Groundwater, largely a non-renewable resource, is currently relied on for a number of needs in Abu Dhabi, including agricultural and forestry. It is also conserved as a strategic reserve of fresh drinking water.
Today, the supply of groundwater is facing increasing pressures. As the government authority mandated with the protection of the environment in the Emirate, one of EAD’s priorities is to conserve Abu Dhabi’s groundwater resources to help ensure the protection of this strategic resource.
This water scarcity issue has been recognised as a significant global risk by the World Economic Forum. For their Global Risk Report, experts and industrial leaders help to rank the top 50 global risks based on impact and likelihood. The risk of a �water supply crisis’ was ranked 2nd in terms of impact and 5th in terms of likelihood. The risk of a �food shortage crisis’ was also ranked the 3rd largest risk in terms of impact, reflecting the close association between water and food security .
Speaking at the IWS, Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of EAD, reiterated that Abu Dhabi has reached a “tipping point” in its groundwater usage. On January 18 2012, His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, launched the International Water Summit as part of a sustainability vision aimed at ensuring the welfare of the UAE – and the world. His statement, “Water is more important than oil for the UAE”, was a bold and clear signal that an economy historically based on oil is now placing water at the top of its agenda.
Al Mubarak states: “The current rate of groundwater abstraction and use is unsustainable. Most of our groundwater does not replenish: when it’s gone, it’s gone forever. We have set a target that, by the year 2030, we will substantially extend the lifespan of our remaining usable groundwater supplies. To achieve this goal, we need to work very closely with our partners and in particular with the agricultural sector, to prioritise where and how we allocate water and to be efficient with every drop.” However, EAD recognises that this target is just a stepping stone, and not the final solution. “Our vision is to ensure the continuous availability of useable groundwater to guarantee our water security, contribute to our agriculture, food and industrial production and support the integrity of our ecosystems,” she added.
In order to achieve this vision, EAD is suggesting the adoption of three guiding principles: 1. All activities, existing and future, should be as water efficient as possible.
2. Agriculture and other activities reliant on water should be located in an areas that have long term and sustainable sources of water, whether groundwater or recycled water.
3. When allocating water for irrigation and where the infrastructure exists, or where it makes economic sense to develop the infrastructure, recycled water will be allocated first, then desalinated water and finally groundwater.
Government entities are already implementing new solutions to minimise water use in the agriculture sector and public spaces. In the UAE during 2012, the area of soil-less agricultural production increased by 12% thanks to glasshouses and the use of hydroponics. In Abu Dhabi, there are already a number of pilot farms trialling more water-efficient irrigation techniques, including subsurface irrigation. “By using the results of our comprehensive soil survey for the UAE, we now know where the best agricultural soils are. We will combine this with our knowledge of water availability to work with our partners to optimise the crop yield for each drop of water used,” Al Mubarak said.
Al Mubarak has confirmed that over the next year, EAD will be working with partners to develop and implement a new action plan for groundwater management. This will include actions such as: – Revision of Law No. (6) of 2006 – Further developing our monitoring and modeling capability for groundwater in Abu Dhabi – Focusing on water efficiency in the forestry sector “We recognise that only with stakeholder collaboration can we achieve our goal. We will work with our partners to further increase efforts to mitigate the issue of groundwater scarcity, and aim to work towards achieving a balance between developmental pressures and sustainability requirements,” she concluded.