Home » UAE urges decisive and coordinated international response to water scarcity

UAE urges decisive and coordinated international response to water scarcity

by Madaline Dunn

Experts are warning that tackling water scarcity is as much of a priority as climate change. Yet, even though four billion people currently experience water scarcity at least one month per year, action is not happening fast enough. 

In an effort to mobilise global action, the UAE government recently published a discussion paper highlighting global water scarcity as an urgent threat and called for a decisive and coordinated international response. 

Water scarcity to worsen

The world’s water situation is in an increasingly precarious position and is only set to get worse – that’s according to a recent discussion paper titled: ‘Ripple Effect Water Scarcity – The hidden threat to global security and prosperity,’ published by the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

The paper notes that a number of macro trends, including climate change, population growth and demographic change – including the rapid growth of the global middle class and accelerated urbanisation – are expected to further exacerbate the existing drivers of water scarcity and in some cases “create amplifying feedback loops.” 

While the Mena region is set to face the brunt of the crisis, the paper notes this is very much a global issue. Indeed, it shares that current and future drivers of water scarcity mean that by 2025, over 1.8 billion people could be living in regions with absolute water scarcity, with two-thirds living under water-stressed conditions.

The implications of such widespread water scarcity issues are, of course, devastating and many. The paper notes that this includes food insecurity, economic underdevelopment, humanitarian crises, involuntary migration, geopolitical instability and the potential for armed conflict over water.

Water scarcity low on global priority list

The paper highlighted that despite being an endemic problem, global water scarcity isn’t getting enough attention or investment. 

When assessing where water ranks in terms of coverage, it found that water generates around only 6 per cent of public and media conversations, when compared to the pandemic (65 per cent) and climate change (29 per cent). 

As for financial capital, the report highlighted that there’s a global financing gap in the water sector of between USD 182-664 billion annually. Further, to secure SDG 6, it said USD one trillion in investment per annum may be required. 

This financing issue was also found to be the case in developed countries, with all EU member states highlighted as needing to boost annual expenditure on water and sanitation by “at least 20 percent” for compliance with common European standards. 

“From an economic standpoint, water remains an underinvested sector, and neither public sector players, nor international donors, nor private capital markets have proven ready to allocate sufficient resources to address water-related challenges,” the paper said. 

“Not an either/or situation”

In a world of multiplying and intersecting crises, the paper noted that when it comes to addressing water scarcity, it’s not an “either/or” situation, and ramping up efforts on water must be done in parallel with, for example, fighting climate change and preventing pandemics. “We do not have to choose, because we do not have a choice,” it said. 

However, despite the bleak statistics, the paper shared that the UAE government is hopeful that, if the world deploys the tools it has in a “timely and coordinated” manner, we could slow and even eventually reverse the trends of increasing global water scarcity.

Highlighting that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, the paper provides an adapted Triple Bottom Line (TBL) framework as a tool to evaluate and compare potential options for dealing with water scarcity, while also calling for “transformative new solutions and a rapid increase in targeted activity.”

It notes that the UAE government believes that “increased investment, accelerated technological innovation and expanded international cooperation,” are the key to unlocking these new solutions. 

Ramping up global action 

With efforts to address water scarcity nowhere near the level required to create a real impact, the paper calls for meaningful action, without which, it says, virtually all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could be jeopardised. 

Further, within the paper, the UAE outlines its plans for action on water, including the launch of a non-profit initiative to accelerate the development, testing and deployment of water scarcity solutions. The new initiative will include:

  • A combination of prizes and other incentive programs, 
  • An innovation fund, 
  • Targeted philanthropic grants, and 
  • Events to support international dialogue.

The paper also highlights plans to leverage academic institutions, government agencies and water-related industries to increase research and development, accelerate innovation and facilitate the rapid deployment of new technologies that have the potential to address water scarcity in “sustainable and affordable ways.”

Domestic policy measures were highlighted, too, with plans to strengthen domestic water conservation initiatives and accelerate the implementation of the UAE Water Security Strategy 2036.

The paper also invites like-minded governments, organisations and individuals from around the world to be a part of these water scarcity efforts, noting: “We believe that by working together, we can raise greater awareness of the urgency of the threat of global water scarcity and strive to accelerate the development and implementation of new, innovative and sustainable ways to bring abundant and affordable water to the world.”

In his announcement of the report, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “The UAE believes that the seriousness and immediate urgency of the threat posed by water scarcity has not been fully recognized around the world. As a result, the international community is lagging in its efforts to confront this challenge, with potentially grave outcomes.”

Adding: “As it becomes increasingly clear that no nation will be immune from the cascading effects of unmitigated water scarcity, we must seek new ways to quickly and effectively cooperate in addressing this significant global issue.”

Looking ahead to COP28, water is set to be a key priority area and back in August, the COP28 UAE Presidency announced it would “drive water up the climate agenda.” Indeed, to reverse current trends, water scarcity must become a global priority – the world cannot wait any longer. 

By Madaline Dunn, Lead Journalist, ESG Mena.

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