le billet
Publié le 26 février 2015
Par Mathilde Mouton, Consultante Pôle Eau et Milieux Aquatiques

Water sustainability in arid countries : the case of Abu Dhabi

On January 22, 2015, Mathilde Mouton attended the International Water Summit in Abu Dhabi as one of the speakers of a workshop organized by la Sorbonne Abu Dhabi around water resource management in the Emirate.

Hosted by the Masdar Institute under the patronage of H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the International Water Summit brought together field experts, academics and business entrepreneurs in order to foster innovation and to encourage collaboration around water sustainability in arid countries.

The workshop was organized in the framework of a research program directed by la Sorbonne Abu Dhabi on the design of a comprehensive legal framework for water resources management in Abu Dhabi. It aimed at opening the discussion over the role of legal instruments in the promotion of efficiency, security, fairness and sustainability in water resource management. Based on Espelia’s experience in water service management, the speech given by Mathilde Mouton aimed at showing how pricing policies could be used to promote water sector environmental, social and financial sustainability in arid countries.

As a matter of fact, water consumption in Abu Dhabi has been increasing massively over the last decades, due to population growth, increasing standards of living, economic development and political choices such as agriculture support or greening the desert policies. As shown in the Water resources management Strategy for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the Emirate, followed by residential uses, with domestic water consumption doubling the rate of many developed countries.

Up to now, rising demands were met by increasing supply capacities, fuelled by cross subsidies and low tariffs. However, these choices have had a significant impact on the quantity and quality of water available. Today, only 18% of groundwater reserves are directly usable, and the Emirate has one of the lowest water scarcity indexes in the world.

In this context, water pricing is increasingly seen as a tool to raise awareness over water scarcity, manage water demand and levy revenues for water utilities, thus promoting sustainability in the water sector.

During her speech, Mathilde Mouton stressed the legal principles guiding the design of water pricing policies, namely the user pays and the polluter pays principles, and showed how these principles could be implemented depending on the objectives followed by the water authority (cost-recovery, sustainability, affordability, etc.).

Eventually, she insisted on the need for water pricing to be included into more integrated water demand management policies, acting simultaneously on technical, financial and legal levers of water demand.