AGU Reviews Key Challenges of Wastewater, its Relationship to Sustainability and the Interconnection Between Water, Energy and Food at Expo Doha

Dr Sumaya Yusuf, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Natural Resources and Environment Department in the College of Graduate Studies (CGS) at the Arabian Gulf University (AGU), has recently participated as a keynote speaker at the 16th Qatar University Life Sciences Symposium.

The event was organised by the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the College of Arts and Sciences in collaboration with the Expo 2023 Doha Horticulture Team, under the theme “Eco-Friendly Sustainable Solutions for a Green Desert Environment”. The event was held at the Expo 2023 Doha headquarters.

The aim of the symposium was to provide a platform for researchers and scientists to meet and exchange scientific and technological advancements to ensure a sustainable environment, and to discuss scientific and technological advancements in producing safe and sustainable food, as well as raising awareness about environmental challenges and possible solutions to protect natural resources and promote sustainable development.

During the event, Dr Yusuf presented a scientific paper titled “Wastewater as an Opportunity for GCC Countries: An Overview of Sustainability and the Interlinkages between Water, Energy and Food, and Key Challenges”. In her paper, she highlighted that GCC countries face many challenges that threaten sustainability, including water scarcity, which is directly linked to water, energy and food security.

Elaborating further on the topic, Dr Yusuf said: “Due to the high cost of desalination, the depletion of groundwater resources, and lack of continuous replenishment, as well as salinisation and low quality and possible pollution, it has become necessary to find an alternative to traditional water resources. This alternative must reduce the burden on natural water resources and achieve sustainability by utilising treated wastewater and utilising this important resource in several uses as a valuable and viable non-traditional resource.”

She also pointed out that the main challenges facing wastewater treatment in GCC countries are the low capacity of treatment plants, as their inflow exceeds their treatment capacity. Dr Yusuf underlined another challenge, stating that the low rate of reuse of treated wastewater, which is treated to a high quality but unfortunately not utilised because the reuse rate does not exceed 40% in GCC countries, mentioning that it is discharged into the sea without exploitation, which represents a wasted opportunity and a waste of large amounts of money borne by governments.

Furthermore, the Professor clarified that the agricultural sector is one of the biggest consumers of water globally at 70 percent, followed by the industrial sector at 23 percent, and finally the domestic sector at percent.

“The world will need to produce more food exceeding 60 percent to meet population requirements by 2050, according to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This situation requires urgent innovative solutions to reduce this unsustainable water consumption, supported by the circular economy approach and investment in it, in order to increase water consumption efficiency in this important sector and reduce water and food waste, which also means preserving and increasing energy efficiency indirectly. The demand for energy will increase by 50 percent than it is now by 2035, according to the expectations of the International Energy Organisation,” Dr Yusuf said.

She further stated: “Water is directly linked to energy and food production and vice versa. To produce food, we need water and energy. Food can also be used to extract water and convert it into energy using innovative technologies in this field. Sustainable practices add to all of these contributions to ensure security in each of these areas.”

In conclusion, Dr Yusuf recommended adopting treated wastewater as an alternative for non-edible crop irrigation such as ornamental plants, streets, and sports fields. She suggested its use for industrial sector operations such as manufacturing and cooling processes. She also recommended adopting the circular economy model, which ensures the preservation of resources and prevents waste, and reducing food waste, which leads to the waste of essential resources such as water and energy.

Meanwhile, the symposium brought together a number of experts and researchers from prestigious universities and local partners from various entities and specialisations with diverse experience in multiple fields, the most important of which are modern technological methods in the field of efficient water management, production and consumption, purification and reuse for agricultural purposes, modern methods of soil fertilisation and how to benefit from desert environmental resources, with the aim of finding sustainable solutions that serve modern agriculture, as well as the ecosystem through cultivation of wild plants and forestation of the desert.

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