It is not just a lack of water that affects the way one of the world’s most precious resources is managed in countries like Qatar, according to a research expert who has highlighted evaporation and the demands of a growing population as key factors in the growing global water crises during a visit to Qatar Foundation.

Rachael McDonnell, Strategic Programme director, Water, Climate Change & Resilience at the International Water Management Institute, gave her views on the water challenges the region and the world face while visiting Qatar Foundation Research, Development and Innovation’s Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP).

She said, “One of the biggest problems is evaporation. We know that when we put water in our gardens or our landscaping, we have big losses due to strong sunshine and dry air. That is a real challenge in how we manage water.

“Another big challenge is that we have a growing population – a population that uses more water than previous generations. And there is an expectation that water should be readily available 365 days a year. This means there is a disconnect between people and their understanding of water as being a precious resource.”

McDonnell believes there is a need for “increased engagement in nurturing us to think about the preciousness of water in drylands”. She also said that, with studies suggesting that the Mena region will get hotter in the near future, water security solutions need to cross borders and become regional.

“What we know from climate change models is that the region is going to get hotter, and therefore drier as well – that means our base availability of water is going to be reduced,” she explained. “We need to look more carefully at how we use our water reserves, and how we generate new water resources through advanced technologies, such as newer ways of desalination.”

Innovative solutions have been applied in a number of areas around the world – such as Australia, southern Africa, California – that have similar challenges resulting from similar environments. These regions have applied dryland systems to address their water management demands, and McDonnell believes there is a need for these insights and technologies to be shared for collective globalised solutions.

“The Gulf countries have a real role to play,” she said. “Due to their philosophy in fostering innovation, they can be world leaders in dryland water systems and food systems, offering solutions as climate change begins to affect regions and make them arid and dry.”

While science and technology and government policies play a big part in the way water crises is tackled, she says the use of cultural knowledge must also be encouraged.

“Our grandparents valued water, food and resources that were not necessarily readily available,” she said. “We need to inculcate that ethos into the younger generation. In some cultures, water is seen as sacred, while in others they refer to water as a living being. It is important to pass this on.”

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