Qatar's water fines set example

An environmental group highlights Qatar's fining of a family for wasting water as an example to the UAE.

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An environmental group has highlighted Qatar's fining of a family for wasting water as an example of what the UAE should be doing. Earlier this week, the Doha family was fined 10,000 riyals (US$2,700) under a new law after inspectors discovered water flowing from their home onto the street. The Emirates Environment Group (EEG) said a similar law here could cut consumption in the Emirates, where people use an average of 550 litres of water per day, one of the highest consumption rates in the world.

"The measures being undertaken by Qatar authorities are justified and should be replicated here in the UAE," said Habiba al Marashi, chairwoman of the group. "However, the Government should allow the public to adjust for a certain period of time before imposing the full force of the law. The law should also be accompanied by an education programme and an extensive social preparation." She added: "Although I am a strong believer in voluntary initiatives to address environmental challenges in the country, I believe that strong regulations are needed at this stage to address the urgent need to conserve water and energy."

Anyone caught in Qatar wasting potable water can be fined up to 10,000 riyals. This includes using fresh water to wash vehicles or public areas. Those responsible for water leaks are also liable. "This is a good idea. It can be applied and it will have an impact on UAE water use," said Dr Mohammed Dawoud, manager of the water resources department at the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD). However, he does not believe people would accept such a move yet, and said the agency was not considering such fines.

Currently, water in the UAE is unmetered for Emiratis, and many pay nothing for it. Expatriates pay for their water but the rate is subsidised. Much of the drinking water in the UAE comes from desalination, a costly and energy-intensive means of turning salt water into fresh water. The Ministry of Environment and Water is in the process of drafting a water law that will have a chapter on conservation.

Dr Shawki Barghouti, the director general of the International Centre for Biosaline Agricultre (ICBA), said the law could only go so far as enforcement would be left in the hands of local authorities. "The UAE is wasting so much water because for many consumers water is not priced," he said. "It [producing desalinated water] is being financed by the Government ... the full price is not applied to all consumers. There is no shortage of ideas, but you need implementation and enforcement."

In Abu Dhabi, the EAD has set a target to reduce water usage by more than 30 per cent to 350 litres per person per day. It is also working with the ICBA on a master plan that will assess the emirate's water needs until 2025. Earlier this year, Dubai introduced a sliding scale tariff, raising prices for those who consume the most water. Sharjah and other emirates have followed. Rates in Abu Dhabi remain fixed.

The EEG is a Dubai-based, non-government organisation launched in 1991 to help protect the environment.