On the water front

THANKS to growing population, high levels of pollution and climate change, water scarcity is reaching unprecedented levels around the world. Unless some path-breaking steps are taken soon, our world may be in for big trouble.

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Published: Sat 28 Aug 2004, 9:09 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:11 AM

The Middle East in particular needs to evolve feasible strategies to avert a potential water crisis. Sure enough, it is a writing on the wall, what with limited resources in the arid region being further reduced by population and urban growth. The vital natural resource, water, and its availability and quality are interlinked with factors such as economic development, human health, food production and nutrition. The bottom line is a holistic approach to the problem that, if unchecked, can lead to a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions for the human race.

In the Arab world, as anywhere, the largest quantity of water is used in irrigation. It takes about 1,000 tonnes of water to grow a tonne of wheat and 2,000 tonnes to produce a tonne of rice. In countries whose economies are dependent on agriculture, the farm sector uses up 80-90 per cent of water resources. Hence, even small improvements in irrigation efficiency will save a substantial amount of water. Human water needs in the region have traditionally been handled by damming more rivers, tapping aquifers and by building desalination plants.

However, supply management should be complemented by demand management, that is, making the most of what one already has. Public awareness campaigns can play a key role in this regard. A case in point is the recent campaign of the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority that was aimed at encouraging water conservation. The idea is to educate the people to become more responsible users of water and electricity. Similar drives could lead to a new water culture that combines caring, sparing and sharing.

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