The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation

Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.


Water remains a precious UAE resource

Fresh water has always been a precious commodity in this part of the world, and that remains the case even though the UAE now has the resources to meet its demand for drinking water through desalination. As The National reported yesterday, scientists are warning that the country’s groundwater supplies are being unsustainably depleted.

Over-extraction has caused the water table to drop dramatically in recent years. Agriculture accounts for just over one-third of overall water use and two-thirds of the groundwater extracted. In Al Khazna, a traditional date-growing area between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, groundwater dropped by around 40 per cent in the last 15 years and is now found at a depth of 96 metres, compared with 56m in 1999. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) report showed that trend is repeated to varying degrees across most areas of the UAE.

If nothing is done to stop this level of over-extraction, researchers warn that the UAE could run out of groundwater by 2030. However, the report also identifies solutions to allow groundwater supplies to recover, primarily based on prioritising the way water is allocated nationwide.

These findings add to the ongoing debate in the UAE about the relative benefits of food security versus water security. The UAE’s investment in farms in Europe, Africa and Asia is designed to lessen the need for home-grown food, although this admittedly raises a separate issue – security of supply.

The regional head of the UNFAO, Ad Spijkers, contends that water security has to be the country’s top priority. The report says water for agriculture has to take precedence over use for landscaping, but any solution must be multifaceted. This will include greater recovery of waste water, more efficient agricultural practices, and use of plants more suited to arid environments.

Careful use has always been key to coping with this region’s water issues, and that remains as true now as it was in the pre-oil era.