Cities in water-stressed regions need smart and sustainable water management Filed on May 6, 2021
Natural greenery is desirable, for both its aesthetic appeal and its decarbonisation potential. — File photo

Islamic Development Bank and ICBA has been working on several technologies and innovations to boost agricultural productivity and improve farmers' livelihood, in non-arable lands and harsh ecosystems.

Over the course of the pandemic, as priorities changed and expectations evolved, the consensus on working towards greater sustainability has emerged stronger than ever. No location in the world is an exception to this development. However, enhancing sustainability requires a different focus in each region, based on local challenges and socio-economic conditions.

The Middle East, for instance, is characterised by water scarcity, arid climate and erratic rainfall, which creates a considerable challenge when reconciling sustainability and water supply infrastructure.

As we gear up for the post-pandemic economic recovery, cities in the Middle East continue to face pressing challenges in enhancing their sustainability, despite limited water resources. However, recent innovations are beginning to offer hope in this context, with the emergence of cost-effective, sustainable and scalable rainwater harvesting solutions.

"In the past couple of years, unseasonal rains have presented significant challenges across Dubai, causing floods and damaging infrastructure,” says Chandra Dake, founder of Dake Rechsand, a company that has introduced products made from aeolian desert sand, which could revolutionise decentralised water harvesting.

“The region continues to face acute water scarcity. Initiatives like the UAE’s cloud-seeding programme mean that there is a fresh source of additional water, but there’s a lack of an effective mechanism to harness it. This is a dilemma that makes a perfect case for the implementation of sand technology and affiliated products," Chandra continues, referring to the air permeable but water retaining tiles, kerbstones, and other materials, that his company produces, from fine desert sand.

Deployable on surfaces like roads and playgrounds, these low-cost products can absorb excessive surface runoff, and prevent flooding and water logging. Their air permeability ensures that the retained water remains fresh for years, without requiring external chemical and electricity-based treatment.

"When installed as part of smart city water networks, such decentralised rainwater harvesting mechanisms induce circularity in water management, adding to the sustainability of communities," Chandra continues.

Adding a new perspective to the greenery debate

As Chandra notes, rainfall is defying typical historical estimates in the Middle East, in recent years, and frequently causing damage to infrastructure. This has led to increased government spending on relief efforts, damage repair and drainage of water-logged areas. In addition, this wasted rainfall should also be looked at in the light of the massive budget allocations for desalination plants and wastewater treatment, in the Middle East. Given this overall scenario, sand technology enabled decentralized rainwater harvesting could be the most economically, and environmentally, viable solution to enhancing the region’s water security.

According to Chandra, when we talk about holistic sustainability, we must also factor in GHG emissions and the goal of achieving carbon neutral water networks. The typical efforts to offset such emissions center around increasing green cover. But in water-stressed regions like the UAE, planting additional green cover is often met with the fear that this will deplete available water resources, and burden the water infrastructure.

"Natural greenery is desirable, for both its aesthetic appeal and its decarbonisation potential. We can now enhance green cover in the Middle East sustainably, through a water-wise landscaping methods made possible by breathable sand, which requires 80 per cent less water compared to conventional practices. Together with decentralised rainwater harvesting, sand technology-based landscaping enhances both over sustainability, as well as water management, in a smart city," Chandra explains.

Even though the UAE is short of arable land and freshwater resources, and has harsh climatic conditions, the country harness the benefits of innovation to make agriculture possible and profitable in the country.

The UAE's National Food Security Strategy 2051, which was launched in 2018 with a vision to become a world-leading hub for innovation-driven food security, also prioritises agricultural research and development. Thanks to the UAE's efforts, the country rose from 33rd place in 2017 to 21st in 2019 in the Global Food Security Index, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), and International Center for Biosaline agriculture (ICBA) has been working on several technologies and innovations to boost agricultural productivity and improve farmers' livelihood, in non-arable lands and harsh ecosystems.

In the UAE, ICBA works in collaboration with concerned organisations and agencies and is committed to continuing its efforts to boost food and water security in the country. —

Staff Reporter

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