Why Water Conservation Benefits Agriculture?

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For a country like UAE, there is an enormous continuous challenge of balancing water demand against supply, as it is located within the hyper-arid and arid climate zones of the Arabian Peninsula. The need for fresh water has increased with the remarkable economic development of the last thirty years and concomitant accelerating population growth, higher living standards, and expansion of the agricultural, forestry, and industrial sectors. The per capita water consumption is among the highest globally, creating an enormous strain on the water budget. Hence water conservation should be the prime focus.

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UAE initially met the burgeoning demand by pumping fresh but non-renewable groundwater. Consequently, one can see that the country’s aquifers have been depleted to great depths. This has led to the deterioration in water quality in many places. These scenarios have highlighted the need for water conservation.

Water Consumption in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is one the most water-scarce countries in the world. Additionally, it has one of the world’s highest per capita water consumption of 550 liters per day. The UAE is experiencing a rapid increase in population, resulting in the massive requirement for water. In 2009, UAE’s total water demand was about 4.5 billion cubic meters (BCM). underground water or groundwater (72%), desalinated water (21%), and retreated water (7%) contributed to it.

The consumption of water in UAE is primarily divided into three sectors:

  • Private households
  • Agriculture
  • Industries

There has been an enormous expansion of non-conventional water resources. This has been targeted to bridge the resulting supply gap, particularly desalinated water. However, this has important implications for both energy supplies and environmental protection.

Practical Challenges for Water in Agriculture

Inadequate policies, major institutional under-performance, and financing limitations constrain the ability to improve water management in agriculture. Critical public and private institutions (encompassing agricultural and water ministries, basin authorities, irrigation agencies, water users’ and farmer organizations) generally lack the enabling environment and necessary capacities to effectively carry out their functions.

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World Bank proposes a singular water approach on building resilient water services and sustaining water resources, while also managing risks related to broader social and economic water-related impacts. The approach includes  transforming governance and service provision as well as supporting watershed management and greening the sector. Moreover, the stakeholders can achieve itb by providing improved incentives for innovation, reforms, and accountability.

Water Conservation – Water Resources in UAE

UAE organizations operate around 70 desalination plants, representing about 14% of the total global capacity. The majority of these installations are in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (about 67%) whilst Dubai has around 18%, and Sharjah (10%) and the Northern Emirates (about 5%) having limited capacity.

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As with most aspects of water management in the UAE, the planning and managing of desalination projects is carried out at the Emirate level with little coordination either between them or with Federal  billion) for the year 2008. There is an argument that with coordinated planning, regulations and management, economic savings could be made particularly in capital expenditure where future plants could be designed to the same or better standards.

Water Conservation Steps for Private Household Sector

The private household sector accounts for about 24% of total water consumption in the UAE. The most significant contributor to water consumption is the use of air conditioning systems that are widespread because of high temperatures almost throughout the year. An air-conditioning system consumes vast amounts of energy and uses a large quantity of water via chilled water pumps.

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Additionally, the UAE has the world’s highest per capita consumption of bottled water of 285 litres per year. The desalinated water fills the bottles, which costs approximately 11.8 billion AED annually. Additionally, it takes around 3 litres of water to make 1 litre of bottled water.

Water misuse is another critical factor in the slow progress of water management initiatives. One typical example of misuse is landscape or garden irrigation through spray irrigation which consumes about 12 to 15 liters of water per square meter daily. Some of the urgent steps for promoting water conservation in private households include:

  • Mass awareness on water conservation measures.
  • Introduction of new tariff system based on a water meter.
  • Introduction of new methods such as subsurface drip irrigation.
  • Supply of safe drinking water through taps

Water Conservation Steps for Agricultural Sector

The agricultural sector is responsible for two-thirds of all water consumption in the Emirates. The rapid population has led to a surge in food demand, which has resulted in additional stress on water resources. One of the most significant contributors to water wastage is low irrigation efficiency. As mentioned earlier, it takes about 12-15 litres to water to irrigate one square meter of land daily. About 30 percent of which is lost to evaporation when we use traditional irrigation methods, such as spray irrigation.

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The United Arab Emirates has taken crucial steps to battle this crisis. The government has introduced new and more efficient irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation, which uses 35% less water than traditional systems. The country is seriously implementing a few of these water conservation tips to overcome the shortfall.

The country has also moved away from water-intensive crops and experimented with wastewater for irrigation. A change to more minor water-intensive crops coupled with a change in irrigation techniques would dramatically decrease the water used in this sector.

Spray irrigation has higher efficiency than traditional methods.

The strategy for conserving water resources in UAE aims to achieve the following objectives:
1. Provide an updated and integrated assessment of UAE’s water resources and their use;
2. Provide an understanding of what governs water demand, allocation and use;
3. Identify the options to improve the efficiency of water allocation and use, reduce costs and improve the
environment;
4. Make recommendations to strengthen Federal policy, laws and capacity to comprehensively oversee sound
water resources management and use; and
5. Enhance water security and protect surface water and groundwater resources, marine, and the environment

Water Conservation Steps for Industrial Sector

Industries consume about 9 percent of all water consumption in the UAE. Industries use water  to cool and clean impurities from machinery. This water gets  transformed into a runoff. This leads to pollution in nearby environments. 

The government has taken steps to utilize industrial wastewater. In Abu Dhabi, 600 million cubic meters of treated wastewater are produced a year.  A portion of it can be used for irrigation. If the country moves forward, industrial sewage will need to play a more prominent role in all three sectors.

Water Conservation – The Way Forward

A variety of measures can improve water management in the United Arab Emirates. The government has made sufficient arrangements to supply clean and drinkable tap water from desalination plants. However, on its journey to households, the water gets contaminated in two different ways: 

The first way is through old and rusted pipes. Water flowing through aging pipelines would become contaminated with bacteria, making it undrinkable. The second way is through contamination in the storage tanks. Dead birds, insects, rats, and metals in storage tanks can make water  harmful for consumption.  The nature’s water cycle process can also be an important factor.

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When the property owner does not get the cleaning of the storage tank, one ends up in this situation. Storage tanks should be cleaned approximately once in every six months. Since there is no law enforcing storage tank cleaning, most landlords are not too keen to spend money on it or forget to clean them.

To resolve this problem, the UAE government should consider the following:

  • Replacement of old pipelines to prevent and stop water contamination.
  • Enact and enforce a law requiring landlords to clean storage tanks at pre-scheduled intervals.
  • Hire professionals to assist in the cleaning of tanks.
  • Hire experts to carry out surprise inspections and impose penalties on defaulters.
  • Incentivize people to use tap water by increasing bottled water prices.
  • Educate people about the benefits of consuming tap water.
  • Water partnerships at local, regional, and global levels.

Water Conservation – Drip Irrigation

Although drip irrigation has been introduced to conserve water in the UAE, its widespread use is yet to pick up. The government of UAE must make drip irrigation mandatory for farm owners to save up to 8 liters of water per square meter daily. The experts have suggested the following initiatives required on the government’s part to promote drip irrigation in the Emirates.

  • Motivate farmers to install drip irrigation systems.
  • Provide an adequate subsidy to promote the installation of the drip irrigation systems.
  • Teach farmers by conducting workshops on operating and maintaining drip irrigation systems.
  • Increase the awareness amongst farmers and the general public about the long-term effects of water scarcity on agriculture.

In the UAE, we are staring at a scenario where water might become more expensive than oil one day. So, one cannot ignore the big crisis that is looming ahead. The United Arab Emirates is not only one of the largest consumers of water per capita globally. Additionally, it is one of the most water-scarce countries. Water management is essential due to the growing industrialization, increasing population, and fast depleting natural water resources.

The most formidable challenge for the UAE is not finding different water sources but minimizing water losses and decreasing demand. There are 100,000 hectares of cultivated land in the UAE, and we can save vast amounts of water by using basic water conservation measures. Implementing effective policies/legislation and public support is key to the success of water conservation programs in the country.

Help Conserve The UAE’s Water

Many causes are close to our hearts, but for the time being, we will focus on the one major local and worldwide issue that we can actively contribute towards – water conservation in the UAE.  As a significant consumer of water, agricultural practices affect the cleanliness and availability of regional water supplies. Additionally, they also affect the ecosystems, towns, and individuals which depend on them. Evaluation of the demand for water resources can provide valuable insight into the delicate balance between water availability and use of water.

Agricultural irrigation includes water used before, during, and after growing seasons to suppress dust, prepare fields, apply chemicals, control weeds, remove salt from root zones, protect crops from frost and heat, and harvest crops. Agricultural practices use water throughout the year and depends on many factors, such as weather patterns, crop type, evolving technologies, other land uses within the watershed, and practices, and cost. The variability of agricultural water use may continue as weather and climate patterns shift, thus changing water availability and demand in some areas.

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