x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Water fines needed 'to cut consumption'

The UAE is a huge water consumer, needing 26 times as much as it has available, the Food and Agriculture Organisation says.

DUBAI // Ministry consultants say tough measures are needed to cut domestic water consumption to meet international levels.

Their recommendations could include fines for people exceeding their quota, or increasing prices.

"Domestic water consumption here is about 370 litres a person a day, whereas international standards are 200 litres," said Dr Khalil Ahmed Ammar, a hydrogeology scientist at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai. "Instead of increasing the supply, we're telling it [the Ministry of Environment and Water] to shift to demand management, which is more efficient."

Dr Ammar was speaking on the sidelines of a municipality water safety seminar yesterday.

The UN World Water Assessment Programme suggested in 2007 that a person needed 20 to 50 litres of safe freshwater a day for basic needs like cooking and drinking.

But the UAE is a huge water consumer, needing 26 times as much as it has available, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"People use more water than they actually need in their daily life," said Hamdan Al Shaer, the municipality's director of environment. "This year, the UN is focusing on water use in cooking, washing and sieving, and sustainable cooking should be taken into consideration."

He said people should calculate how much water they needed, but they may be reluctant to bother unless there were laws or enforcement.

"We need a law on how to use our water wisely," said Dr Husni Jasser Muhammad, a groundwater specialist at the municipality's environment control section. "We have to change our behaviour and maybe put a price on it." He said a tariff should be placed on water consumption to measure how much was spent and lost. "That way, we can save water," he added.

This system exists in Singapore, where people pay a higher price if they go over a limit.

"Once they increased the cost, there was a reduction in water use," said Dr Ammar. "They could also get fined for using too much water - this will encourage them to reduce their consumption. Any drop of water can make a difference."

But he admitted this could take time in the UAE, with water deemed a social right, not an economic good.

cmalek@thenational.ae