Eye on Earth, Abu Dhabi – 14 December 2011

AFED Secretary General Najib Saab moderated a main session during the Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi. Participating in the session, titled “Water Security: Knowing What We Need To Know”, was Dr. Asma Al Kasmi, Director of the Arab Water Academy and AFED board of trustees member.

After highlighting the current water situation in the Arab region, Saab presented a summary of the solutions suggested in AFED’s latest report on Green Economy. Kasmi stressed the importance of training and capacity building in the water sector, saying that lack of knowledge and skills was the main deterrent to implementing sustainable water policies.

The summit was hosted by Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Below are remarks by Najib Saab (moderator of the session):

The topic of our session is: Water Security; Knowing What We Need to Know.

And, believe me, we need to know a lot.

The report on Arab water, which my organization, the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), produced in 2010, showed that as early as 2015, not 2025 as previously thought, the average per capita share of renewable fresh water in the Arab region will fall below 500 cubic meters per year, which amounts to severe water scarcity.

In 2015, three years from now, this will be 26 cubic meters in the UAE and 5 in Kuwait. Those are the limitations of nature. The quantity of water on earth remained the same since the age of dinosaurs. It is expected to still become less in this region with the effects of climate change, while population continues to multiply. The option left for many countries is to fill the gap by desalinating sea water, using highly expensive and often polluting methods.

Still, the quantity of water exploited for personal use in a country like Kuwait is the highest in the world, exceeding 500 liters per person per day.

Still, golf courses flourish in some of the driest countries of the region, with each golf course consuming water which can support the survival of 16,000 people.

Still, dairy products are being produced using feed irrigated by fossil groundwater, with one dry country in the region on top of dairy exporters. We need to know that every one liter of milk requires 1,000 liters of water. We certainly need to know that it is not sustainable to export fossil water.

We need to know that while agriculture consumes almost 85% of the water in the Arab region, irrigation efficiency is just 30%. Loss is 70%.

We need to know that, other than in rare examples like Abu Dhabi, 60% of wastewater is not treated, and out of that only one-third is reused.

Time does not allow giving details, which are abundant. You can find more in AFED report on Water.

AFED’s most recent report, which was released last month, proposes transitioning to the green economy as a prescription to achieve sustainability, in all sectors, including water. Here are glimpses:

Shifting to sustainable agricultural practices is expected to result in savings to Arab countries of between 5-6% of GDP as a result of increased water productivity and protected environmental resources. This amounts to $114 billion annually.

AFED report estimates that Arab countries will need to allocate at least 1.5% of their GDP annually to investments in clean sanitation, water infrastructure, innovative water efficiency, and recycling technologies in order to meet the expected rise in water demand. This amounts to $28 billion annually, and will create jobs in both rural and urban regions.

A reduction in average per capita consumption of electricity in Arab countries to the world average, through energy efficiency measures, would generate savings of $73 billion annually. A 25% reduction in energy subsidies would free over $100 billion over a three year period, that can be shifted to efficiency and green energy and create millions of jobs.

AFED report further argues that if Arab governments commit to greening the construction sector, spending will have to increase by at least 20%, resulting in additional investments of between $23-46 billion. Besides savings due to increased efficiency, these additional green investments will create 10% more jobs.

The willingness to pursue a green economy agenda provides a window of opportunity to initiate fundamental re-examination of current public policies in Arab countries.
However, Green Economy requires the transformation from the prevailing ‘virtual economy’, primarily based on sales of raw extractive products and speculation in real estate and financial markets, to a ‘real economy’ focusing on sustainable production, which alone can protect the natural capital and generate long term jobs.

AFED reports on Water and Green Economy in a Changing Arab World can be downloaded from www.afedonline.org