrong way. When we're out of fuel, we're out of water."

Some cities are taking the necessary steps to cut their losses.

"Some cities are advanced in [making] efforts, like Al Ain," said Mr Grolimund. "We provided them with a permanent leak-detection system.

"It's a project that's run by the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority and Al Ain is now deploying this permanent leakage monitoring system. The plan is to deploy it to the whole city."

Other solutions include leak-detection equipment or pressure management. "It's a question of focus," said Mr Grolimund. "Water is a valuable resource."

And experts are hopeful. "There is a possibility to improve," said Mr Ashkar. "Adwea has updated its training. They've sent their trainers to us and realised the advantage on their projects.

"They're equipping contractors and consultants. We are losing more [water] than we should, that's why we are educating people."

cmalek@thenational.ae

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