Sumera B Reshi
Water covers 70 per cent of our planet, and it won’t always be bounteous. However, freshwater is incredibly rare. Only three per cent of the world’s water is fresh water, and two-thirds of that is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our use as per the study published by the World Wild Life.
The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.
In the Middle East, its countryside has been reduced to the desert because of overuse of water. Iran is one of the most severely affected. Heavy overconsumption, coupled with poor rainfall, have ravaged its water resources and devastated its agricultural output. Similarly, the United Arab Emirates is now investing in desalination plants and wastewater treatment units because it lacks fresh water.
As Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan admitted: “For us, water is [now] more important than oil.” The story doesn’t end here, South Asia which is home to two-thirds of the global population will face acute water shortage in near future.
Consequently, some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Inadequate sanitation is also a problem for 2.4 billion people and these people are subjected to diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, and other water-borne illnesses.
Two million people, mostly children, die each year from diarrheal diseases alone. According to the world wildlife predictions, the situation will only get worse. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. And ecosystems around the world will suffer even more.
Each year, the UN marks World Water Day on March 22nd to highlight the importance of water. This year the UN chose the theme ‘Nature for Water’, to explore nature-based solutions to challenges we face in present times. With the rise in population, demand for water has also risen to new levels, however, the quality and reliability of water supply in declining as per the UN World Water Development Report.
The viable solution with this world water body is to invest more in protecting ecosystems that recycle water and spend less on concrete flood barriers or watershed treatment plants. Droughts in Somalia, water rationing in Rome, flooding in Jakarta and Harvey-battered Houston are ample examples of growing global water crisis.
Nearly half of 33 countries expected to face extremely high water stress by 2040 are in the Middle East, where surface water is limited and demand is high according to a report published in the Khaleej Times, 27 August 2015.
As per the UN experts, water shortages are one of the biggest challenges in the UAE. The UAE has just 83 cubic meters of renewable water /person/year, well below the UN scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters according to Dr Han Seung-Soo, former South Korean President. The UAE is among countries with the highest per capita water consumption in the world.
An average UAE resident consumes about 550 litres of water a day. This is more than three times the world average per capita consumption. Even, in February 2018, the Minister of State for Food Security, Mariam Muhairi also acceded that water scarcity is the biggest challenge faced by the UAE. Muhairi further added that the scarcity can be met through innovative solutions and technologies that are both adaptive and innovative.
It is obvious that rainfall rarely exceeds 10cm a year in the UAE, thus making the UAE one of the 10 most arid countries in the world. The country also consumes about 15 per cent of the world’s desalinated water.
Although the government of Emirates have taken many concrete steps to tackle the water scarcity. They have built a new water reservoir a vital safety net for the provision of water, and an excellent regional model for foresight and planning. The said reservoir is built at a cost of 1.6 billion dirhams after 15 years of continuous work.
This world’s largest reservoir of high-quality desalinated water is located at Al Dhafra in Liwa and stores 5.6 billion gallons of water enough to provide 1 million people in the capital with 180 litres /person for up to 90 days.
Moreover, the private sector is also weighing in with the new partnership. Tottori Resource-Middle East, a joint venture between Emirati entrepreneur Muntaser Al Mansouri and Japanese firm Tottori Resource Recycling, is launching a soil amendment solution, which will save 50 per cent of water consumption in agriculture and urban greening, increasing yields by 20 per cent.
While talking to the gulf news the Minister of State for Food Security, Ms Muhairi expressed her views as, “I believe the technology will save the environment by saving on water consumption and also reducing energy requirements for desalination and Co2 emissions.”
To confront imminent future water crisis, the UAE has entered another partnership with Eshara Capital and Veragon Water Solutions. Very recently they launched a new technology that creates cost-effective and sustainable mineralized drinking water by utilizing humidity from the air.
Veragon’s innovative Air-to-Water system can produce up to 1,000 litres of potable water /day in hot or sultry environments and its water is certified to World Health Organization (WHO) standards.
Besides harnessing technologies and innovative adaptive methods, the governmental and water authorities in the UAE have launched massive awareness campaigns across the nation with the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other tertiary bodies to inform people about the consumption of water. They are emphasizing people to buy simple water saving devices for their homes.
It is pertinent to say that UAE government is ready to face any future water crisis in the country but are the authorities in South Asia prepared and equipped to face the water challenge in near future is a moot question to answer.
It is high time that South Asia country take looming water crisis serious and show real leadership acumen like the one exhibited by the UAE, else they have to combat another menace called water terrorism.