Navigating Water Scarcity: COP28 and Sustainable Solutions for the Arab Region


 The Arab Region faces a critical freshwater situation, with one of the highest rates of water scarcity, as highlighted by the United Nations. Around 40 percent of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity, while 80 percent of wastewater is discharged untreated into the environment, and water-related disasters account for more than 90 percent of all disasters. In response, governments in the region are increasing their investments in water infrastructure to address this pressing issue.                                                                                                                                   
By: Srijith KN


Over the past three decades, the UAE has experienced a significant decline in its water table, dropping approximately one meter per year. At this rate, the country is projected to deplete its natural freshwater resources within the next 50 years, according to the World Bank.

To meet the growing water demand, the development of desalination projects remains crucial for the social and economic development of the Gulf region. The Middle East and North Africa account for over 75 percent of global desalinated water, with 70 percent located in the GCC countries and 6 percent in Libya and Algeria. The total value of Water Desalination Plant Projects in the MENA region is estimated at USD 39.3 billion.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the UAE has launched the Water Security Strategy 2036, aimed at reducing water resource demand, increasing water productivity, improving water-use efficiency, and enhancing water quality by tackling pollution. Similarly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is actively focusing on water infrastructure and currently has USD 14 billion worth of water projects under construction.

Treated wastewater, which amounts to around 10 billion m3/year in the Arab region, represents a significant renewable water source. Proper management of treated wastewater is essential for its utilization in agriculture and artificial recharging of groundwater aquifers. Improving the quality of treated wastewater is crucial to overcome the current obstacles limiting its full utilization.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial to foster dialogue among different stakeholders to explore innovative solutions and mobilize public and private actions to improve water resource quality and ensure long-term sustainability.

In line with these efforts, the UN Water Convention, in force since 1996, aims to address global water challenges. Recently, the UN 2023 Water Conference brought together leaders and experts to identify innovative solutions. The UAE has been actively promoting start-ups to develop technologies for water distillation and farming solutions.

Looking ahead, the upcoming COP28, to be hosted by the UAE from November 30 to December 12, calls for global unity and action to address the climate crisis. COP27 saw countries agreeing to develop new funding arrangements to support developing economies disproportionately affected by climate change. Key actions at COP28 include accelerating the energy transition, addressing climate finance issues, prioritizing livelihoods, and ensuring inclusivity in all aspects of the conference.

Building a sustainable future necessitates collective efforts from both the government and private players. The UAE has consistently been at the forefront of driving transformative projects aimed at addressing climate change. Initiatives such as the carbon market, the development program for national adaptation, the national dialogue for climate ambition, and the Climate Ambassadors program demonstrate the country’s commitment to sustainability and fostering climate action. By actively engaging various stakeholders and promoting innovative programs, the UAE is playing a vital role in shaping a greener and more resilient future.