Dubai: For every drop of water that goes to waste from UAE taps, much is at stake for this generation and the coming ones, such as having no groundwater – at all – to be circulated through taps by 2030.
For years, the UAE has been among countries with the highest per capita water consumption in the world, according to the UN Environment Programme. The UAE placed third in this global ranking in 2013. This means that an average UAE resident consumes about 550 litres of water a day. This is more than three times the world average per capita consumption.
As the UAE marks World Water Day on Sunday, Gulf News looks into the real risk of water scarcity over the next 15 years and beyond.
The UN’s definition of a ‘water-scarce country’ is if it has 1,000 cubic metres of water or less available per person per year. The UAE’s natural water supply provides for less than half this level, making it one of the world’s most water-scarce nations.
The UAE has around 4,052,000 million cubic litres of groundwater in aquifers or basins under the land. With negligible amount of rainfall received annually, these aquifers seldom get replenished, if at all.
“Water remains a precious UAE resource, as nowadays the country’s groundwater supplies are being unsustainably depleted and we need to save water for our future generations,” Eng Mariam Mohammad Saeed Hareb, Director, Education and Awareness and Project Management Office at the Ministry of Environment and Water, told Gulf News.
According to the report ‘Scarcity and Abundance: UAE Food and Water Security’ published in November 2014, for every litre of water that flows back into the country’s groundwater reserves from infrequent rainfall, 25 litres is withdrawn.
Since we are using up more than there is, available groundwater is estimated to last between 16 to 36 years, according to a report by the UAE University titled ‘The Challenges of Water Scarcity and the Future of Food Security in the United Arab Emirates’ published last month.
“Meaning that, the year 2030, could be the first year with no more supply from groundwater resources,” the report read.
A huge bulk of the UAE’s groundwater is used for irrigation, but this is also true globally, according to the UN, since agriculture is the biggest water intensive sector, accounting for 70 per cent of global water withdrawals.
The UAE University report added: “Although the fresh water resources are scarce in the UAE, one-third of the total water amount is used for landscaping purposes only.”
“As part of the government strategy, there is a programme to do awareness campaigns and also push legislation towards municipalities to use less water. Each municipality and each agency is looking after their own emirate and seeing how can they can save water,” Mariam said.
When it comes to saving water for irrigation, there are myriad options, says Ida Tillisch, Director General of Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS-WWF).
“A lot of our water in the country is being used in irrigation and this could be tackled through more sustainable landscaping such as really looking at plants that are less water intensive or maybe perhaps not even using plants. There are also landscapes that look beautiful without having green plants in them,” Tillisch told said.
Last month, the ministry said it will use new ways of water extraction, such as that of extracting water from humid air for the agriculture sector to lessen the burden on the water table and enhance food safety and sustainability.
The ministry is also holding regular awareness campaigns around the country such as the Environmental Wall of Knowledge to impress upon the youth and the general public on ways to use water more efficiently and conserve water. The campaigns reached over 23,000 people across the seven emirates, Mariam said.