It is human nature to take for granted the things that are readily available. When water can be obtained simply by turning on a tap in a household kitchen or bathroom, it is not surprising that we sometimes forget about the essential role it plays in our lives. We also forget that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world without ready access to fresh drinking water, and about 3.4 million each year who die from thirst or diseases spread by unclean water.
That is why projects such as the UAE Water Aid initiative – launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai – are so important. The project aims to bring potable water to five million people in some of the world’s poorest areas. However, it is also important to remember that the convenience of drinkable tap water was not always ours to enjoy.
Abdulaziz Al Qassab, who grew up in Dubai in the 1950s, recalled last week how he spent his teenage years as a water bearer, making a return trip of 16 kilometres on foot to fetch water from a well for his personal use and to sell at a modest price to his neighbours. In an interview with The National, Mr Al Qassab stressed the need for us all to love and look after our country.
To do that, we must conserve our own supplies of water. Much of our drinking water comes from the sea and is desalinated at considerable expense. The UAE has one of the world’s highest per capita water consumptions, but because utility bills are subsidised, many people do not appreciate the true cost of the water they use.
As we support projects to help others, we should remain aware that continued water supply is not guaranteed anywhere, and we must conserve what we have. Valuable projects are already underway, including a commitment by Abu Dhabi emirate to use treated "grey" water for agricultural purposes, such as watering roadside verges, rather than release it into the sea. But there is still a great deal of wastage.
Each one of us needs to learn to be water wise, by using only what we need, taking shorter showers, fixing leaking plumbing, and hosing gardens in the evening rather than in the heat of the day, when water will evaporate before it soaks into the soil. Simple measures such as these will reduce overall consumption and increase appreciation of the most valuable resource of them all.