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Op-ed: Water Security: An Urgent Priority During Pandemics and Exceptional Times

By His Excellency Dr. Abdulla Al Mandous, Director of NCM and President of the Regional Association II (Asia) of WMO

Achieving water security and addressing water scarcity have topped the agenda of countries across the globe due to the strategic importance of water - a vital resource for sustaining life on the earth. Water is equally important for the healthy functioning of different sectors, and any disruption or fluctuation in water supply systems can pose a serious threat to our existence. Therefore, finding effective solutions to global water-stress issues has become more urgent than ever, especially in exceptional circumstances such the present novel Coronavirus outbreak.

A recent study published by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) highlighted the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the water-scarce Arab region. The report indicated that water demand for handwashing alone is set to increase by 9 to 12 litres per person per day amid the pandemic, let alone other essential demands such as laundry, cleaning and food washing. The study further emphasizes that there will be an average daily increase of household water demand by 4 million to 5 million cubic metres across the region.

Such a significant surge in water demand in a region where 74 million people lack access to basic hand-washing facilities highlights the urgent need to make the optimal utilization of our available water resources, and to direct both scientific and practical efforts towards meeting the essential needs.

In line with the vision of the country’s wise leadership to achieve long-term prosperity and sustainability, the UAE launched its Water Security Strategy 2036 to ensure sustainable access to water during both normal and emergency conditions. The proactive-strategy seeks to enhance the country’s emergency preparedness and mitigate social and economic impact through ensuring the availability of 91 litres of water per person per day in cases of emergency, and 30 litres per person per day in cases of extreme emergencies. This helps the country to build a storage capacity for the water supply system that lasts for two days under normal conditions, 16 days in emergencies, and 35-49 days in extreme emergencies.

As part of the country’s relentless efforts to ensure water security not only locally but also around the globe, the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science (UAEREP) was launched by His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs in 2015. Managed by National Center of Meteorology (NCM), the program plays a central role in achieving global water security through supporting the research projects carried out by the scientists who obtained its grants. To find innovative solutions for water scarcity around the world, the awardees have undertaken groundbreaking research covering a diverse range of areas including innovative algorithms to enhance precipitation, nanotechnology to accelerate water condensation, ice production processes in cumulus clouds, modifying the electrical properties of clouds and studying the role of atmospheric aerosols in precipitation enhancement.

The awardee projects also focused on the creation of artificial clouds to induce rain, using unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to target suitable clouds for seeding and advanced experimental-numerical approaches to rain enhancement, among others.

The program articulates the UAE's sustained efforts to tackle the urgent challenges facing the world by spearheading scientific research and developing innovative applications. Through innovation and effective international collaboration, the country demonstrates its inspiring vision to advance rain enhancement science in line with its commitment to promoting global sustainability and ensuring a better future for the entire mankind.

NCM extends crucial support for UAEREP awardee projects through providing advanced technologies and facilities including a network of radars, weather stations and aircrafts, and ensuring support from subject matter experts. It also facilitates testing and practical application of the research projects in the UAE, enabling the awardees to achieve the objectives of their research. The Center has also set up Emirates Weather Enhancement Factory that produces high-quality flares to use in its cloud seeding operations.

NCM’s custom-designed aircrafts carried out 95 cloud seeding operations across the country in the first quarter of 2020, using the technologies developed by the program awardees. The Center relies in its cloud seeding operations on a sophisticated network of radars that monitors the country’s atmosphere around the clock and provide data on clouds. A team of  pilots and technicians based at NCM’s dedicated operations room analyze this data, and carry out cloud seeding operations with high accuracy and efficiency if they detect seedable clouds.

The tremendous achievements attained by NCM and UAEREP through its awardees have laid a solid foundation for further research and development in rain enhancement science, and we are committed to attracting and supporting more innovative and viable research projects in the years to come. Furthermore, we will continue to maximize the outcomes of our research projects through leveraging the latest technologies and scientific applications such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to support the advancement of rain enhancement program and achieve global water security under all circumstances and at all times.