x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

World Bank aide sees capital as 'Davos of water security'

The capital should take a leadership role in regional initiatives to manage water supplies and combat climate change, a senior World Bank official is urging.

Jamal Saghir, the World Bank's director for energy, transport and water, says Abu Dhabi should take the leadership role in the region to manage water supplies and battle climate change.
Jamal Saghir, the World Bank's director for energy, transport and water, says Abu Dhabi should take the leadership role in the region to manage water supplies and battle climate change.

Abu Dhabi // The capital should take a leadership role in regional initiatives to manage water supplies and combat climate change, a senior World Bank official is urging. "Abu Dhabi could become an energy and water nexus, using the huge potential of solar energy," said Jamal Saghir, the bank's director for energy, transport and water.

"It could be the Davos of water security," he added, referring to the Swiss mountain resort that hosts the annual World Economic Forum. Mr Saghir is in Abu Dhabi for today's launch in the capital of the Arab Water Academy, an initiative backed by a number of international organisations, and for the Middle East launch of the bank's world development report on climate change. According to the World Bank, the scarcity of water in the Middle East and North Africa makes the region highly vulnerable to climate change, even though it emits a relatively low total amount of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. But some parts of the region have endured more economic hardship from limited water supplies than others.

Despite their arid climates, Gulf oil and gas producers have in recent decades used their vast stores of fossil fuel to power desalination projects, to the extent that they are now among the world's biggest per capita water consumers. In that context, Mr Saghir said he found it "interesting" and encouraging that Abu Dhabi was taking the lead in a development aimed at bringing all the nations of the Arab world to the table to discuss water issues, which have often proved divisive.

"Regional discussions are important, especially for politically sensitive issues like water," he said. "We don't see a lot of knowledge transfer. It's time to move the dialogue to a different level." Mr Saghir was also "very impressed" with Abu Dhabi's commitment to clean energy development, and encouraged by the emirate's determination to lead the region in initiatives to fight global warming. The Abu Dhabi Government's US$22 billion (Dh81bn) Masdar City project to build a carbon-neutral eco-city in the desert was a "fantastic opportunity" to find out what could be done to shrink the growing carbon emissions that have accompanied economic expansion in the Gulf, and what it would cost, Mr Saghir said.

But he warned that the Government needed to keep up the pace of the project's development to ensure its success. "The challenge will be in the implementation, but I think they're moving in the right direction," he said. "You can look at this part of the world becoming a new 'how-to' hub, linking the West and the East." The World Bank has also pointed to the region's reliance on climate-sensitive agriculture, the concentration of its people and economic activity in coastal zones, and the presence within the region of "conflict-ridden areas where pressure on resources could escalate violence and political turmoil" as factors that make it vulnerable to climate change. Addressing those vulnerabilities would be challenging, he said, but would be helped by improved regional and international co-operation. tcarlisle@thenational.ae