x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Reduce water use before it runs out, Abu Dhabi water summit warns

The first International Water Summit ended yesterday with a dire warning to the world's governments: find smarter ways to reduce water use before it runs out.

ABU DHABI // With the population of the Middle East forecast to rise from about 360 million to more than 600 million by 2050, experts yesterday turned their attention to more efficient ways of allocating the precious resource.

"The population is becoming richer, which means there is a higher demand for water-intensive products for food like meats and more energy-intensive households," said Tom Soo, executive director of the International Water Resources Association.

"By 2030, we will withdraw 20 to 30 per cent more water than our existing reliable supplies."

Mr Soo said re-use was crucial. "The Colorado River is reused six to seven times before reaching the sea.

The Global Water Intelligence's Re-use Markets says 4,000 trillion litres is extracted a year. Only 10 per cent of that is collected and only seven trillion litres, or a small fraction of 1 per cent of the total, is treated.

Globally, agriculture accounts for 83 per cent of water used. But with the world population expected to rise from seven billion people to nine billion by 2050, so will demand.

"Balancing the multiple uses [of water] is very important, as well as getting the priorities right between which water quality for which uses," said Mr Soo. "You don't always need drinking-water quality to irrigate."

By 2025, water demand is expected to be a third higher than in 2000.

"In 40 years, domestic water use doubled in Japan due to a change in lifestyle," said Nobuhiko Sasaki, Japan's vice minister of economy, trade and industry.

Things are no better in the Middle East. Jordan's agriculture uses two-thirds of its water while only contributing 3 per cent to its economy.

The UN says some Arab countries had higher water consumption than countries such as the US or Germany.

"It's urgent to find new ways in arid regions to deal with growing water scarcity and increasing competition of water demand," said Uschi Eid, vice chairwoman of the UN secretary general's advisory board on water.

cmalek@thenational.ae