Environmental Studies and Forestry

Importance of Safe Water and Conditions Associated With Unsafe Water

Safe water is one of the most valuable resources for the human body. Much of the water used by humans comes from rivers, lakes, seas, and underground sources. Before the water is delivered for consumption, it must be treated to remove pathogens and chemicals. Water benefits health and well-being only if it is free from bacteria and disease-causing organisms. Lack of access to clean and safe drinking water and inadequate sanitation is one of fundamental threats to the well-being and health of an individual. Many conditions and illnesses in the world are associated with unsafe drinking water.

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According to Corinne, Velma, Adeel, Confalonieri, and Elliott (2008), the illnesses resulting from sanitation, poor water, and hygiene account for more than 10% of the total global burden of diseases. Also, close to 900 million people do not have access to a clean water supply, and 2.5 billion people in the rural world live without improved sanitation. In addition, close to one-third of the global population lives in those countries experiencing high water challenges. They continue to highlight that nearly 1.4 million children die of diarrhea, and more than 0.5 million die of malaria yearly (Corinne et al., 2008).

Prüss-Üstün, Bos, Gore, and Bartram (2008) aver that in 2002, 3.5 million deaths were attributed to sanitation, poor water, and hygiene. They confirm that every year, there are around 4 billion cases of diarrhea diseases that are experienced in the world every year because of unsafe drinking water. In addition, these conditions extend to rotavirus gastroenteritis, an illness responsible for approximately half a million deaths in young children. In fact, diarrhea is not only a precursor of high mortality rates but also the cause of malnutrition in children in chronic diarrhea. Therefore, chronic diarrhea makes children susceptible to other illnesses, contributing to more than 860,000 deaths yearly. Indeed, all those cases of death are unnecessary since 94% of diarrhea cases are preventable (Prüss-Üstün et al., 2008).

According to WHO (2007), the global burden of diseases is mainly contributed by water-related illnesses. In fact, waterborne (gastrointestinal disease), water-based (including vector-borne), and water-washed diseases all contribute to the global burden of illnesses associated with water. The research further demonstrates that more than 300 million malaria cases are reported, with 1 million of those cases recorded as fatal. In addition, chemical contamination of water contributes to the burden of illness, where around 50 to 100 million people in Asia are exposed to drinking water with unsafe levels of arsenic deposits (Graziano and van Geen, 2005). Finally, there are new threats of pharmaceuticals in drinking water and avian influenza that emerge every year.

Guidelines for Safe Drinking Water

Ensuring access to safe drinking water is a part of the effective policy that enhances health protection.  A series of international conferences are held in different parts of the world. Indeed, these conferences have reflected the required outcome of international policy on guidelines for safe drinking water. The UN General Assembly declared the period from 2005-2015 as the “International Decade for Action” also known as “Water for Life” after holding its annual meeting (WHO, 2008). The major purpose of the Guidelines for safe Drinking Water is to enhance public health. Water is necessary to sustain life; therefore, an adequate, accessible, and safe supply must be available to the public. When access to safe water is improved, there are tangible health benefits. For this reason, every effort should be made to achieve quality and safe drinking water. Safe water, as defined by the guideline, does not include any health risk even when consumed regularly. In fact, the guidelines apply to a small community piped water system and a large metropolitan water system.

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Microbial Aspects Guidelines

According to the FAO/WHO (2003), the first guideline for safe drinking water is based on Microbial aspects. Securing the microbial safety of the water supply is implemented using several barriers right from the catchment to the consumer. The move prevents any contamination that may exist or reduces it to small amounts that are not injurious to health. The multiple barriers in place protect water resources, proper operations, treatment steps selection, and the system’s management in the distribution. Therefore, the approach aims to prevent pathogens from entering the water sources.

Disinfection Guidelines

Disinfection is important for the supply of safe drinking water. At this stage, microbial pathogens are eliminated using reactive chemical agents such as chlorine. The chemical agents are effective barriers to pathogens and should be used for both ground and surface water, which are likely to be polluted by fecal contamination. The chemical agent safeguards against growth and low-level contamination in the distribution system. Chemical disinfection reduces the overall risks of illnesses but may not render the water supplied completely safe. In this context, chlorine may not eliminate protozoan pathogens and viruses. On the other hand, chemical disinfectant usually results in the formation of by-products that might be risky to human health. However, the chemical by-products are in many cases, subtle; therefore, it is imperative not to compromise disinfection to reduce the impacts of chemical by-products (LeChevallier, 2004).

Radiological Aspects Guidelines

Ainsworth (2004) observes that there are health risks associated with naturally occurring radionuclides in the water. Therefore, radiological aspects are another concern related to safe drinking water. The concentration of radionuclides in water under normal circumstances is usually very low. However, formal guidelines should be set based on the screening of drinking water for any gross beta and gross alpha activity. Water screening may not indicate immediate health risks, but it should trigger an investigation to determine the radionuclides responsible for health risks under normal and extreme conditions.

Water Resources in the UAE, Pressures, and Threats

Conventional water resources in this region include groundwater, surface water, and shallow and deep aquifers. Non-conventional resources of water come from wastewater recycling and desalination (Al-Omar, 2012). The water supply in UAE is small, but the water demand is growing each day. Therefore, the region is under pressure to initiate optimal water management and strategize on the sustainability of their past social and economic achievement. The biggest worry lies in the continuing growth in demand, which is attributed to population growth and other social factors (Dziuban, 2011). In fact, the region has almost exploited its annual surface water resources, and its aquifers are becoming depleted. Indeed, rapid urbanization and population growth are blamed for the increased water demand, besides the wasteful consumption patterns exhibited in both agricultural and domestic sectors (Raouf, 2009). Another threat to water resources occurs because of the small amount of annual rainfall experienced in the UAE. It is estimated that the region receives an average annual rainfall of between 70 and 130 mm, except in those regions around the mountain ranges of southern Oman and southwestern Saudi Arabia, where the annual rainfall may record around 500mm (World Bank, 2005).

Sources of Water Pollution in the UAE

According to Wastes and Pollution Sources of Abu Dhabi Emirate, United Arab Emirates (n.d), the population growth and increased economic development in UAE are some factors that increase water pollution. In fact, UAE’s population has increased by 75% between 1995 and 2005, with most of the population coming from other countries on temporary work assignments (Al Mulla, 2011). Other factors that have not been controlled to combat pollution include uncontrolled dumping, limited recycling, high environmental impact, lack of uniform waste management initiatives, and significant presence of litter. The growth of urban, commercial, industrial, service and other economic sectors is usually linked to the worsening water pollution through the liquid, solid, commercial, domestic, medical, agricultural, hazardous, and non-hazardous waste that end up in water resource areas. Finally, the use of pesticides in agriculture affects the groundwater only because UAE does not have permanent water streams. The inland agricultural products’ runoff will evaporate, and the remaining will percolate into the soil. The pesticides in the soil may pollute rainwater and groundwater used for irrigation (AGEDI, 2007).

Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources

Sadek (2012) avers that potential climate change impacts the quantity and quality of water resources. The regional initiatives on climatic change in the assessment of water are vulnerable in UAE. The region does not have high emission rates, but it is likely to suffer from climate change, which undermines the plans for regional development. In this context, various issues affect water resources either directly or indirectly. The first factor is the temperature increase, which augments the drought cycle, affecting the quality and quantity of the groundwater. According to Sadek (2012), there is a 15% and 50% reduction in fresh water in Lebanon and Syria, respectively. It is worth noting that high temperatures increase desertification, and land degradation, affect biodiversity, and influence the production capacity of plants that carry out desalination. In addition, climatic change has contributed to sea level rise, which enhances the loss of agricultural lands (12 to 15% of UAE fertile Delta land is lost), increases the occurrence of natural calamities such as hurricanes and floods (Guno Hurricane), and seawater intrusion to the groundwater resources in the coastal region (Sadek, 2012). In fact, the climatic change in the UAE has reduced the quantity of available water sources and depleted the quality of water in this region.

Water Management Strategies in UAE

UN-Water Thematic Initiatives (2006) highlight that addressing water problems requires action at national and local levels. In addition, it requires a deliberate effort from global and international levels. Sustainable provision of water is intersectional, thus prompting the need for collaboration and joint action to help countries to combat the issue. In fact, UAE requires strategies that will provide sustainable water in the region. The region will realize the Millennium Development Goals if those issues are addressed properly. According to the Government of Abu Dhabi (2014), it is imperative to recognize the importance of rational consumption of water for future generation welfare. The aim is to provide efficient conservation and management of the three water sources, including groundwater, recycled water, and desalinated water, that will be sustainable for future generations. UNEP/WHO/UN-HABITAT/WSSCC (2003) lists the following strategies for sustainable water provision in UAE.

  • Secure political commitment through the allocation of sufficient financial resources
  • Develop urban sanitation and water management system that will also address environmental impacts
  • Adopt a wastewater system that targets a long-term perspective, minimizing water wastage, health damage, and environmental depletion, and within budgetary limits.
  • Adopt technology that is cost-effective in the use of water and also offer eco-technology alternatives
  • Develop a demand-driven approach when selecting management and technology options for water services. In fact, the users of water must be able and willing to payfortheservices
  • Involvement of all the stakeholders in the management of the sustainable provision of water and ensuring that transparency is a core principle from the beginning to the end of the processes
  • Integrate all the water sector in the overall plan, which encompasses treated wastewater, desalinated water, and groundwater
  • The government should act immediately so that it secures water requirements in the long, medium,   by using various policies for different sectors, technologies, and political pressures to secure water supplies from other friendly countries.


In essence, water belongs to renewable resources, with its amount being relatively constant and sufficient for all living beings. The issue of scarcity lies in the mismanagement and misuse of this valuable resource. Indeed, the main challenge pertains not to technology but to the value system that should govern the management of the usage of natural resources. Economic benefits drive the existing value system without considering environmental and social sustainability, a core value of Islamic beliefs. In fact, the core values of Islam require an individual to be the custodian of the earth’s resources by preserving and developing a culture that will eliminate the negative impacts and maximize the positive effects. Therefore, UAE should increase its efforts to find solutions to water scarcity by enhancing water storage and harvesting measures. There is also a need to initiate other alternatives to water, one such alternative may be using chemicals to wash cars. Finally, every country must shape its management systems to fit its immediate need without jeopardizing environmental sustainability.



AGEDI. (2007). Wastes and Pollution Sources of Abu Dhabi Emirate, United Arab Emirates.

(n.d). Retrieved Dec 11, 2014, from http://www.agedi.ae/pages/pdf/5%20Waste%20and%20Pollution.pdf

Ainsworth R, ed. (2004) Safe piped water: Managing microbial water quality in piped distribution systems. IWA Publishing, London, for the World Health Organization, Geneva.

Al Mulla, M.M. (2011). UAE State of Water Report. 2nd Arab Water Forum, Cairo, Egypt, 20-23 November. Retrieved Dec 11, 2014, from http://www.arabwatercouncil.org/AWF/Downloads/Sessions/Topic1/P2-3-Mohamed-AlMulla-UAE-State-of-Water-Report.pdf

Al-Omar, M. (2012). The Role of Desalinated Water in Integrated Water Resource Management in Abu Dhabi Emirate-UAE. The Online Journal of Science and Technology, 2 (4) 90-96.

Corinne,Velma, Adeel, Confalonieri, and Elliott (2008). Safe Water as the Key to Global Health. The United Nations University. Available from: United Nations University International Network on Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

Dziuban, M. (2011). Scarcity and Strategy in the GCC. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Middle East Program. 

FAO/WHO (2003) Hazard characterization for pathogens in food and water: guidelines. Geneva, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization (Microbiological Risk Assessment Series No. 3).

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Graziano J.H. and van Geen A. (2005). Reducing arsenic exposure from drinking water: different settings call for different approaches. Environ. Health Perspect. 113(6):A360–A361.

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Prüss-Üstün A., Bos R., Gore F. and Bartram J. (2008). Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, Benefits and Sustainability of Interventions to Protect and Promote Health. World Health Organization, Geneva.

Raouf, M.A. (2009). Water Issues in the Gulf: Time for Action (The Middle East Institute Policy Brief no. 22). Washington, DC: Middle East Institute (MEI). Retrieved Dec 11, 2014, from http://water.heroesoftheuae.ae/en/media/get/other/20100105_water-issues-gulf.pdf

Sadek, T. (2012). Climate Change and Water Resources in the Arab Region. Climate Change and Water Resources, Doha, Qatar, 28 June. Retrieved Dec 11, 2014, from http://www.carboun.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Road-to-Doha-Beirut-Dr-Sadek-Presentation-June-28-2012-reduced.pdf

UNEP/WHO/UN-HABITAT/WSSCC. (2003). 10 Keys for Local and National Action: Strategic Action Plan on Municipal Wastewater. Inter-governmental Review Meeting 2001.

UN-Water Thematic Initiatives (2006). Coping with Water Scarcity: Strategic issue and priority for system-wide action. International Decade for Action Water for Life 2005-2015.

Wastes and Pollution Sources of Abu Dhabi Emirate, United Arab Emirates. (n.d). Retrieved Dec 11, 2014, from http://www.agedi.ae/pages/pdf/5%20Waste%20and%20Pollution.pdf

WHO (2008) Pyriproxyfen in drinking-water: Use for vector control in drinkingwater sources and containers. Background document for preparation of WHO Guidelines for drinking-water quality. Geneva, World Health Organization (WHO/HSE/AMR/08.03/9)

WHO. (2007). Water, Sanitation and Health Programme. Available from: http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/mdg1/en/index.html (Accessed December 2014)

World Bank, (2005) “A Water Sector Assessment Report on the Countries of the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf,” Environment, Social and Rural Development Department, Middle East and North Africa Region, Report No. 32539-MNA.

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