Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi is considered a “water-stressed” area as the emirate’s per capita availability of fresh, natural and renewable water resource is less than 100 cubic metres. The areas with less than 500 cubic metre availability of fresh water falls under this category, a conference in the capital heard on Tuesday.

Experts from the UAE and USA discussed “Climate Change and the Future of Water” at the conference organised by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) and the University of Maine in the US.

Dr Rashid Bin Fahd, Minister of Environment and Water, and Dr Jaber Al Jaberi, Deputy Secretary-General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), delivered keynote speeches.

While welcoming the gathering, Dr Jamal Al Suwaidi, Director-General of ECSSR, warned that the impact of water scarcity and climate change could trigger conflict in the region.

Dr Mohammad Dawoud, adviser on water resources and environment quality at EAD, said as Abu Dhabi faces acute water scarcity, minimising demand is the long-term solution. About 100,000 wells across the emirate serving around 25,000 farms and another 60,000 wells for the forestry sector add huge pressure on scarce groundwater resources. About 95 per cent of groundwater is used by agriculture and forestry sectors in the emirate, he said.

The environment minister said groundwater withdrawal has increased by more than three times over the past five decades while the worldwide average availability of groundwater decreased by more than half. Such deterioration is poised to grow worse in the coming decades, Bin Fahd said.

The agriculture sector is one of the top-priority sectors to tackle water scarcity because agriculture is very sensitive and vulnerable to climate change. The sector accounts for about 80 per cent of the total global consumption of water and contributes to more than 90 per cent of the water footprint. As 80 per cent of agricultural areas around the world rely on rainwater, minor climate change will affect the sector and the state of global food security.

Dr Al Jaberi, who delivered the keynote speech on behalf of Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, secretary-general of the EAD, said water scarcity affects all continents and 40 per cent of humans on earth. By 2025, 1.8 billion will be living in water-scarce areas.

Such problems will severely affect Arab region as eight Arab countries have the lowest per capita availability of water and the UAE is one among them. Of the three water sources in Abu Dhabi, groundwater contributes to 65 per cent, desalination around 30 per cent and recycling about five per cent only, he said.

However, only five per cent of the groundwater is recharged annually. In agricultural areas groundwater is depleted by five metres every year. If this trend continues, groundwater will be totally depleted in the near future, Al Jaberi said.

Dr Paul Andrew Mayewski, Director of Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, warned about possible droughts caused by climate change in water-scarce areas. Climate records of thousands of years show that devastating droughts can occur abruptly and stay from decades to centuries, he said.