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Time for a change

Governments have to make wasteful water consumption prohibitive

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Fountain displays can be run with recycled wastewater, saving vast amounts of potable water.
Fountain displays can be run with recycled wastewater, saving vast amounts of potable water.

Water and power are the bread and butter topics of Utilities Middle East. After water had received relatively little coverage over the last few months, page after page of the August edition is dedicated to the issue of water conservation.

A timely topic. As we swelter in the summer heat, we spent little thought on this most precious commodity. But maybe we should. The GCC is the biggest per capita consumer of water, with the average Abu Dhabi resident using a record 550 liters per day, three times the world average.

In a country were 100 percent of potable water comes from desalination, this represents no insignificant cost to the government. Producing a cubic meter of desalinated water in the UAE is estimated is to cost 3.76 dirham, and this expense is not passed down to consumers in full, as water and power in the region is subsidised.

Money apart, desalination is a significant drain on power resources, at a time when utilities are engaged in a constant struggle to satisfy ever growing energy needs. What’s more, it is a big contributor to the carbon footprint of the region.

A nascent but growing environmental consciousness, and the realisation by governments that their resources are stretched, has now set the wheels of change in motion.

And it is surprising how easy a saving can be had. Abu Dhabi, the worst culprit, has launched a remarkable campaign to install simple water saving devices in the taps of households in one of the city’s districts.

Over the next three to five years, the programme is to be rolled out across the entire emirate, with the government providing the devices and paying for the installation.

It is hoped that this will reduce domestic water consumption by thirty percent, at negligible cost, as one such device costs less than two dollars.

Abu Dhabi has also made inroads on the regulation side, mandating a green standard for new buildings. All this is encouraging. There is, however, still a real hesitancy amongst governments in the region to compel its citizens to save water.

While trying to change consumption patterns by running awareness campaigns, they shy away from enforcing change by raising water tariffs, or imposing regulation. Yet most experts see more prohibitive tariffs, and more stringent building standards, as vital to reduce consumption.

This hesitancy is rooted in the desire by local rulers to provide a generous living, in return for the loyalty of its subjects. This age-old social agreement has been working well, so far.

But the region is now confronted with modern agendas such as environmentalism, while industrialisation and population growth make generous subsidies of power and water increasingly unfeasible.

It is time governments embraced change, and take the
necessary steps to ensure a sustainable future.

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