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Survey: UAE water
use unsustainable

(Staff Reporter) / 25 January 2012

DUBAI - Being among the countries with highest per capita water usage, the UAE along with Saudi Arabia and its fellow GCC members are not helping themselves in addressing the growing scarcity of water in the region.

On the contrary, the region’s lifestyle, its economic growth as well as its population growth of more than two per cent are putting sustained pressure on the already depleted and scanty resources.

According to a recent study carried out by Booz and Company, though the Government of UAE along with its regional counterparts have realised the gravity of the issue, the consumption patterns are not sustainable and the steps taken are not effective enough.

Apart from highlighting the consumption pattern that needs to be realigned, the study suggests steps that can bring about a collective change in the production and supply of potable water in the UAE as well as neighbouring countries.

“Water scarcity is a reality in just about every Arab country,” said Dr Walid Fayad, a Beirut-based partner in the company’s energy, chemicals and utilities practice.

“If they don’t make changes, these countries will find themselves in serious trouble.”

Among the steps suggested by the study to the GCC countries to ensure the sustainability of their water supplies are: Agricultural reforms, education of consumers, tariff restructure, water reuse as well as investment in green desalination projects.

According to the survey, agriculture accounts for 80 per cent of all the water used in rural parts of the GCC, yet contributes only a few percentage points of GDP to these countries’ economies. Fayad said it is one of the first things these countries need to change.

Apart from this, he suggested that these countries need to adopt water-efficient crops as well as smarter irrigation techniques.

Fayad also suggested that educating consumers is also very important as most residents don’t realise the gravity of water scarcity in the region.

“There is a general lack of awareness in the region, largely because of subsidies that disguise actual costs and that obscure the severity of the situation,” he added.

Another important tool is tariff reforms, where in consumers are charged according to the slab system, with those using more paying higher tariff.

The system already exists in the UAE and the survey shows that it has helped in bringing a marked change in the consumption pattern.

Desalination of water provides around 80 per cent of potable water in the region, but it comes at an enormous economic and environmental cost.

The process being energy-intensive accounts to around 25 per cent of the region’s energy consumption, thus adding to the problems. Adopting more eco-friendly techniques like solar-power based plants would be a way to go.

Though it may sound insignificant, compared to the overall usage of water, greater water reuse, which is currently being practiced in the UAE at a smaller level, can help enormously in achieving sustainability.

At one-third the cost of desalinated water, treated sewage water is the best alternative for activities such as maintaining the landscaping near public roads, irrigating non-food crops, district cooling and cooling power-generation equipment at industrial facilities, the survey suggested.

“If GCC countries do not become actively involved in research, enforce water policies and promote sustainability, the consequences will be significant. On the other hand, if they do these things, the payoff will be enormous,” said Fayad.


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