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UAE initiatives to solve water issues domestically and in impoverished nations


A look at the different successes of UAE water aid initiatives

July 16, 2014 3:04 by

By Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem, executive chairman of the DMCC

As populations grow and water sources dwindle, the UAE implements initiatives to provide and conserve water both domestically and in impoverished nations.

As the saying goes: “A man can go for a month without food, but will only last a few days without water.” Historically, cities have developed and flourished around areas where water is abundant. Water is increasingly becoming a subject of great concern: population growth and the depletion of clean water supply are causing conflicts and raising concerns about the future survival of the Earth’s population.

The United Nations General Assembly recognised access to water and sanitation as a human right in July 2010: “The United Nations General Assembly recognised the right of every human being to have access to sufficient water for personal and domestic uses (between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day), which must be safe, acceptable and affordable (water costs should not exceed three per cent of the household income), and physically accessible (water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes).

In addition to direct human consumption, water plays a vital role in the issue of food security; all crops rely on regular access to water in order to grow and feed the world.

To paint a clearer picture of how water impacts human life, according to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 reveals: 783 million people, or 11 per cent of the global population, remain without access to an improved source of drinking water, every 21 seconds a child dies because of this, and 443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related illness. These issues are mainly concentrated in water-deprived regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 40 per cent of the population lives without improved drinking water. For the time being, the water crisis is not an issue of scarcity, but of access.

The UAE, as a nation, has experienced firsthand the challenges and benefits from access to water. At a certain point in time, water was the main source of wealth; whoever had a well (access to groundwater) had the luxury and pleasure of farming and selling this water to others. To date, 72 per cent of water used in the UAE is groundwater. It is only natural that the nation should take a leadership position in supporting the resolution of water conservation globally.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched the Water Aid humanitarian campaign (Suqia – @UAEWaterAid) on the first day of the Holy Month of Ramadan. The UAE Water Aid campaign aims to provide access to fresh drinking water for five million people across the world that suffer from a shortage of potable water. The campaign involved all segments of society and achieved 72 per cent of its goal in the first week, 97 per cent has already been accomplished at the time of submitting this article on July 13. It’s worth noting that even the children of the UAE were able to relate to this campaign. Three-year-old Hind Mohammed Rashid Ghadeer has become the youngest Emirati child to make a generous donation of AED500,000 to the campaign.

At the DMCC, we have taken the opportunity to support this initiative through a donation of AED2 million to ‘UAE Suqia’. After receiving an Etisalat SMS requesting a donation, I decided to personally donate AED 300,000 for this noble and humanitarian cause.

The UAE has been involved in foreign aid of water since at least 2009 and in that time, more than one billion dirhams worth of aid has been disbursed around the world to countries ranging from the Philippines to Haiti. In total, over 60 nations have been recipients of UAE water aid (according to the Ministry of Cooperation and International Development). Projects supported by the UAE are not only aimed at providing water in depleted areas but also at improving quality of life and reducing water related illnesses and conflicts globally. Reduction in times for water collection can lead to higher enrolment rates for children in schools; improved water resources can lead to improved sanitation and lower the spread of infectious diseases through a population. In Sudan, the UAE helped fund the Merowe Dam, which provides power and irrigation to the country.

The long-term solutions to this problem are still in need of serious attention. Countries and private enterprises spend billions in oil and gas pipelines that stretch across countries to deliver these valuable commodities to their destination, yet, it seems like water lacks the necessary incentives to encourage these kinds of projects in spite of its value to life. Water pumps can access underground water, desalination plants can give access to salt water from the oceans and water pipelines can transport water from areas of abundance to areas where it is scarce. Though expensive, these solutions have proven viable as a means to provide access to clean water that could increase our reserves and eliminate water scarcity globally.

In countries like the UAE, water scarcity is a problem that is being addressed through conservation and sustainable use initiatives. According to the Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA), better conservation practices can result in 14-17 percent savings in water and energy consumption. One strategy, which is being adopted across the UAE and has already been implemented by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, is to provide a mobile application that allows consumers to regularly track their water consumption. According to research, savings of up to 15 per cent of consumption can be achieved this way. In Fujairah, Wadi Wurayah National Park (WWNP) has become home to the region’s first water research centre, where volunteers and students can take part in environmental and conservation activities. Sharjah was also praised recently in an article published by The Economist which highlighted the emirate’s water conservation practices have brought down per capita consumption levels to the UN recommended level of around 200 litres per person per day.

According to the UN’s water programme, by 2025, two thirds of the world’s population will be living under water-stressed conditions. Of the 22 countries in the Arab region, eight have the lowest water availability per capita in the word. I hope that the UAE’s initiative plays a role in raising global awareness about this issue and the need for permanent solutions that will eradicate water conflicts globally. Personally, and as part of DMCC, I am proud of being able to contribute to such a valuable cause and encourage all to support the UAE’s efforts for Water Aid.

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