Although we are blessed with a great number of things in the UAE, water is not one of them.
With one of the most arid climates in the world, the Emirates imports roughly 76 per cent of its fresh water and relies heavily on desalination, which makes up 21 per cent of water used in the UAE and almost all of its drinking water.
The United Nations has listed the UAE as one of the highest-ranking water-stressed nations in the world, meaning the availability of water is greatly unbalanced compared with its water demand.
With a rapidly increasing population and economy, the nation’s water footprint continues to expand exponentially, adding more stress on an already strained water situation.
The majority of water used in the UAE is groundwater, which accounts for 72 per cent of the total, and is used mainly for irrigation purposes.
But even this essential source, which the UAE’s farming industry depends on, is depleting at an unsustainable rate.
With low recharge and high consumption rates of the aquifers, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, for example, is estimated to use up its underground resources in 55 years. Despite these alarming water realities, the populace seems to consume water as if it were gushing from an endless source.
I have witnessed countless people running taps while admiring themselves in mirrors in public restrooms and even heard a Masdar employee admitting that, despite their comprehension of UAE water issues, they could not give up the pleasure of taking long showers.
Although the environmentally conscious Masdar employee knew better, much of the populace seems oblivious to the country’s water situation.
One factor contributing to this unawareness is the government’s subsidisation of desalinated water, which creates the illusion that water is abundant and affordable in the UAE.
The truth is, the government spends billions of dirhams on providing the public with fresh water.
At a recent Emirati-Swiss Friendship forum held in the UAE, aiming to promote cooperation between the two countries, one of the main topics discussed was water consumption.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, pleaded with the public to reduce their alarmingly high rate of water consumption in the UAE.
While Switzerland has 267 times the renewable water resources of the UAE, both nations recognise the need for sustainable use of water, Sheikh Nahyan said.
Water waste is not limited to individuals, with public and private organisations also guilty of not conserving.
Examples I have come across include irrigation of landscapes in the middle of summer days, when evaporation is at its greatest, rather than during the cooler nights; damaged toilets flushing continuously at a company bathroom without one single employee batting an eyelid to report the malfunction; and pipe leaks on the road that take hours to address.
Although so much attention is paid to our oil resources, it is water that is by far our most valuable commodity.
People and institutions should not allow the fact that water continues to flow reliably from their taps to prolong their negligence and should take responsibility for not only their own water use but also the use of those around them.
Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US