Water to be more expensive than oil in Gulf countries soon
What is common between the Hollywood movies Erin Brockovich, Promised Land, Chinatown and A Civil Action? Years apart from each other, all these movies depict issues related to water in one way or the other.
The single biggest threat to global food security happens to be – no prizes for guessing – water scarcity. Water shortage is an alarming reality of modern times and the lack of water will prove to be crippling for global prosperity and political relations as well. And unless water wastage is completely eliminated, water reuse improved and the strain on water resources significantly reduced, the situation will only worsen.
Countries in the Gulf region have limited natural water resources. Water scarcity has led to very poor quality of life and low standard of living in countries in the Middle East. The UAE may be wealthy because of oil reserves and tourism, but is already facing a severe shortage of water. The living conditions in UAE are naturally difficult as a consequence of the harsh climate there, and the luxurious cities and lavish tourist destinations have further strained the water resources of the region substantially. There might be a time in the near future when water would cost more than oil in these countries.
Wastewater management issues like increasing volumes of and the need for better and constant services in the region have further multiplied because of the rapid development that UAE has witnessed in the past few decades and the resultant growth of tourist and transient populations. Countries like Oman and Jordan have made it to the ‘severely water scarce’ countries category. The region has the lowest renewable water resources per capita in the world. Wastewater treatment is very low, and usage of treated water is dismal.
For the past 30 years, the water table in the region has dropped by almost a meter a year, and UAE has numerous seawater desalination plants to supply safe, potable water to the region for various purposes. Only 7% of the water used in the UAE is treated water, 72% comes from groundwater while 21% comes from desalination.
There is a glaring wastage of water observed in the UAE – per capita water usage in the UAE is double that of global national per capita water usage and the UN listed the UAE among the highest ranking countries on the water stress charts, signifying that the availability of water is significantly inadequate to meet the demand for water there. Wastewater treatment is critical to manage the water stress in the country.
The UAE Water Security Strategy 2036, launched by the Ministry of Energy and Industry in 2017, is aimed at ensuring sustainable access to water in all conditions, and in accordance with local as well as WHO regulations. While the objectives of the strategy are stated as reduction in total demand for water resources by 21%, reduction in water scarcity index by 3 degrees, improving water productivity index to $110 per cubic meter, improving water storage capacity and increasing treated water usage to 95%, there is a lot that needs to be done to meet these objectives. Policy development, water conservation awareness among the masses, innovative use of resources and using advanced technology for water security will have to be combined with reduction in average per capita usage and adoption of sustainable practices.
The ever increasing need for water in the Gulf region has been met to a large extent by desalination of seawater, but there is a pressing need to shift to treated sewage water usage for industrial and landscaping/gardening purposes. The infrastructure also needs to be improved for efficient wastewater management and delivery. The UAE has the world’s highest per capita consumption of bottled water, and most of it is desalinated water. Seawater desalination is also expensive and a huge drain on resources, as it takes about 3 litres of water to make a litre of bottled water.
Desalinated water may meet the needs of the arid zones of the Middle East, but creates huge environmental and health problems. There are high levels of boron and bromide in the seawater used in desalination plants. The desalination process strips the water of essential minerals as well. Moreover, the concentrated salt that remains after desalination is dumped back into the sea, sending the ocean very high. Damage to indigenous wildlife and soil pollution in the vicinity of desalination plants are also the results of desalination, in addition to the energy cost of the process which increases the price of water. Better use of alternate forms of water and conservation of freshwater are critical for this region.
Misuse of water in landscaping and garden management is also rampant in the Gulf countries, and treated wastewater can be used for such purposes. It can also be used in the agricultural sector for irrigation purposes and in the industrial sector for purposes like cleaning machinery and equipment. It is important to ensure good quality of wastewater, as it has been experimentally proved that wastewater usage for irrigation increases crop production and also serves as a plant nutrient source.
It is imperative to shift to products that enhance the wastewater treatment process without depending on chemicals to make the water usable. After all, the chemicals used to treat water travel along with it, find their way to freshwater bodies and harm aquatic life as well as render the water unsuitable for consumption. Organic matter in wastewater decompose faster with products like Bioclean, a microbial bioremediation solution that works efficiently to treat effluent waters in the biological phase. Bioclean has bacteria that act rapidly on biodegradable matter and robust microbes that can withstand shock loads, while also improving stability of wastewater plant. Effective at degrading a broad spectrum of complex organic contaminants, Bioclean also removes odour from the treated water. Such products contain no chemicals and have colonies of microbes that work naturally to decompose the organic component in wastewater and make it fit for non-consumption uses, reducing the strain on freshwater reserves.
Clean water is the need for healthy human life, and faced with water shortage like in the present times, it is prudent to move to protocols that work in sync with nature to keep water bodies in good health. Only then will the future be as bright as we believe it should be.
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