ABU DHABI // The UAE has one of the world's most efficient water-supply networks, losing only 10 per cent to leaks, so the focus for preserving the precious resource has to be on consumers.
And with demand for water continuing to grow, Abu Dhabi's nine power and water plants, which between them can produce 4.1 billion litres of water a day, are near full capacity.
"There's been a large growth in demand and the main challenge we face now is to meet this large growth," said Mohammad Al Hajjiri, head of water forecasts at Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company.
"In the last 50 years we started living a lifestyle of people who have a lot of water.
"This lifestyle was imported from western countries."
Mr Al Hajjiri was speaking at the International Water Summit that continued yesterday at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Despite growing pressure on supplies worldwide, many countries still lose a third or more of their water to leaks.
Japan loses up to 40 per cent while Jordan loses at least half.
"Forty per cent of the global drinking water is lost because of this," said Diego Lucente, senior water projects manager at Suez Environment.
"In developed countries, we lose [45 billion litres] of water a day in terms of leakage."
In that context, Abu Dhabi's 10 per cent leakage is in the top tier. The problem now lies with consumers.
"It's not just about using technology to reduce your losses, it's about lifestyle changes," said Bob Taylor, the business development director at Sembcorp, a UK utilities services company.
The World Health Organisation says a good standard of living can be maintained with 160 litres of water a day a person. In warmer countries such as the UAE, 180 litres is considered the maximum needed.
"We're using much more," said Mr Al Hajjiri. "Abu Dhabi has one of the highest consumption rates in the world. We live in nice standards so if you want to reduce it, you have to change your lifestyle."
The UAE's water use is estimated at 350 litres a person a day.
Mr Al Hajjiri said the Government was embarking on campaigns to reduce household use.
Bills are colour-coded to indicate whether a family is using more or less water and electricity than the norm.
"The bill tells you the actual cost of water and electricity versus what you are paying and you pay less than a third of the amount," he said.
But he is optimistic that the situation will change.
"My grandfather used to live on 20 litres a day," Mr Al Hajjiri said.
"Now we live on [much more] but we have to keep those habits that were suitable to this part of the world.
"There's a high rate of consumption that needs to be addressed."