ABU DHABI // The country is facing a long-term water crisis and students at the Higher Colleges of Technology are being asked to lead the effort to solve it.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, HCT's Chancellor and the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, has told them: "It is imperative that we develop strategies to address the issue of access and availability of water in the region.
"The 21st century is shaping up as the century of water conflicts and challenges."
The minister said population increases, rapid urbanisation, expanded industry and agriculture, pollution of water resources and climate change, all contribute to the water crisis in the region.
"Our vibrant economy, our tremendous growth and our advanced quality of life are dependent on safe and uninterrupted sources of water, now and in the future," he said.
Sheikh Nahyan was speaking on Monday at a conference called The Coming Water Challenge in the Region: Analysis, Solutions, Actions, between HCT and the St Gallen Symposium from Switzerland.
Speaking of the possibility of collaboration with the Swiss, he said: "I am very optimistic about the potential and possibilities for international co-operation on these issues that directly threaten our way of life."
The UAE relies on desalination for more than 90 per cent of its water - a source vulnerable to sea pollution and a cause of pollution itself because of the energy used.
Abdullah al Mazourei, deputy director of the national energy and water research centre, said about 60 per cent of the UAE's water is used for agriculture, with 30 per cent for domestic use and the rest for industry and commercial use.
Last month, the Government announced that a nationwide plan is needed to increase the amount of water held in back-up reservoirs.
The Ministry of Environment and Water and the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) have been instructed to make the issue a top priority. Aquifer recharge, a process in which water is pumped deep underground to replenish aquifers that have existed for thousands of years, has been identified as the best option.
Razan Khalifa al Mubarak, assistant secretary general at EAD, said students were a target audience for the issue of water in the UAE and the region, the people Sheikh Nahyan called "the next generation of leaders with these important global issues".
"This is not only a major challenge to the UAE but in the GCC and our neighbouring Arab countries," she said. "The problem isn't going away."
EAD are installing water-saving devices in homes, schools and mosques in the emirate, free of charge. Anf Ziadat, from HCT's civil engineering department, said water and the environment were becoming top of the agenda in the curriculum.
"From the beginning, the students learn about water resources and water supply," he said.
Ali al Maysari, 27, who is in his final year of civil engineering, said: "Water is a big problem. We rely on desalination plants, the aquifers are drying up or are too salty and we don't have any other supply of water than the sea."