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The UAE is playing a leading global role in tackling the water scarcity challenge

Reliable supplies of clean water are being threatened with unsustainable depletion due to climate change, rising populations and rapid urbanization.

To illustrate the scale of this issue, a recent World Bank report stated that 1.6 billion people live in countries and regions with absolute water shortage, with the number expected to rise to 2.8 billion people by 2025.

Dr Deon Terblanche, until recently Director of Research at the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), offers a unique perspective on water challenges based on his long career and renowned expertise in the fields of weather, climate and water research.

For Dr Terblanche, the solution to the water security conundrum involves harnessing new technology, improved data sharing and exchange between public and private institutions, and effective national water management strategies enhanced by intergovernmental cooperation.

The immediacy of the challenge was recently clearly demonstrated by the water shortages that affected South Africa, Dr Terblanche’s home country, which led to the city of Cape Town reducing daily consumption of water by more than half to 500 million liters.

“Although the recent shortages in Cape Town were effectively managed, with the Western Cape province also doing a great job in minimizing losses, lots more needs to be done to ensure that dam levels rise to the 85 percent level needed for sustainable supplies”, according to Dr Terblanche.

Dr Terblanche believes that better infrastructure is one key to an effective strategy for securing water supplies in the decades to come.

Indeed, the potential for water stress to arise in this case was first identified by the South African government in the 1960s, when it was projected that serious water shortages could affect the country by the 2020s.

“In response to the immediate problem in South Africa, short-term water management has helped to alleviate the immediate crisis. What is needed now is a more effective long-term plan to reduce the risk of such situations arising again in the future, as population increases will continue to put increasing pressure on available reserves of water.”

Enhanced cooperation with other countries in the region is also important for South African water security, as many national boundaries are marked by rivers that could be better exploited through improved data exchange and agreements on catchment quotas.

“This kind of cooperation is also very relevant for North Africa, as seen, for example, in Egypt’s dependency on the Nile and the need to manage dams on the river and ensure that neighboring upstream countries can access sufficient water”, said Dr Terblanche.

Facilitating such cooperation is an essential part of the remit of the WMO, an organization which now includes 191 countries and some additional territories as members.

As a specialized agency of the United Nations originally created in 1950, the organization performs a vital and active international role in fostering collaborative study and monitoring of the Earth’s atmosphere, the interaction of climate with land and oceans, and the consequences these processes have for the world’s water resources.

Dr Terblanche explains that “the WMO performs an important coordinating function, not least in settling agreed standards for shared data as a building block for new research and technologies. The organization also plays an active role in capacity building, education and assisting effective academic input into a range of problems related to climate and water.”

The increasing important element in the search for global water security is the involvement of major private sector actors, particularly in supporting new advances in instrumentation used by meteorological researchers and technicians.

In addition, IT-based companies, including large tech concerns such as IBM and Google, are playing an increasingly prominent role in collating data on water usage by individuals, institutions and a wide range of economic sectors.

The WMO is also supporting scientific work in fields that have, until recently, been relatively neglected by the global research community.

Through its Expert Team on Weather Modification, the WMO promotes innovation and best practices through support for ongoing projects, monitoring and research.

This is an area of special interest to Dr Terblanche, given that South Africa started its own rain enhancement research and experiments in 1971.

“Rain Enhancement is gaining increasing international attention, with more and more countries conducting weather modification programs seeking to draw on the innovative work being conducted by leading international experts active in this area.”

A major recent initiative by the UAE in this field has drawn international attention for its original approach in harnessing the creativity of leading researchers working in fields related to climate phenomena and water management issues.

The UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science, launched under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, is designed to encourage scientists and researchers to explore new horizons in developing rain enhancement science and technology.

Managed by the UAE’s National Center of Meteorology (NCM), the Program is already overseeing a diverse range of international research projects aiming to advance knowledge of rain enhancement through building and leveraging global networks to support collaborative innovation.

Dr Terblanche believes that the UAE’s program is “setting a new standard in its field for the the kind of investment and support needed to unlock the potential of innovative new research. The UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science serves as an excellent example of the kind of initiative we need to move the science of weather, climate and water forward to provide sustainable solutions for arid and semi-arid regions.”

“Through its professional and dynamic support for the program, the NCM has offered first class logistical support, specialized data and dedicated expertise to assist individual scientific projects. By ensuring that researchers can fully explore the potential of their ideas, the Program is providing the kind of momentum for the field not seen in decades.”

By leading international efforts to strengthen water security through promoting scientific best practices and collaboration in rain enhancement research, the UAE is therefore playing an essential part in addressing the threat of water shortages as seen recently in South Africa.

As Dr Terblanche points out, effective international collaboration as promoted by the WMO is also necessary to ensure that new innovations and agreed standards of best practice can be adopted to tackle water scarcity.

In this context, the UAE Research Program for Rain Enhancement Science serves as an outstanding example of the kind of scientific advancement and research collaboration needed to ensure the preservation of water as a sustainable resource for all those in need.