x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Conserve water for a greener future

From its beginnings, Abu Dhabi was imagined as a green city. As it grows, there is a need to re-think how a more green society can take root.

Sami Hassan's grass is too thirsty. That, at least, is what government officials are trying to convey to him and many other farmers. As we reported yesterday, Mr Hassan is one of a handful of growers experimenting with indigenous grass feed that requires less water to grow, and protects a precious natural resource in the process.

It would be easy to disregard Mr Hassan and the government's grass study if its success weren't critical to the nation's sustainability. Water waste is a problem across the UAE. According to Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi's projections, water use in the capital is forecast to exceed supply by next year. As a recent study by Columbia University in New York warns, this could have a severe impact on the "continued quality of life and economic prosperity of the Abu Dhabi city and the emirate".

Reversing this trend - in Abu Dhabi and elsewhere - will mean rethinking conventions. While many cities have sought to become urban havens with vast expanses of foliage, decades of desert greening has taken a toll. In Abu Dhabi, the majority of the emirate's water resources are used not for human consumption, but to irrigate urban landscaping and farms.

Conservation campaigns are one way to reverse this trend. Education - of farmers and consumers alike - is another.

Given that most of the nation's water is produced by energy-intensive desalination, users must pay more for the fresh water they consume. Regulators in Abu Dhabi have inched prices higher, but more closely linking generation costs to the prices that consumers pay would go a long way to reduce consumption.

Planning officials could also promote change by ordering that new public spaces be built with water conservation in mind. While water conservation guidelines are already included in building codes, additional measures such as xeriscaping - using mulch instead of turf, or mandating drip irrigation - could see broader use.

Sheikh Zayed was visionary in his belief that Abu Dhabi could be a green capital. But as the UAE matures, recognising water's value, whether it flows from a tap or the end of a watering can, is a good place to start anew.