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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched an Arab Water Academy (AWA) to tackle water shortages in the region that will increase as a result of climate change.

The academy has been set up by Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, an applied research and development centre in Dubai promoting the use of sustainable agricultural systems, with branches planned in other Arab countries.

It will also act as a training institute for the Cairo-based Arab Water Council, which coordinates efforts for water resources management in the Arab world.

AWA was officially launched last week (6 July) and has received US$1 million from the Abu Dhabi government and US$300,000 over three years from the World Bank, while around US$200,000 has been promised by the Islamic Development Bank. The academy hopes to raise additional support from other regional and international donors.

The academy will focus on developing technologies for water treatment and desalination, and research the region's rapidly dwindling groundwater reserves and the growing gap between water demand and supply.

It will provide postgraduate degrees, with no tuition fees, in water sciences through affiliation with universities in the region. AWA will also offer graduate field research, and organise training programmes for scientists, environmentalists, technologists and policymakers to develop the scientific workforce needed for water management.  

AWA will prepare a database of research on water in the region and set up a network of Arab water scientists and institutions as well as producing a scientific magazine for knowledge dissemination and to increase public awareness about the role of water science in development. 

According to a World Bank report, the Middle East has five per cent of the world's population but only one per cent of the water.

"Since water is a key part of the development of the region, the decision to step up efforts on water issues in the region is a very positive development," says Anders Jägerskog, Project Director at Stockholm International Water Institute in Sweden.

Jägerskog is assisting AWA in designing and implementing a strategic work plan for 2008–2010.