On March 22 each year, the world celebrates World Water Day (WWD). It attempts to remind people about the significance of fresh water and the need to promote sustainability for fresh water resources management. Many events, media campaigns, contests, excursions to local rivers and lakes are held worldwide to celebrate the day. WWD 2015 is very significant for the world and the UAE in particular because:
- The theme of the day 2015 is “water and sustainable development”. Water plays a key role in sustainable development. Development plans depend upon water resources in terms of quality and quantity. Beyond meeting basic human needs, water supply and sanitation services as well as water as a resource are critical to maintain a healthy environment and guarantee achieving sustainable development.
- 2015 marks the end of UN Water for Life Decade (2005-2015). Water decade encourages water cooperation, especially in regions that share the same problems and resources.
- The limited availability of fresh water in UAE and the Gulf region in general has for decades presented a major challenge to the people and the governments of the region. Scarce rainfall together with a high rate of evaporation and consumption, leads to deficits in the water budgets.
- In order for the UAE to keep up its fast growing development in all aspects of life, it must take all necessary measures and polices to guarantee the availability of water resources for various uses. Otherwise, the country is very likely to face many potential problems on the security, economic and social fronts related to the availability of water.
Thus in a water-thirsty region like GCC, water cooperation is a must to help achieve water security for the people, for development process and for environmental requirements.
According to the UN-Water 2013, water security is defined as “the capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human well-being, and socio-economic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability”.
Water security addresses the issue of environmental protection and seeks good governance for water resources. It also aims to end the fragmented responsibility for water between various authorities, municipalities, countries, regions…etc. and integrating water policies across all sectors – finance, planning, agriculture, energy, tourism, industry, education and health.
Water is a cross-sectoral issue and understanding of the multiple functions that water plays in society is fundamental for any country to plan, allocate and manage water resources in a sustainable manner.
First and foremost, the strategy for sustainable use of water resources is to protect and conserve the available resources. This calls for harvesting every drop of water through rainwater harvesting, protecting the natural and manmade storage reservoirs as well as groundwater aquifers. Besides developing new systems and technologies, protecting the traditional systems such as the Aflaj is also imperative. A competent strategy to tackle water security from both the supply and demand side is necessary for ensuring that development is sustainable in the Gulf region.
GCC countries face the same environmental challenges especially in water sector. GCC shares underground aquifers so the states must work together to better utilise these aquifers in a sustainable way.
There is plenty of room for cooperation in GCC on many aspects related to the water sector such as monitoring and utilisation of ground water tables, recycling, water desalination, joint water research and projects, the use of renewable energies in water desalination, etc.
GCC states need to work to provide sufficient water for their people as we have seen that water issues have caused a lot of unrest in many countries especially in the Middle East in the last few years.
Better GCC water cooperation could be the key to mitigating the risk of further conflict and achieve water security for the region. Water security is a real incentive for GCC-wide cooperation in water-related projects.
Thus, the issue of water security should be on the top of UAE and GCC political policy agenda. There is no doubt that water cooperation is a step in the right direction and also opens the gates to peace and prosperity in the region. The WWD is the right occasion to get started.
Dr Mohammad Abdel Raouf is an independent environmental researcher