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AI to help drive Middle East water reuse 

Drinking water from an outdoor tap in Egypt Momen Nabil/IWMI
The project aims to improve water reuse in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • IWMI addessing Mena water scarcity 
  • Google gave $1m grant 
  • 73% of UAE concered about water access

The International Water Management Institute is developing an AI platform to improve wastewater reuse in the Middle East and North Africa region, backed by a $1 million grant from Google. 

Water scarcity is a concern in the region. Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the 1,000 UAE respondents to a recent survey listed access to clean and safe water as a significant environmental concern.

However, 79 percent of UAE consumers said manufacturers and other businesses lack clear guidance on – or plans to combat – water scarcity. 

The inaugural global Watermark Survey from water services company Ecolab assessed the attitudes towards climate change and water from 26,000 respondents around the world.

More than two-thirds of UAE respondents said access to clean and safe water would be an issue within the next five years, if it was not already. 

IWMI water reuse - water tankIWMI
A water tank for a paper factory. The IWMI aims to increase reuse of waste water.

The grant from Google.org, the tech company’s philanthropic arm, will go towards helping researchers at the IWMI develop a platform called e-ReWater. It will use remote sensing technologies to monitor land, seas and atmosphere, the institute said on Monday. 

With help from satellites – and powered by AI and Earth observation data – the platform will help to estimate the availability of new water resources and improve water reuse in the Middle East and beyond. The aim is to reduce the impact of water scarcity in the Mena region, improving food and water security. 

Significant challenges

Mena is one of the most water-scarce regions in the world and growing populations and climate change are exacerbating the issue.

A report by the World Bank in April found that by the end of this decade, the amount of water available per capita annually in the region will fall below the absolute water scarcity threshold of 500 cubic metres per year. 

A study cited by IWMI, published in June on the academic scientific portal ScienceDirect, found that Mena is losing at least 54 percent of its nutrient-rich wastewater to climate change and other factors. 

The IWMI has its headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka. As part of its three-year project, it plans to develop an online dashboard to provide accessible information on wastewater generation and recycling potential in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 

“To help water-scarce countries adapt to climate change it is important to use all possible sources of water,” said Rachael McDonnell, deputy director-general of IWMI. 

“This new data tool will help water managers bring recycled water into their future management plans to ease water stress for some users.”

Ecolab highlighted that 83 percent of Mena’s population is exposed to water stress caused by climate change, according to the World Resources Institute. However, the company’s survey found that 84 percent of UAE consumers believe that water scarcity can be effectively addressed.

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