Individuals and agriculture in Abu Dhabi use too much water, and we need to find ways to minimise our usage.
Water conservation is an issue we all need to address
The discovery of oil vaulted Abu Dhabi and what is now the United Arab Emirates into a whole new era. It began a great transition that now sees the UAE as one of the leading countries in the Middle East and the world.
Progress required resources other than oil, however. In 1973, groundwater was the only source of water, and Abu Dhabi's growth was not possible without seawater desalination and waste water treatment.
Yet, water shortages continue to be a problem, with the UAE one of the top 10 nations facing a scarcity of this precious resource.
As we all know, the UAE has an arid environment, consisting mainly of desert. Abu Dhabi has three main water supplies: desalinated water (mainly for drinking), groundwater (mainly for agriculture), and treated waste water, which is used for irrigation.
Desalination requires a massive amount of energy and, unfortunately, it may not be sustainable in the long term.
According to the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), the water distribution in 2008 was estimated as 46 per cent desalinated, 34 per cent treated sewage effluent (TSE), used by Abu Dhabi Municipality for amenity and landscaping projects, and 20 per cent groundwater.
People in the UAE have been taking their water needs for granted for too long. There is a marked lack of public awareness about water conservation. Each individual uses about 550 litres of water daily, which is more than double the global average of 250 litres. Demand is beginning to outstrip supply.
It is not a new problem. The Prophet Mohammed said that "while making ablutions (wudu) we should be abstemious in the use of water even if we have a river at our disposal".
In Surah Al-Araf, the Quran exhorts us to "take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess."
The excessive use of water also extends to unsustainable irrigation practices. There are three methods the UAE has implemented in the past few years for its irrigation systems.
The first of them, spray irrigation, is simply a sprinkler system. The main problem with this is that 60 per cent of the water evaporates before it can be absorbed by the plants. The 40 per cent that is used is unevenly distributed. This wastes a lot of water and affects the plants' health but, surprisingly, it is still widely in use.
The second system is drip irrigation, where tubes are placed on the ground between the plants, directly feeding water to their roots. This system uses 25 per cent less water than spray irrigation, but it is regarded as inflexible.
The last technique involves pipes placed on rubber liners 60 centimetres below the ground before anything is planted. Water is distributed to the plants' roots through holes in the pipe. Using this method, a plot that would require 10 to 12 litres of water by other means needs only 2.5 litres.
According to Rashed Mohamed Al Shariqi, the chairman of Abu Dhabi Farmers' Services: "Current irrigation practices are not sustainable and have detrimental effect on the natural environment. Up to 60 per cent of water applied on farms in Abu Dhabi's Seih Al Kheir area is wasted by current irrigation practices."
I feel that as citizens of this planet, we all have a duty to make the Earth a place that can sustain human life for all generations to come. Addressing the water problem in Abu Dhabi and the UAE in general is a part of this duty.
In its vision for 2030, Abu Dhabi Municipality includes plans for a more sustainable irrigation systems. The municipality has been working hard along with EAD in order to find solutions for what is one of the most important environmental challenges we are facing today.
It is in everybody's interests to work hand-in-hand with these government agencies by using this precious resource wisely.
We should also be looking at alternative ways of sourcing water - including promising technologies that may allow the extraction of usable water from humidity.
Mohammad Ziad Yamin is an Environmental Science student at Abu Dhabi University, where he focuses on sustainable and renewable energy.