x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Water is too precious to give away so cheaply

Colourless, odourless, tasteless: few us give water any thought unless there's too much of it, too little, or it's polluted.

Colourless, odourless, tasteless: few us give water any thought unless there's too much of it, too little, or it's polluted. But in the Middle East, where there is a scarcity of the precious substance, more people should be encouraged to think about how to conserve it. Sheikh Zayed, the Founder of the UAE, used to insist that oil companies drill three water wells for every oil well.

Even that, however, has been insufficient for the country's needs. And with 97 per cent of the world's water containing salt, it is hardly surprising that much of the region's supply comes from desalination plants. It may be miraculous but it is also expensive, one of the reasons that few other areas of the world can afford to do it. One might argue that Australia's problem is not one of a lack of water, but a lack of investment in desalination plants.

The Nomura report is long and worthy, but it stops short of pointing the finger at one of the main users of water in the region. Agriculture accounts for about 80 per cent of all consumption, and much of it is wasted, either from watering at the wrong time of day or leaks. Is that really the best use of our water? Desalination will grow but so should water rates. For many people in the country water is almost free. That needs to change because it's wasteful to give away something so valuable.

rwright@thenational.ae Rupert Wright is author of Take Me to the Source: In Search of Water, published by Harvill Secker