Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Take responsibility to act now against water shortages, UAE minister says

Environment minister Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi told the World Economic Forum the country is also stepping up its fight against single-use plastics

Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi speaks at the World Economic Forum for the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan.  
Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi speaks at the World Economic Forum for the Middle East and North Africa in Jordan.  

Dry countries in the Middle East and Africa should look to new technology for a reliable water supply, a UAE minister said.

Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said building desalination plants and a cloud-seeding strategy helped the UAE to address water challenges and called on other nations to plan ahead to avoid cities running dry.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, in Jordan, Dr Al Zeyoudi gave the example of Cape Town in South Africa, which last year was forced to take drastic measures to preserve water.

It narrowly averted a scenario in which taps were to be turned off and residents would have to queue for a daily ration.

It’s either that we build desalination or we just pray to God that the rain is going to come some day, which is not the right approach

Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi

“Cape Town last year was about to announce that it was going to be out of water,” said Dr Al Zeyoudi, a former reservoir engineer, during a discussion about environmental stewardship in the Arab world.

“But they were lucky that they had that water at the end of the season, which saved the nation.

“They did not plan the right way. It’s the same case for so many cities and countries in our region. They know it’s going to be a challenge but we don’t think outside the box.

“It’s either that we are close to the sea and we build desalination or we just pray to God that the rain is going to come some day, which is not the right approach.”

New technology, such as machines that can turn humid air into water, should be looked at as well as cloud seeding, he said.

The UAE is increasing its use of cloud seeding, a method in which planes inject salt flares into clouds to try to cause a reaction that will lead to more rainfall.

Despite mitigation strategies, the UAE still faces challenges, with some predicting that Abu Dhabi is set to run out of fresh water within 50 years.

Climate change is set to add to pressure on water supplies, with droughts partly responsible for the crisis in Cape Town.

Some researchers have warned that "water wars" will be waged in future, as populations grow and water becomes more scarce.

Dr Al Zeyoudi also revealed that a major initiative in the UAE to clamp down on single-use plastics is to be announced within weeks.

He called on world leaders to take responsibility for playing their part in delivering international environmental targets, such as the Paris climate agreement and the UN's sustainable development goals, even as some global leaders question climate change.

“In the field of climate change and environment, we need leaders,” Dr Al Zeyoudi said.

“For us as governments, we want to ensure that the air we breathe is healthy, that the water we supply is going to be safe, that the soil and food we provide has the highest standards and is as healthy as possible.

“It’s a responsibility and we have to start implementation. Otherwise we will meet again in 2020 or 2030 and will be in the same place. We have to roll up our sleeves and start.”

Updated: April 8, 2019 01:25 AM

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