All water supply to come under federal control

A UAE law transferring the management of the resource from each emirate is under review, the Ministry of Environment and Water says.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - APRIL 17:  People walk past water sprinklers in The Greens area of Dubai on April 17, 2009.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National)  For Stock-water usage/water waste and/or green space in the city-people relaxing, people walking.
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DUBAI // The country's water is to fall under the control of the Federal Government. A law transferring the management of the resource from each emirate is under legal review, the Ministry of Environment and Water said yesterday. The move is aimed at improving efficiency and planning, which have often been lacking under splintered control.

Dr Rashid bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, could not say when the law would be enacted, nor what it contained. However, he confirmed it would put his ministry in charge of water management. "The law will lay out the legal mechanism for management and use of water resources across the whole country and for all resources of water," said Dr bin Fahad. Even within emirates, the responsibility for managing water resources is not clear cut.

Different authorities can have a say in the process, and often contradict one another. Apart from Abu Dhabi, which has an independent authority to regulate desalination, water and electricity authorities also provide the service, potentially leading to conflict. "This is why we need this law," said Dr bin Fahad. "Water is a resource belonging to the whole country. "We are emphasising the need for water security. It is not only about the availability of [water] supply, there are also environmental issues."

The law was being reviewed by a committee that included Ministry of Justice officials and representatives from each of the seven emirates, said Dr Mohammed Mustafa al Mulla, the Deputy Minister of Water and Soil Affairs. After the review, the draft must be approved by the Cabinet and the FNC before being passed by the President's Office. "We are still working on it," said Dr al Mulla. "It is a long journey."

The UAE is one of the poorest countries in terms of the availability of fresh water, but has one of the highest rates of consumption per person. While the new regulation was expected to help improve that record, the law could run into opposition from some emirates, said Dr Shawki Barghouti, the director general of the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai. "The question becomes how to get all emirates to subscribe to it," he said.

Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting at the ministry to celebrate Arab Water Day, Dr Barghouti said that the issue was a sensitive one that would require "certain careful political negotiation". The UAE relies on desalination for 98 per cent of its water needs. The country's 30 plants have a combined capacity of 1.3 billion cubic metres per year. The process is heavily subsidised by the Government and requires large amounts of energy, taking its toll on the environment.

Besides an enlarged carbon footprint, the plants have a negative impact on the marine environment through thermal and chemical pollution, according to environmentalists. Dr Barghouti said decision makers should also look at the reduced flow of fresh water into the Arabian Gulf due to the building of dams along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Although the decision to build the dams is outside of the remit of Gulf governments - with Turkey, Iran and Syria behind the projects - they were having a large impact on the Gulf, he said.

"The reduction of sweet water has an impact on marine life, water quality and the circular movement of water in the Gulf," said Dr Barghouti. It required "careful monitoring of water quality and strong co-operation among the Gulf countries" as well as "improvements in desalination regulation", said Dr Barghouti. Finding solutions to the issue "will not be that easy", he added.