Government Regulation Required to Tackle Water-Scarcity: Climate Conference in ECSSR Told

  • 15 October 2014

Sayed Aqa, UN Resident Representative and UNDP Resident Representative, in a key note address at the Climate Change conference in the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), said that in the U.A.E., the Government and leadership are working towards a more sustainable approach to climate change, water governance and management.

Unfortunately though, water scarcity is a reality in the U.A.E., he added, Government subsidies contribute to a lack of public awareness on cost and are among the challenges the leadership faces.

The key message, Mr Aqa added, is that the national and sub-national institutions need to work coherently with the Government in order to guarantee a water secure world. A common platform should be established for productive engagement of all actors, Mr Aqa advised. "Water is a strategic asset that requires a strategic approach," Aqa warned. The U.A.E. needs to focus on increasing water supply as well as promoting its efficient use and allocation, he concluded.

Conference participants today mostly discussed the significance of groundwater and fresh water, threats to their depletion, previous lack of water management in the U.A.E. and ways to increase access to potable water in the region.

Commenting on the Government’s policy, Dr Ahmed Ali Murad, Vice Dean and Assoc. Professor of Hydrogeology at the College of Science in U.A.E. University, informed the country aims to minimize the groundwater abstraction rate by 25-30% by 2030. The country is currently working with desalinated water and more research is required to discover alternative resources. The main challenge in the U.A.E., Dr Murad emphasized, is missing data in predicting climate change.

Lack of data on pollution of groundwater is also a major concern, highlighted Dr Peter Werner, the Director of National Water Center, U.A.E. University. Groundwater, he cautioned, is a ‘treasure’ and protection and prevention of pollution is the best possible solution to preventing a crisis. Cleaning groundwater, also called as remediation, is not only difficult but highly expensive and time consuming, Dr Werner explained. He suggested waste recycling, rather than dumping – a common practice here – should be encouraged and called for long term monitoring of pollution.

Dr. Khalil Ammar, Water Resources Management Scientist at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, U.A.E., warned by 2080, according to estimates, 43-50% of global population will be living in water-scarce countries. Groundwater resources in the U.A.E. are being depleted at an alarming rate, Dr Ammar added.

Prof. Hamed Assaf, Chair of Civil and Infrastructure Engineering Department at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, stated there is weak water governance in the region and no enforcement of laws that were already weak to begin with. He cited how inadequate drainage infrastructure contributed to the deaths caused in Jeddah in 2009. There is huge variability in the region and Qatar, U.A.E. and Bahrain are at the highest risk of facing a crisis of water availability. However, Prof. Assaf informed, Abu Dhabi is monitoring the groundwater as they want to develop a strategic aquifer storage as at present, there is only a strategic reserve of around two to seven days’ worth of water. Most importantly, Prof. Assaf suggested the U.A.E. should implement a similar policy to Jordan that has an environmental police force which controls abuse of the environment. He further recommended the U.A.E. should privatize water services but keep regulation within the Government.

Dr. Jamal S. Al Suwaidi, the Director General of the ECSSR, in his concluding remarks thanked the participants and the audience at the conference; extending his special gratitude to the team of the University of Maine for their valuable contribution toward making this conference a success. Dr. Al Suwaidi hoped the proceedings of the conference contributes positively towards decision- making in the country in order to tackle the impending water crisis.