Low rainfall in the Middle East makes water a precious commodity. Peter Ward reports on the water saving initiatives underway and those likely to hit the region in the future.
A recent announcement by a UAE government official revealed that the first federal law for water conservation could be implemented within a year. UAE Ministry of Water and Environment deputy minister, water and soil affairs, Dr Mohamed Mustafa Al Mulla revealed that a draft version is at an “advanced stage”.
This, together with events such as WaterTech 2008 (see box, below), is putting water conservation firmly in the spotlight. Due to low rainfall and water table levels in the region conservation is a must, although it does have some challenges.
German-based Hansgrohe has expressed concern that a lack of skilled engineers in the Middle East is preventing the introduction of some water recycling technology. The firm’s Aquacycle system, for example, can recycle water from showers, but Hansgrohe head of public relations Dr Carsten Tessmer revealed there are problems with using the system in this region. “We have to train [people] before we can find partners who are interested in selling the system and maintaining it,” he explained. A pilot project is currently underway in Jordan on which the company will base its Middle East training programme.
The region’s attitude to water conservation is changing however. The importance of water efficiency is highlighted by Emirates Green Building Council immediate past chair Dr Sadek Owainati: “The whole issue of water is critical to this region…every means that one can introduce to conserve and rationalise water use would be a definite positive step in the right direction.”
Some water saving devices are now being installed in the region’s projects, such as aerators. “Dual-flush and low-flush toilets are coming in a fair bit and we see a lot of low-flow taps now as well,” adds Whitby & Bird renewables and sustainability director Heath Andersen. There is sufficient technology these days that you can provide enough water or the effect that there is enough without people feeling like they are running out.”
One of the biggest differences between Europe and the Middle East is the cheap price of water in this region considering the relatively low availability. “In the Middle East there is a serious water problem because we have very low rainfall. A very high percentage of the water, specifically in the UAE, is dependant on desalination,” stresses Owainati. “The challenge is finding other resources: number one is to reduce the demand and number two is to find cleaner resources for water desalination.”
Andersen is also quick to point out the problems with processing water in the area: “Because water is so cheap here, when clients look at payback periods they are long, so it makes it harder for us to implement [some measures].”
The solution to making the Middle East more water efficient is not as simple as raising water prices however. The clear message coming from all concerned is that before anything else changes, the attitudes of everyone in the region must change first. “You need energy, but you also need the right value set. “It’s not a question of marketing, in the end it’s a question of integrity,” Grohe affirms. “Sustainability is a mindset first and secondly it is what time period you are thinking over. Money is not enough of a motivator.”
As well as ensuring that these initiatives are used in new buildings, in order to make even bigger savings older developments must have water saving devices installed. Owainati stresses: “A high percentage of these buildings use very old cistern tanks that hold a large quantity of water. That is something that can be looked at and reduced – by changing these tanks we can get a lot of savings. This is not really that expensive and is not troublesome in most cases. I think that dual-flushing tanks would be an ideal solution; buildings should do this immediately.”
He adds: “If you want to go a step further and encourage grey water usage for flushing the toilet then you need the regulations to support it. There are not enough regulations; [installing grey water systems] is a challenge for existing buildings, but surely for new buildings this can be demanded and regulated?”
Andersen adds: “When you are talking about fixtures and fittings, it’s relatively easy. But for something like retro-fitting a grey water system that’s a lot harder because there’s more pipework and tanks and so on. It’s not impossible, but it definitely is a harder task.”
The Middle East can learn valuable lessons from Europe in terms of water efficiency. There are a number of ways that water saving systems can be improved, but it seems the best method of ensuring change is to continue to alter the attitude of those in the region – a tough task, but certainly not an impossible one.
Water management event
WaterTech 2008 is due to be held on 12-15 October in Dubai. A two-day conference on 13 and 14 October is due to address issues such as wastewater treatment technologies and incorporation of strategies into the system design to minimise water use. A series of industry workshops will be held on the remaining days. For more information see: