Virtual Water

The problem is bigger than some perceive

Water! Water everywhere, not a drop to drink! Soon we will all chant this hymn. I think we are definitely turning a blind eye to the global water crisis. We are extremely dependent on assuming that we have an ‘unlimited’ amount of water. But surely, we have limited days that our habits will survive.

It takes water to grow anything from miniature toy cars, jewellery, furniture, books to heavy electronics, buildings, and even electricity. However we forget that our water usage determines our water ‘footprint’.

Many people choose to ignore the issue because water is a renewable resource. But we are just being ignorant, will the evaporated water that eventually becomes rainfall, pour down on the same area? Uneven distribution is a real threat.

Another concept we need to familiarise ourselves with is: virtual water. This refers to the hidden use of water when food or other products are traded, according to the amount of water used in their production. Large countries such as China and India, export staggering volumes of virtual water, while facing considerable water scarcity problems at home.

Already, some countries are facing several water management challenges, including the scarcity of groundwater reserves, high salinity levels in existing groundwater, the high cost of producing drinking water, limited re-use of water, and limited collection and treatment of wastewater outside urban areas.

However, I believe that it is never too late to take small steps and make a huge difference. Every drop will count when you try!

■ From Ms Anjum Hassan
Teacher of biology and Environmental sciences based in Sharjah

Inevitable Truth

A threat to the development of human society

Freshwater scarcity is a reality that the world is facing at an unprecedented level and is threatening the sustainable development of human society. Earth’s hydrological (water) cycle has been interrupted by the climate change that makes water-scarce regions of the world drier, and contrarily makes the other already-wet regions wetter.

Recent reports show that two-thirds of the global population is already experiencing water scarcity for at least 1 month of the year. In addition, world population is projected to increase 30 per cent by mid-twenty-first century and will in turn create an increase in the demand of water. Roughly 30 per cent of global freshwater is reserved as groundwater, yet less than 6 per cent of it is renewable within 50 years as it is used faster than it is replenished.

A possible solution to this problem is desalination, but the high cost and technology can be prohibitive to many countries. The good news is that these alarming facts are being heard, and stakeholders and the general public around the world are all agreeing to take action. Various agencies are putting together policies relevant to sustainable development.

These include the National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2017-2050, Environment Vision 2030 of Abu Dhabi, and New York City’s Roadmap 80x50 to reducing greenhouse gases 80 per cent by 2050. Equally important, the international scientific community is working to bring more solutions on sustainable development by integrating economic, social and environmental issues. Finally yet most importantly, increased public awareness and pressure is ensuring a sustainable future.

■ From Dr Kemal Celik
Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering based in Abu Dhabi

Possible Solutions

Different measures needed in different regions

Based on the hydrologic cycle in a general form, the main sources of freshwater for human use supplied from surface rivers and lakes as well as from the underground reservoirs can be potentially renewed year by year without depleting the freshwater resources in the world. However, regional freshwater crises do exist.

First, there are regions in the world undergoing the depleting availability of freshwater from both the surface and underground sources; such as in the gulf region, the freshwater supplies from local rivers is extremely low, in addition, the quality of the regional groundwater is degrading owing to the increasing brackish (salt water) levels. Although desalination technologies have been used, the large capital and energy requirements need to be highly reduced, otherwise the desalination wouldn’t possibly be applied to those regions for the long run, and even to the rest large regions of the world.

Also, there are populations in the developing countries, e.g. from Asia and Africa, lacking clean and safe drinking water, as well as the practical systems to treat their wastewater. Those regions need to be implemented with the necessary water quality control and the improved sanitation measures to reduce their water crises.

Furthermore, the ongoing globe-wide urbanisation and industrialisation have caused a new demand for the freshwater supplies. Conventionally, about 20 per cent of the water consumptions appeared in the industrial sector and the same demand now is expected to grow, which may impact the existing balance of water withdrawals and bring in new aspects to the water crisis.

■ From Dr Engui Liu
Senior lecturer of civil and environmental engineering based in Abu Dhabi

Action needed

Different forces are to blame for the crisis

We tend to think that it’s not a problem because 70 per cent of the world is covered by water, however, only 0.007 per cent of the planet’s water is fresh water and available to feed 6.8 billion people. Water scarcity is becoming an issue as we move into the future due to increase misuse and wastage of clean water and the ever growing population. The competition to supply clean water to the society is becoming more challenging by the year.

Some aspects we need to focus on is effectively conserving, managing and fairly distributing the supply we have.

Water scarcity is a result of environmental, economic, political and social forces and to protect water and decrease its scarcity; global action should be taken on all levels, so that we really stop water scarcity from its root causes and achieve effective results. Water is life and we need to protect it to protect the future life.

■ From Ms Bayan Jijakli
Civil engineer based in Dubai

Poll results:

Do you think we are turning a blind eye to a global water crisis?

Yes: 85%

No: 15%

Have your say:

Will the world inevitably hit a severe water crisis because of the unsustainable way humans are consuming it?

Can the world avoid a water crisis in the near future because we have effective means to get usable water?

Can a renewable resource like water can ever run out?

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