Conference studies water challenge
A number of key issues were discussed at the recent 10th Gulf Water Conference held in Doha with particular emphasis being placed on the water-energy-food nexus. All GCC countries were well represented at the conference which was supported by governments, parastatals and NGO’s in the region, including the UN through Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
The conference themes were:
Food sustainability: water scarcity versus agricultural production
Techniques to recharge aquifers without contaminating groundwater
Managing leaks and breakages in urban water network
Water resources and consumption
Rainfall variability and how it affects water supply
Water sustainability and solar desalination
Wastewater management and reuse
Enhancing traditional knowledge in water demand management
The conference was convened under the patronage of HE Dr Mohamed bin Saleh Al Sada, Minister of Energy and Industry. HE Dr Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, the Secretary-General of the Co-operation Council for the Arab Gulf States, and HE Eng Abdullah Bin Abdul Rahman, Minister of Water and Electricity in Saudi Arabia, attended.
Al Sada emphasised that the provision of water, energy and food in the GCC continued to be a big challenge, especially so in light of global economic austerity and population growth.
The GCC countries will have to find ways to tackle this challenge as it will have a major impact on living standards, human development and sustainable growth for decades to come.
The conference, titled "The water - energy – food nexus”, was held to achieve the following objectives:
1. Raise awareness about the importance of interrelationship among water, energy and food, and review the challenges and opportunities that these represent for the GCC.
2. Provide a forum for discussion and open exchange of views and experiences among researchers, executives, professionals and policy-makers about the methodologies and technologies used in the planning and preparation of national strategies, i.e. medium-and long-term policies with regards to water, energy and food in the GCC countries and dry areas.
3. Design a strategy for scientific research and identify areas of research needed in the field; define the role and value of energy for the different water sectors in the GCC, and in the field of rational use and saving water in the agricultural sector and increase the yield from them.
4. Identifying and encouraging specialised linkages and networking among individuals, institutions and associations in the GCC region and the Arab states and other interested countries in the world of scientific research on the subject of water, energy and food.
In the session on “Food security and food sustainability”, Eng Salma Bani spoke about the state of food security in Bahrain. He said that importing 100% of one’s food needs, as most GCC countries are doing with the exception perhaps of Saudi Arabia, is not ideal. As a result of the 2005-2008 escalation in prices, inflation was at an all time high and there was an increase in the purchase of agricultural land by GCC countries in fertile countries.
Sustainable agriculture is defined as the adequate supply of land, soil and water. Water is not a renewable resource and one cannot import water. In the Gulf, water is a scarce resource and it is dependent on the availability of groundwater and rain.
In a related presentation Dr Patrick Link of QNFSP (Qatar), spoke about the threat that aquifers face. They are being heavily exploited and are not being replenished. The main sources of water in Qatar at the moment are desalinated water that is being used for domestic and residential use and then treated sewage effluent (TSE) which is being used for irrigation, agriculture and the “green cities” initiative.
In Qatar it is safe to assume that any water that is being used is derived from desalination. Dr Link emphasized that QNFSP was highly concerned about the use of groundwater for agricultural purposes.
Dr Link further recommended the following principles when looking at policies and technology to recharge aquifers:
Dr Link said that QNFSP did not aim to develop technology to stimulate food production for export but rather to export the know-how and technology on sustainable agriculture.
Through its scientific and panel discussions, in which more than 500 officials, researchers and professionals, took part, the conference agreed on the following recommendations:
1. Develop a national water strategy for GCC countries based on the principles and methodologies for the integrated management of water resources of economic efficiency and social justice and environmental sustainability with focus on the safety of drinking water.
2. Improving the level of governance in water management and following a participatory approach in water resources management and labor to transform the behaviour of Gulf society are essential parts of the problem of reducing water consumption and wastage; this can be done through participation and awareness programs.
3. Need to take into account the economic value of water in the policy-making processes and decision-making and the adoption of a systematic "cost effectiveness" as a methodology in public decision-making on options for water resources management.
4. The introduction of economic instruments as a tool in effective management of water resources management, including the introduction of appropriate tariff to increase efficiency and sustainability and recover costs for maintenance and operation of water utilities, with periodical tariff reviews.
5. The need to follow complementarity among local agriculture and agricultural imports and investment abroad to achieve food security in the strategic commodities in the Gulf (wheat, barley, sugar, rice, vegetable oils, food, red meat, poultry and fish).
6. Establishment of a body responsible to the founders of a specialist planning and oversight for the management and the formation of strategic stocks of food commodities in GCC countries.
7. Planning agricultural realism that fits with the capacity of available water resources; renewable and non-renewable and wastewater treatment, and encouraging the trend towards irrigation and modern farming, such as agriculture without soil, and plants that are drought resistant and can withstand salinity, so as to reduce water consumption in the agricultural sector.
8. Increase the required investments in research and development in the techniques of water desalination and wastewater treatment in collaboration with the private sector and the sharing of these techniques in the GCC countries so as to reduce the cost and the environmental impact and raise the added value of projects.
9. Encourage increased reliance on solar energy and other renewable energy sources in various water processes, especially on desalination.
10. Intensify efforts to recharge groundwater and protect it from seawater intrusion. Control the quality of water in order to preserve public health and the environment, and to develop programs to make best use of water resources projects such as water harvesting and construction of dams to store and retain storm and flood waters.
11. The need to develop integrated strategies to make most of the sewage and waste water in general, in the process of urban planning with the development of institutional and legislative arrangements governing them.
12. The principle of environmental management systems, leading people to contribute to the sustainable management of water resources and recommend that the ministries concerned with water and the environment launch pilot programs in this area.
13. Directing universities to start academic programs on water and energy.
14. Develop mechanisms to link research planning and management of water resources and to encourage and support mutual co-operation between research bodies and agencies responsible for water; to establish a research center for study and research relating to various areas of water in the region.
The conference delegated the Association of Water Science and Technology to forward the Cooperation Council secretariat’s recommendations to the Ministerial Committee for Water.