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Why the GCC cannot afford to waste water anymore

Mustafa Al Zarooni (The Emirati)
Filed on March 1, 2016 | Last updated on March 1, 2016 at 07.34 am
A worker drinks water using his hands at a construction site along the Business Bay in Dubai.-Photo Dhes Handumon

Sixty per cent of the world's desalination plants are in the GCC. These are powered by fossil fuels which add to carbon levels in the air. Marine waters here are also warmer because these projects are along the coast.

There are concerns among experts and residents about food and water security in the GCC. The fall in water levels in the Gulf and the region's dependence on desalination plants for clean water means more energy is spent to treat the precious resource and make it fit for human needs. The environment also pays the price with rising air and water pollution.

Sixty per cent of the world's desalination plants are in the GCC. These are powered by fossil fuels which add to carbon levels in the air. Marine waters here are also warmer because these projects are along the coast.

Also read: 18% reduction recorded in water consumption: Fewa

While taking into account the plunge in fuel prices across the world and wastage of water, many questions float on the surface. Will governments of the GCC countries be able to provide water at the same price? And will people use less water, bearing in mind that an average resident in this region uses three-times more water than a British citizen?

A Bloomberg report says desalination plants supply 98.8 percent of Dubai's water, with the remaining 1.2 percent coming from groundwater sources. Producing desalinated water is so energy-consuming that future water and energy plans must aim for a more sustainable balance, and keep it cheap for the average resident.

Many questions on water security were raised by researchers and academicians at the GCC Development Forum, which was held recently in Bahrain under the theme 'Water Security and Sustainability'.

Speakers at forum stressed the importance of partnership between GCC countries in the agricultural sector. They called for a unified strategy to exchange information, setting up a GCC database on water, food, and energy, in addition to applying the best practices to conserve natural resources like water in the arid region.

Strategic water stocks must be preserved and efforts should be in place to cut consumption. Awareness campaigns are important, so is government policy. But the six GCC countries act differently when it comes to water security. The UAE was the first country that came up with radical solutions, but residents appear eager to consume more water and burn more fuel. Nothing has changed at the consumer level and there is growing demand for water as the population increases.

Cloud seeding is being carried out in the UAE. Masdar City and other projects are developing sustainable cities that are not harsh on the environment. Solar and other renewable energy resources are being tapped into. The UAE is, indeed, a pioneer, but we cannot do it alone.

A water link between GCC states was announced years ago but has not seen the light of day. The project aimed to boost the common water pool and included a 2,000km pipeline to move water from Oman to Kuwait. Two mega water desalination stations were to be built on the coast of the Arabian Sea in Oman. The two stations were to produce as much 500 million cubic meters of water per year to feed the network.

More efforts should be exerted in this regard and we must move fast. But Waleed Zubari, Professor of Water Resources Management Programme, Arabian Gulf University, pointed out that water desalination stations are prone to risks because oil extraction can cause oil slicks and red tide. Sewage can also seep into these networks making the water unfit for human consumption.

Many studies were conducted on GCC water connectivity and security. One of these was to provide clean water for oil tankers - that which is used in the ballast to balance the ships. This will ensure tankers do not shed contaminated water which pollutes the marine environment.

The fall in oil prices has forced some GCC countries to adopt austerity measures to balance their budgets. Subsidised water and electricity will soon be a thing of a past. Low oil prices and higher water and electricity charges could, in fact, be a blessing in disguise for GCC countries in the long term. Many residents wasted water as if there was no tomorrow. People misused government subsidies. Now they must pay to save the environment and our shared resources.

malzarooni@khaleejtimes.com


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