India among UAE’s best friends: Emirati envoy

Dr. Ahmed Al-Banna, the Emirati envoy to New Delhi. (AN photo)
Updated 08 February 2018
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India among UAE’s best friends: Emirati envoy

DUBAI: India and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are among the best friends of the UAE, the Emirati envoy to New Delhi, Dr. Ahmed Al-Banna, told Arab News.

Bilateral relations have reached a new level since Modi’s visit to the UAE in August 2015, Al-Banna said.

During his visit to the UAE on Feb. 10-12, Modi will deliver the keynote address at the Sixth World Government Summit, and interact with non-resident Indians at the Opera House in Dubai.

“The traditional relationship between the UAE and India has always been there in terms of trade, oil, gas, export and re-export,” said Al-Banna.

But since Modi’s 2015 visit and that of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in 2016, “a new track of strategic relationship has developed, and new sectors have been explored,” added Al-Banna, who will accompany Modi during his upcoming visit.

“We have three top-level committees with India. There’s a joint committee headed by (UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation) Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and (Indian Minister of External Affairs) Sushma Swaraj,” said Al-Banna.

“Then we have the strategic dialogue committee, which was formed during the last visit of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (to India) in January 2017. This committee is headed by UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash and India’s Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar,” Al-Banna added.

“Then we have the special investment task force, headed by His Highness Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed, president of the crown prince’s office in Abu Dhabi and chairman of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), and India’s Minister of Commerce Suresh Prabhu. This shows you the importance of the relationship.”

India is the UAE’s leading trade partner, with bilateral trade at about $53 billion, said Al-Banna.

Bilateral relations have acquired tremendous strategic significance, and India and the UAE are cooperating in the fields of defense and aerospace technology, he added.

They are also working closely together on information technology and related sectors, he said.

“Lately, there has also been concentration on what we call soft power, cultural diplomacy and interaction on many cultural levels such as art exhibitions, traditional dance troupes etc.,” he added.

The UAE has invested about $10 billion in India, of which $4 billion is foreign direct investment (FDI), he said.

“We’ve created a special fund along with the Finance Ministry, the National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), with a commitment from the UAE of about $75 billion over the next 10 years to support infrastructure projects in India,” he said.

Of that $75 billion, $1 billion was transferred to the NIIF nearly a month ago, Al-Banna added.

“During the past year, there has been an extra $1 billion investment in India from different UAE institutions and companies,” he said.

“In 2018, we’re likely to witness another $1.5 billion investment from the UAE in India.”

Al-Banna applauded the contributions of UAE-based Indian expats who are helping the two countries progress.

“There are more than 2.8 million Indians living in the UAE,” he said. “These people have contributed to the growth of the UAE on many different levels. They remit more than $13.4 billion a year to their families in India.”

He said his team has developed a plan “to reach out to different levels of the Indian population to create awareness that the UAE can offer many different opportunities.”

He added: “The UAE isn’t only a land of opportunities where people can go and work. It’s also a tourist destination, a major hub and a growing industrial sector.”

The UAE is culturally rich, safe, and has instilled a sense of comfort among people, he said.

“All nationalities living in the UAE, including Indians, consider the country their home,” he added.

“We’re trying, through many different means, to explain what the UAE is all about. Seeing is believing.”

Medical tourism is another important part of Indo-UAE relations, he said, adding: “We’re working very closely on medical tourism from India to the UAE in some specialized hospitals for treatments. We also receive a lot of UAE patients who are treated in many different hospitals in India.”

Al-Banna highlighted the campaign launched by the UAE to help Yemenis injured in the ongoing war in their country.

As a result of that effort, 1,700 Yemenis have been brought to India to get medical attention.

“We brought them to India for treatment, and they’ve been placed in many different hospitals under the supervision and support of the UAE government,” he said.


How ‘liquid of life’ is under threat in the Middle East

Updated 22 March 2019
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How ‘liquid of life’ is under threat in the Middle East

  • An increasing number of people in the region do not have access to clean water and basic sanitation
  • In 2015, there were more than 51 million people in the Arab region lacking access to basic drinking water services, and more than 74 million without access to basic sanitation services

DUBAI: World Water Day had somewhat of an abysmal feel to it across the Middle East this year, as the region witnesses a growing number of people with no access to supplies of the vital resource.

Although the issue of supply has always been critical for the Arab region, known to be one of the most water-scarce in the world, matters are only getting worse with a rise in refugees and the displaced.

“The freshwater scarcity situation is aggravated by several factors, such as dependency on shared water resources, climate change, pollution, non-revenue water losses from aging systems, intermittency, inefficient use, and high population growth,” said Ziad Khayat, first economic affairs officer in water resources in the Sustainable Development Policies Division at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). “Occupation and conflict also affect people’s ability to access water and sanitation services. The Arab region is perhaps the only one in the world still experiencing direct military occupation.”

He spoke of the Israeli occupation of Arab territories, which affects access to water resources and the ability of countries to properly manage and provide required water and sanitation services, with a ripple effect on food security, health and development. “Armed conflict in the region has resulted in the destruction of the water and sanitation infrastructure, hampering the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation,” he said. “In response to shortages, households resort to unregulated water vendors relying on compromised resources, such as unprotected wells. In addition, damaged wastewater systems have resulted in river waters and shallow wells becoming contaminated.”

Water shortages and electricity outages have rendered many health care facilities non-functional, while vulnerability to the outbreak of waterborne diseases, particularly for people living in conflict-affected countries, has greatly increased. “The systemic conditions affecting the Arab region’s water security are not expected to improve in the near future,” he said. “In fact, climate variability and change are projected to impose additional pressures, with adverse impacts on the quantity and quality of freshwater resources in an already water-scarce region, affecting its ability to ensure food security, sustain rural livelihoods and preserve ecosystems.”

A higher frequency and intensity of floods, droughts and extreme weather is being experienced in many countries, which aggravates the situation of vulnerable communities and has led to economic losses and environmental degradation in several parts of the region. “The region has a high population growth rate and is one of the most urbanized in the world, with more than 58 percent of the population now living in cities,” Khayat said. “It has witnessed significant and uneven urban transformations, with some countries undergoing rapid wealth generation, others confronting economic challenges, and several afflicted by conflicts that have led to major displacement and migration of large sections of the population.”

Such trends are expected to place more stress on the urban infrastructure, particularly in water, given the scarcity conditions in the region. And with 86 percent of the region’s population — or nearly 362 million people — living in countries under water scarcity or absolute water scarcity, action is needed. “The predictions are that water scarcity is only going to get worse unless we change the way we manage the resource,” said Monika Weber-Fahr, executive secretary at the Global Water Partnership. “I remain an optimist. We were able to meet some of the water-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and now, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is a new and broader resolve to, not just improve water supply and sanitation, but take a more holistic approach to managing water, including its transboundary aspects.”

“Leaving no one behind” is the theme of this year’s World Water Day at the UN. The central challenge, Weber-Fahr believes, is that to achieve efficient, equitable, and sustainable water management, all parties must have genuine opportunities to actively participate in water management decisions. “Only then can decisions be taken that reflect how we all value water — reflecting its social, economic and environmental value,” she said. “We need to create a safe space for people to come together to build common ground for water management decisions, working with everyone, everywhere.”

In 2015, there were more than 51 million people in the Arab region lacking access to basic drinking water services, and more than 74 million without access to basic sanitation services. Access to water and sanitation  is also lacking in rural areas compared with urban areas. “The record shows that in the past 10 to 12 years in the Arab region, the overall proportion of population with access to safe drinking water has improved from 85 percent to 90, almost reaching the global average of 91, but deteriorated in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen, where it dropped from 94 percent to 88 due to military occupation, civil conflicts and insufficient investments,” said Dr. Waleed Zubari, professor in water resources management at the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain. “Disparity between urban and rural population in both services continues to be considerably large, especially in the lower-income countries. This is expected to continue with the civil conflicts in Syria and Yemen and in Iraq, and under the military occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.”

If only excess water during rainy days can be stored for use during the dry months, water shortage wouldnot be much of a problem. (AN file photo)

Climate change and drought are also expected to worsen river flows, which is the main source of water for many Arab countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria. “Whether we have achieved a universal access to water for all the population or not, there are some challenges that will stay with us in the Arab region,” he said. “Scarcity of water resources and limited endowments facing increasing water demands due to increased population will continue to be a major challenge in the region. Another issue that needs immediate attention is the water supply and use efficiency, recycling and reusing water, considered very low in the region, and if worked on, will reduce water stress tremendously.”

Peace and stability will also help improve the situation, as well as rebuilding the water sector in countries shattered by civil war and occupation. Similarly, water management, efficiency and conservation in policies will need to progress.

For Dr. Ahmed Murad, dean of the college of science at United Arab Emirates University, said that providing clean water for the population is essential for all communities. “Historically, the absence of water could increase conflicts between nations,” he said. “Latest statistics show that about 844 million people in the world live without access to safe water, and one in nine lack the access to safe water.”

He spoke of more pronounced circumstances in the Middle East, with high temperatures and a low amount of rainfall. “Such conditions with population growth may reduce the availability of clean water due to a high demand on water resources,” he said. “The limited and diverse water resources will pressurize natural resources, and this will continue to deteriorate if no action is taken.”