In the United Arab Emirates, the second-most water-scarce country in the world, officials designed what they called the “Business Heroes Toolkit” in 2010. The aim was to motivate and empower businesses to reduce water and energy consumption. The toolkit practically taught companies how to measure their existing water-consumption levels and consisted of tips to help them reduce those levels. And it worked.
Hundreds of organizations downloaded the toolkit. And several of them joined what they called the “Corporate Heroes Network,” where companies can voluntarily take on a challenge to reduce their water-consumption levels to preset targets within a period of one year.
Companies which completed the challenge saved on average 35 percent of water. And one company, for example, implemented as many water-saving tips as they could in their office space. They replaced their toilet-flushing techniques, taps, showerheads — you name it. If it saved water, they replaced it, eventually reducing their employees’ water consumption by half. Empowering individuals and companies to save water is so critical, yet not sufficient.
Countries need to look beyond the status quo and implement country-level actions to save water. Taking me to lesson three: look below the surface. Water savings can come from unexpected places. Singapore is the eighth most water-scarce country in the world. It depends on imported water for almost 60 percent of its water needs. It’s also a very small island. As such, it needs to make use of as much space as possible to catch rainfall.
So in 2008, they built the Marina Barrage. It’s the first-ever urban water reservoir built in the middle of the city-state. It’s the largest water catchment in the country, almost one-sixth the size of Singapore. What’s so amazing about the Marina Barrage is that it has been built to make the maximum use of its large size and its unexpected yet important location.
It brings three valuable benefits to the country: it has boosted Singapore’s water supply by 10 percent; it protects low areas around it from floods because of its connection to the sea; and, as you can see, it acts as a beautiful lifestyle attraction, hosting several events, from art exhibitions to music festivals, attracting joggers, bikers, tourists all around that area.
Now, not all initiatives need to be stunning or even visible. My first home, Jordan, realized that agriculture is consuming the majority of its fresh water. They really wanted to encourage farmers to focus on growing low water-intensive crops.
To achieve that, the local agriculture is increasing its focus on date palms and grapevines. Those two are much more tolerant to drought conditions than many other fruits and vegetables, and at the same time, they are considered high-value crops, both locally and internationally.
Locals in Namibia, one of the most arid countries in Southern Africa, have been drinking recycled water since 1968. Now, you may tell me many countries recycle water I would say yes. But very few use it for drinking purposes, mostly because people don’t like the thought of water that was in their toilets going to their taps.
But Namibia could not afford to think that way. They looked below the surface to save water. They are now a great example of how, when countries purify waste water to drinking standards, they can ease their water shortages, and in Namibia’s case, provide drinking water for more than 300,000 citizens in its capital city. As more countries which used to be more water rich are becoming water scarce, I say we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
If we just look at what water-poor countries have done, the solutions are out there. Now it’s really just up to all of us to take action. Thank you.