Drought of support for water degrees

Three universities in the UAE offer Master's degrees in water resource management, but they require more support to find solutions.

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DUBAI //Universities say they need more support from the public and private sectors to devise solutions for the nation's water shortage.

Heriot-Watt University in Dubai launched the emirate's first degree in water resources last September, but has since enrolled only two students in the master's course.

No one has signed up for its postgraduate diploma or certificate-level water resource courses.

"We took it for granted that once we said we had the course people would sign up, but I think we need to make people more aware of the issues relating to water," said Dr Olisanwendu Ogwuda, the head of the school of built environment.

The situation has been just as challenging in the capital, where master's degrees in water resources are offered at the Masdar Institute and UAE University (UAEU).

Masdar launched its course in 2009, and although it has 13 students and nine graduates, it has not received funding for research.

Projects such as low-energy water-treatment processes and thermal desalination have been funded internally.

Dr Farrukh Ahmad, the associate professor for water and environmental engineering at Masdar, hopes that, over time, funding will be available.

"It's an ongoing challenge to raise awareness and engage financial support," Dr Ahmad said. "We hope in time there will be more engagement with local agencies. They have an urgent need."

The UAE relies on desalination for more than 90 per cent of its water, which is expensive, vulnerable to sea pollution and adds to the country's carbon footprint because of the amount of energy required.

In October 2010, the Government said a national plan was needed to increase the amount of water held in reservoirs.

The year before, the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi warned the capital was using its underground water resources 24 times more quickly than they could be replenished, and if nothing was done they would be exhausted within 50 years.

At UAEU, links with the Government have made the course a success. Reyadh Al Mehaideb, the dean of the faculty of engineering, started the institution's master's degree in water resources in 1999.

Since then about 50 graduates, mainly seconded from government departments have taken their new skills into the field.

"These young people are the ones who will make a difference in their work places," Mr Al Mehaideb said.

"Now it's a partnership, not just something left to the universities - it's a case of government, industry and academia working together."

But at Heriot-Watt, there has been no co-operation with local government entities to tackle the problem.

"If we're going to make any inroads, the governments of this region have to buy into what we're offering," said Dr Ogwuda.