Thousands of Abu Dhabi buildings face cuts in water usage

More than 60,000 buildings in Abu Dhabi will be fitted with a conservation apparatus to curb consumers' use.

People living in the UAE have one of the highest per-capita water-consumption rates in the world.
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ABU DHABI // More than 60,000 homes, schools, mosques and other buildings in the emirate are to be fitted with special devices that cut water flow by a third as part of a national conservation campaign launched yesterday.

The Dh13 million (US$3.5 million) plan to install devices in 55,000 households and 5,000 public buildings in Abu Dhabi by the end of the year is part of the second phase of the Heroes of the UAE campaign. The joint effort from Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) and Emirates Wildlife Society-World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF) follows an energy-conservation plan started last year. The water-conservation plan also includes a Dh7m national awareness campaign.

The UAE has almost no renewable water resources but people living here have one of the highest per-capita water-consumption rates in the world. According to the EAD, each resident uses an average of 550 litres of water per day. In comparison, people living in Jordan consume 85 litres while in the US and Canada, countries with far greater water resources, residents use 485 and 425 litres, respectively.

"The growth of the UAE has led to increased stress on natural resources, including water," said Dr Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, the Minister of Environment and Water, at yesterday's launch. It was also revealed that the ministry has commissioned the Dubai-based International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture to prepare a report on the state of the country's water resources and each emirate's capacity to manage them.

The document could form a draft of the first federal policy on managing water resources, and is expected to be finished by July. The UAE since the 1960s has relied on the energy-intensive process of desalinating seawater to meet its needs. "Desalinated water has an impact on the environment," said Dr bin Fahad. "This is demonstrated by our large carbon footprint." The plan to retrofit 60,000 homes and public buildings with water-saving devices "is a dramatic change which will affect the whole water cycle," said Dr Mohammed Dawoud, the manager of the water-resources department at the EAD.

Besides conserving expensive desalinated water at the tap, the plan will conserve energy and cut costs in treating the reduced flow that comes out of the buildings. More than 300 mosques have already been fitted with the devices, which can cut the flow of water from 12 litres per minute to three litres per minute. Hundreds more have been installed in taps, showers and toilet sprays at the Industrial City of Abu Dhabi labour accommodation in Musaffah.

But infrastructure improvements alone will not be enough to reduce the country's thirst for expensive desalinated water, said Razan al Mubarak, managing director of EWS-WWF. "We really do need collaboration from all members of society," Ms al Mubarak said. Of the 550 litres per person per day used in Abu Dhabi, almost half is wasted. That water can be saved, she said, just by turning off the tap while shaving or brushing teeth; washing cars with a bucket and sponge and not a hose; and taking showers rather than baths.

The 550-litre-per-capita figure accounts for just 40 per cent of Abu Dhabi's water use; it would be much higher if it included what is used in agriculture and landscaping, said Majid al Mansouri, the EAD's secretary general.