The best charity you can give, the Islamic parable goes, is to quench someone’s thirst. The UAE Water Aid Campaign, for which fund-raising culminated last night, will provide just that to more than seven million people who do not have adequate access to uncontaminated water because they live in impoverished conditions.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, personally ensured a million extra people would get secure water supplies by donating Dh25 million on behalf of the people of the UAE. His contribution to the Suqia – from the Arabic word for "providing water to drink" – project saw the total contribution nearing Dh200m, far in excess of its target of Dh125m. Work has already begun using the money raised and by the time Ramadan ends, 600 wells in several African countries will have been drilled. Thousands more will follow.
The worthiness of the campaign’s focus on providing safe and reliable water supplies stands on its own merit. Nothing that can be done for people trying to break out of poverty will benefit them if they cannot be sure of their water supply.
But in keeping with the theory that charity benefits both the giver and the receiver, there is also an important message to the UAE in the choice of water security for this year’s Ramadan charity. Those living in the Emirates do not have to worry about water security, but the issue – and specifically the way water is used here – deserves greater scrutiny.
The UAE’s water security comes at a high cost because the paucity of natural supplies means drinkable water has to be created through desalination. Partly because this process is subsidised to the point where costs are inconsequential to most people, water is a resource that is underappreciated and too often wasted. The millions of beneficiaries of the Suqia campaign already know full well the value of water.
Emiratis of a certain generation know it too. In The National’s supplement today there is a telling quote from Sheikh Zayed: “We pay the utmost care and attention to our environment,” he said, “for it is an integral part of our country, our history and our heritage.”
By quenching the thirst of millions and finding solutions to ensure water security, this charity benefits us all, and reminds us that we have not forgotten the lessons of the past, the lessons of the value of the simplest things.