x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Value the nation's lifeblood: water

The depletion of water resources is a global problem and one that the UAE must continue to tackle.

From the depleted Nile basin in Africa to the parched plains of Arizona, and in populated places all over the planet, the management of dwindling fresh water resources is a vital issue. And nowhere is it more important than in desert nations where consumption is outpacing nature's capacity to produce the liquid gold that sustains agriculture, industry and an increasing number of thirsty humans.

It's appropriate, then, that the International Water Summit has been the centrepiece of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, a government initiative that has seen participation from scientists and decisionmakers from around the world.

The summit heard yesterday that the situation will become more urgent as the population of Gulf Cooperation Council countries grows. For the foreseeable future, the UAE can afford to desalinate seawater and make it available to Emiratis for free, and to expatriates at a fifth of its production cost. But desalination, which contributes greatly to greenhouse-gas emissions, is not economically viable elsewhere in the region, and it won't be sustainable here indefinitely.

As The National has already reported, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company estimates that each person in the UAE uses 350 litres of water a day, compared to the 160 to 180 litres recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Ground-water supplies that sustain agriculture in the emirate are dwindling, with the secretary general of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, Razan Al Mubarak, saying a "tipping point" has been reached and farmers will face further usage restrictions from next year.

Some good news is that a successful pilot project using tertiary-treated wastewater to irrigate crops will be extended to produce an estimated 6 million gallons a day. Other potential uses for recycled water, including sustaining whatever parks and other green spaces that can be feasibly maintained in an arid environment, should be investigated.

Clearly, more must be done, because this is everybody's problem - from householders who will have to eventually pay market price for their water, to farmers, industry and governments who will have to reassess the way they go about their thirsty businesses.

It's about doing more with less, so there's some left for tomorrow.