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MENA Watch: Discussing AI’s role in tackling water scarcity

Saudi has already made significant progress in the correct direction, aggressively investing in artificial intelligence to improve desalination plant efficiency and lower energy and operating costs

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces challenges and opportunities for artificial intelligence to resolve and capitalise as the danger of climate change exacerbates water scarcity issues.

By 2025, it’s predicted that 3.5 billion people will live in water-scarce areas; therefore, artificial intelligence (AI) will play a critical role in tackling this and other pressing environmental issues in the years to come.

The MENA region, which has 7% of the world’s population but just 1% of its freshwater resources, serves as a prime example of the issues we confront. Approximately 83% of the 500 million inhabitants living in 25 MENA countries consume more than 80% of the renewable water supply.

There is a significant obstacle due to the disparity between the high demand and limited supply of water, but artificial intelligence is already making a difference. Future technological developments must avert a major catastrophe.

For AI pioneers and businesses hoping to contribute, the magnitude of the challenge ahead is as intimidating as it may eventually be fruitful. According to a World Bank assessment, the MENA region’s annual per capita water availability will fall below the 500 cubic metres per person, per year, absolute water scarcity level by the end of this decade.

According to the report, the region will require an extra 25 billion cubic metres of water annually by 2050 to meet its needs. That is the same as erecting 65 desalination plants the size of the world’s largest plant, Ras Al Khair, located in Saudi Arabia.

Artificial Intelligence is driving sustainable projects in agriculture, disaster relief, and water management in the United Arab Emirates.

S&P Global, a rating agency, has warned that water stress in the Gulf countries is already above internationally suggested sustainability standards due to rising temperatures and demand. In the meantime, according to PwC research that Microsoft commissioned, using AI in environmental applications could boost the world economy by up to USD 5.2 trillion in 2030—a 4.4% gain over business as usual.

The benefits of AI could be most seen in desalination, a vital water supply, since the technology is used to make the desalination process more economical and energy-efficient. This is an essential component in an area where desalination from oil must be drastically reduced to meet growing water demands and cut carbon emissions.

The problem is most evident in Saudi Arabia, where the population is expected to increase from 32.2 million to 100 million by 2040. By 2010, Saudi desalination plants were reportedly using 1.5 million barrels of oil per day or more than 15% of current production.

However, Saudi Arabia has already made significant progress in the correct direction, aggressively investing in artificial intelligence to improve desalination plant efficiency and lower energy and operating costs.

The Kingdom established the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority in 2019 to advance the data and AI agenda. Its goals include bringing in USD 20 billion in investments and training 20,000 data and AI specialists by 2030. This can only be good news in the fight to clean up and streamline the desalination process, which involves filtering, removing salt, and adding minerals to seawater to create fresh water.

Currently, machine learning uses data analysis to forecast and resolve issues. Continuous improvements in AI algorithms will boost optimisation, reducing the desalination processes’ negative environmental effects and opening up new applications for them.

As AI technologies develop further, we may anticipate seeing more creative approaches to maximising the use of water resources, increasing agricultural productivity, and enhancing water sustainability in general.

Artificial Intelligence-driven smart irrigation systems will advance in sophistication, able to instantly adjust to shifting environmental conditions and guarantee accurate water use in farming. AI-driven predictive models will also make it possible to take preventative action against problems with water quality and identify possible weaknesses in infrastructure.

Artificial Intelligence is spearheading sustainable projects in agriculture, disaster relief, and water management in the United Arab Emirates. For example, it’s employed in intelligent irrigation systems, like the one in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, that use real-time data to irrigate plants at the most efficient time to reduce waste.

Artificial Intelligence is also being used in disaster management to analyse several data sources for preventive measures. This helps the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority keep an eye on weather patterns and issue timely alerts.

Additionally, it is changing the agriculture industry in the UAE. The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology has developed an AI-based agricultural monitoring system. It makes use of satellite imagery and AI algorithms to evaluate crop health, identify pest infestations, and ensure water is used efficiently.

Abu Dhabi’s attempt to plant one million mangrove seeds highlights the significance AI-equipped drones play in reforesting areas. Furthermore, technology can be very important in policy simulation and scenario modelling. Effective ways to alleviate water scarcity can be developed by policymakers by forecasting how various policies will affect water resources.

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority also employs artificial intelligence to analyse data for water management. It does this by looking at historical data and presenting patterns to make informed judgements on infrastructure development and water policies.

Artificial Intelligence has been used by the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute to monitor water quality in the interim. To provide accurate and fast information regarding water purity, they analyse data from many sources, including remote sensing and Internet of Things devices.

Owing to the MENA region’s thriving tech and commercial scene, AI applications have significantly increased, changing both our jobs and lifestyles.

PwC forecasts that by 2030, AI might boost the Middle East economy by up to USD 320 billion. Therefore, eradicating water scarcity and successfully addressing other major environmental concerns must be among its top priorities.

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