Non-profit initiatives such as Surge’s Water: The Global Passport help raise awareness on water conservation Image Credit: Supplied

While there is no doubt whatsoever that the UAE faces an imminent water crisis, anxiety over the future may be assuming colossal proportions. And this is quite appropriate.

In late February, Minister of State for Food Security, Mariam Al Muhairi, said that water security is the biggest challenge in the UAE and added that it can only be met through innovative solutions and technologies that are both adaptive and innovative. She was speaking at the Ministerial Session of the Food Security Forum in Dubai, held alongside the annual food industry event Gulfood 2018.

A week later, UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al Mazroui told members of the Federal National Council that the nation’s water consumption is now a huge concern, as he outlined plans to initiate various water-saving programmes.

Both alarms follow the launch of the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036 last September, which seeks to ensure sustainable access in normal and emergency conditions. 

Accordingly, both government and private sector entities have been spurred into action. Announcements made in the first 45 days of this year alone hold testimony.

With rainfall that rarely exceeds 10cm a year, the UAE is one of the ten most arid countries in the world. It also consumes about 15 per cent of the world’s desalinated water.

World’s largest water reserve

These factors combine to make Abu Dhabi’s new reservoir a vital safety net for the provision of water, and an excellent regional model for foresight and planning. Built at a cost of Dh1.6 billion after 15 years of continuous work, the world’s largest reserve of high-quality desalinated water was launched in January.

Located in Al Dhafra in Liwa, it stores 5.6 billion gallons of water, or enough to provide 1 million people in the capital with 180 litres per person for up to 90 days.

A model of the new Liwa water reservoir showcased at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January

In February, news agency WAM detailed how five international companies are testing new solutions as part of the Masdar Renewable Energy Desalination Programme near Ghantoot. These projects include solar-powered reverse osmosis, a technique where salt water is purified through membranes.

A Masdar report confirms that these solutions are also up to 75 per cent more energy efficient than thermal desalination technologies currently in use and capable of delivering annual energy savings of $550 million (about D2 billion).

March saw the launch of Badia Farms in Dubai, a vertical farm that uses hydroponic technology and 90 per cent less water than open-field farming. The farm also recycles the water it uses and helps combat the carbon footprint of international food imports that typically travel thousands of kilometres to reach local restaurants.

Speaking at the inauguration of the farm, Dr Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, commended it. “Badia Farms is an exceptional example of how the UAE’s agricultural industry can thrive while protecting our environment for future generations,” he stated.

Omar Al Jundi, Founder and CEO of Badia Farms, set up the farm up with an eye on sustainability. “Not only can we grow the freshest greens, with no pesticides or chemicals, but we do this in the most ecofriendly way possible, using minimal recycled water. This is our way to give back to the UAE and start a new wave of farming in Dubai.”

Private initiative

The private sector is also weighing in with new partnerships. Tottori Resource Middle East, a joint venture between Emirati entrepreneur Muntaser Al Mansouri (right), 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.

“When I learnt about Porous Alpha technology during a life-changing internship in Japan, I immediately thought this technology will be so useful in the UAE where water is scarce,” says Al Mansouri. “I believe the technology will save the environment by saving on water consumption and also reducing energy requirements for desalination, and CO2 emissions.”

Another partnership, between Eshara Capital and Veragon Water Solutions recently launched new technology that creates cost-effective and sustainable mineralised drinking water by harnessing humidity from the air. Veragon’s innovative Air-to-Water system can produce up to 1,000 litres of potable water per day in hot or tropical environments for as little as 3 fils per litre. The water is certified to World Health Organisation standards and approved for use in the UAE.

Veragon executives demonstrate how they create water from the atmosphere

Raising awareness

Across the nation, numerous other projects are under way. “Governmental and water authorities are doing a great job of raising awareness through various campaigns, often working in conjunction with non-profit organisations such as EWS-WWF,” says David King, Founder of Save Water UAE (right). “There are also environmental groups such as Emirates Green Building Council and Emirates Environment Group raising awareness through various channels. The key issue for everyone is to encourage both individuals and businesses to act and reduce their water consumption.”

Save Water UAE’s new website allows residents to buy simple water-saving devices for their homes.

“After eight years of working with businesses to reduce their water consumption, we recognised that members of the community also feel a responsibility to practise an environmentally conscious lifestyle at home. We saw an opportunity to help households reduce their carbon footprint and also their monthly utility bills, with these easy-to-install devices,” says King.

Marita Peters, Executive Director Middle East for Surge (right), an international not-for-profit organisation that promotes safe water and sanitation solutions, is unequivocal about collaboration and cooperation.

“To win the war on water sustainability here in the UAE, we all need to work together. It begins with greater awareness of the issues we could face as our ground water supplies decrease, our population grows and demand for water increases,” she says. “The key lies in education about the global water crisis and how that ties back to our situation here in the UAE.”

Surge has developed two flagship programmes that engage both the public and private sectors and raise a call to action by every individual in the country.

Its bilingual project for school children, Water: The Global Passport, is delivered in association with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and the UAE Water Aid Foundation (Suqia), to sensitise children to serious water issues and inculcate good habits.

Surge’s H2O Games brings the same transformative information to corporations. “Every participant emerges a water champion as they engage in innovative and educational games consisting of hands-on activities and challenges,” Peters tells GN Focus. “These foster a better understanding of the importance of water conservation.”