Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates: The UAE is one of the largest consumers of water per capita globally, but it is also one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. With declining natural water resources, and a growing population, how to manage this challenge to prevent a crisis in the coming years was the subject of a live online forum that was held yesterday with experts from Italy and the UAE.
Hosted by the Embassy of Italy to the UAE as part of the InnovItalyUAE initiative, the Ambassador of Italy to the UAE was joined by a range of speakers including representatives from SEWA and Metropolitane Milanesi.
InnovItaly UAE looks at opportunities to enhance bilateral cooperation in innovation between Italy and the UAE and is held in partnership with the Khalifa University of Science and Technology and the Dubai Future Foundation. Water Management: at the heart of circular economy, is the penultimate forum in a series of six that have taken place over the past three months discussing a range of prevalent innovation topics.
During his opening remarks, His Excellency Nicola Lener, Ambassador of Italy to the UAE said, “Ensuring clean water and sanitation is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which will be a key focus during COP26 next year. We are already looking ahead to the global challenges around water security that will be present in the coming years, and how we can use Italian and UAE expertise in partnership to develop technology and innovative techniques to help manage water consumption.”
During the webinar, which was moderated by Ernesto Damiani, Senior Director of the Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Systems Institute at Khalifa University, His Excellency was joined by:
Rashid Alleem, Chairman, Sharjah Electricity, Water & Gas Authority (SEWA) who spoke about the of SMEs and innovation, “Water is at the heart of the SEWA strategy to help ensure a sustainable and better tomorrow. The global management of water requires a clear vision, strategic thinking but it also requires a human side. During the 2020 lockdown, we had a 50 per cent increase in water demand and we made sure that our services were maintained. People are living in an uncertain time and we want to bring them certainty and security. Looking ahead, we believe SMEs are a great source of innovation in this sector. Water management is at the top of the agenda for world leaders and the UN is inviting everyone to contribute to help tackle this issue. My hope is to empower SMEs and bring them to the table as they can help make a significant difference.”
Participating from Bologna, Antonio Giuliano, Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA) said, “The world’s water demand will exceed 40 per cent of the available water resources by 2030. Currently, 80 per cent of wastewater is discharged without any treatment. The development and implementation of solutions to these problems is vital and it needs to be at a global level. We want to encourage knowledge diffusion that can stimulate and facilitate dialogue and interactions.”
Research around water in the UAE was discussed by Linda Zou, Professor, Civil Infrastructure and Environmental Engineering, Khalifa University, who said, “The UAE is already looking into how to be more sustainable when it comes to water use. The UAE Water Security Strategy 2036, is a water supply management program to help provide future water needs for the country in a more sustainable manner. We are currently working on water technology research projects that are closely relevant to the water management in the UAE to help support this vision. We are looking forward to collaborating further with our Italian partners to develop this research and look at new research projects.”
Anna Monticelli, Head Circular Economy Desk, Intesa Sanpaolo Bank, added, “We are studying innovation trends to see what new solutions we can find to improve the economies and our lives in the future. The world’s challenge is the growing population and a scarcity of resources, so we need to find new models. Some years ago, we started to study the risks of the consumption of finite natural resources, and the risks of the loss of biodiversity. We need to maintain fresh water resources even though we need to use water. The oceans’ pollution has reached such a level that there will be more plastic than fish in weight by 2050. It’s not just economic and technological changes that are needed; a cultural change is required.”
Caterina Jane Saracino, Process Manager Purification Plant, Metropolitane Milanesi, said, “ We are using UV disinfection and peracetic acid disinfection for the wastewater treatment in some irrigation systems. We are also using effluent water for agriculture in some areas surrounding Milan. We have even been able to use the disinfected water to restore some of the water features that are part of historical buildings in the city.”
Chiara Boccingher, Project Evaluation and Development, A2A Ambiente S.p.A. added, “We are working on the FANGHI project, which is an advanced form of sewage sludge management in an innovative Lombard Hub. The 30-month project started in January 2020 and covers waste collection, treatment and recovery. Over 800 thousand tons of sewage sludge are being treated in Lombardy every year. Currently the management system most commonly used in Italy is a treatment aimed at producing a fertiliser, which makes it possible to almost completely replace chemical fertilisation. It is important to consider that the use of sewage sludge in agriculture must ensure that there is no impact due to the possible presence of damaging substances, which can cause pollution problems in soil, groundwater that would have implications for environmental and human health.”
Closing remarks were made by His Excellency Nicola Lener, “I want to reiterate my thanks to the speakers for discussing at length the innovations in progress that can help meet this global challenge head on. Innovation will be increasingly central to our flourishing business relationship with the UAE and we are looking forward to sending a mission from Italy and welcoming our counterparts from the UAE, to discuss this further in person in the near future.”