Historical Water Management Techniques and Sustainable Legacy Drive Sector Today
Abu Dhabi, UAE, April 15, 2015 – HE Dr. Thani Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Permanent Representative of the UAE to IRENA and Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of Energy and Climate Change, joined representatives from fellow GCC states at a ministerial roundtable discussion on culture, education and capacity development in the water sector at the 7th World Water Forum in the Republic of Korea.
Dr. Al Zeyoudi presented historical examples of water management in the UAE and how the historic practices have shaped initiatives today. The Director set the stage for discussion with a comprehensive context of water scarcity in the UAE, one of the most arid nations in the world challenged by water scarcity since inhabitation and today, faced with vast economic growth, booming industry, and a rapidly increasing population. Dr Al Zeyoudi highlighted that the growing demand for water is being met with educational and community initiatives based on the country’s legacy of sustainability.
Dr Al Zeyoudi remarked: “Water conservation is embedded into the UAE’s local culture in our attempt to survive in this harsh environment. A number of water resource management practices have been adopted by our ancestors for centuries. This includes the development and protection of “Tawi” wells and the traditional efficient water irrigation systems known as the “falaj” system, which has been applied since the Bronze Age. The late President of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was a visionary on environmental sustainability, implemented a water quota system known as “Al Bada” to ensure fair access and sharing of the falaj water to the inhabitants.”
During the roundtable, Dr Al Zeyoudi proceeded to delineate the state of water demand in the UAE, emphasising that demand for potable water is projected to double by 2030, domestic agriculture production usurps 60% of water needs, and that desalination, the primary source of drinking water in the country, stands as an energy-intensive and costly means of producing clean water. The Director noted that demand and linkages of the water-energy-food nexus underpin educational initiatives and capacity building in the sector.
In his address, Dr Al Zeyoudi focused on the role of raising awareness amongst the youth in the Emirates as an impetus for change, recognizing the ‘Sustainable Schools Initiative’ launched in 2009 as a driver for awareness and change of consumption habits.
Dr Al Zeyoudi proceeded to discuss capacity development initiatives fostered in the public and private sectors, including targeted campaigns to farmers regarding alternatives to water-intensive irrigation systems, the phasing-out of Rhodes grass which is a highly water-intensive feed crop, the adoption of policy frameworks such as the Water Conservation Strategy which promotes the enhancement of the water infrastructure and efficiency and the Green Growth Strategy. The Director also highlighted the UAE’s green building codes and landscaping codes as contributors to reduced water consumption. Yet, Dr Al Zeyoudi emphasised that the public and private sector initiatives would not come to fruition bar adequate investment in education and training programmes.
“All these efforts cannot happen without appropriate training programmes to increase the capacity of the water sector and research on innovative and sustainable solutions. Masdar Institute, among others, is an example of a leading UAE graduate-level institution where students are trained to address water related challenges utilising environmental engineering and science skills in a multi-disciplinary fashion.”
In closing, Dr Al Zeyoudi commented, “2015 is a critical year for the coming decades; In September, we will adopt a global sustainable development agenda including a set of goals and targets, and in December, we will agree to a new climate change agreement.”
Managed by the World Water Council, the World Water Forum brings together government leaders, decision makers, scientific experts spanning public and private sectors, academia and industry to drive international discussions on global water challenges.
The UAE delegation to the 7th World Water Forum, organised by Masdar, includes representatives from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Environment and Water, Federal Electricity and Water Authority, Executive Affairs Authority, National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Regulation and Supervision Bureau, Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority and the United Arab Emirates University.