As US non-profit group Surge launches in the Middle East, co-founder and former Dubai resident Shilpa Alva tells Holly Sands why she’s bringing the campaign for clean water and sustainable consumption back to the emirates.
With water usage in Dubai under renewed scrutiny, US-based non-profit organisation Surge could hardly have picked a better time to launch its Middle East chapter. Its mission is to bring life-sustaining water to communities in need, and educate the rest of the world on what is described as a global crisis.
Co-founded by Shilpa Alva, a former Dubai resident who returns to the city every year, the NGO was established in response to the global water crisis: some 783 million people live without access to clean water,
and almost 2.5 billion don’t have access to adequate sanitation. In the UAE, the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi (EAD) recently stated that the emirate is using its underground water resources 24 times as fast as they can be replenished. If nothing is done, they will be exhausted within 50 years.
‘As a little girl, on my travels to India with my family, I first started to witness the disparities so many people face in our world,’ Shilpa explains. ‘At the age of 21, I had the chance to spend a few months on a volunteer assignment in a remote Indian village in the Himalayas, where I was confronted with water and sanitation issues for the first time as an adult.’ She recalls significant water shortages, affording the volunteers a shower only once every three or four days, and a muddy river in which to wash clothes – but the fact they had access to water at all made them the fortunate ones.
Today, Surge is on a mission to fund projects that provide access to safe water, as well as those that engage and educate communities – the idea is global change through local action. ‘In our first year in the Middle East, starting with a chapter in Dubai, we will focus on raising awareness of the global water crisis, with an emphasis on the local water issues,’ she explains, noting that the UAE is listed by the United Nations as
a high-rank country when it comes to ‘water stress’. Across the GCC, per-capita water usage ranges between 300 to 750 litres per day – far higher than the global average of 250 litres. ‘This year we also plan to roll out interactive educational campaigns here for both youths and adults,’ she says. As well as raising awareness of the startling figures and impact of water deprivation, Surge also aims to show how local changes, even as small as being mindful of how much water people are consuming as individuals, can have an impact.
Surge is also looking to reach out to Dubai’s community, and form new partnerships with like-minded organisations or individuals, and encourages those who are concerned about the issue to get in touch. ‘We can’t expect people to care if they don’t know there’s an issue,’ Shilpa says, emphasising the need for a focus on education in the city. ‘Once they do learn about the crisis that millions face, we hope they will be inspired to help, and work from their own strengths.’
If you’d like to find out more about how you can do your bit to boost the UAE’s bid to improve water usage, or campaign on behalf of communities in places you may never even have heard of, Surge is waiting to hear from you.
Get in touch and find out more by visiting www.surgeforwater.org, emailing email@example.com, or tweeting @ShilpaAlva.
Local water campaigns
Heroes of the UAE
Developed by Emirates Wildlife Society with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF) and The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, this campaign educates people on the UAE’s ecological footprint. The site contains resources including a virtual water calculator and tips for saving water.
This campaign was set up by a group of advertising professionals who found themselves paying over the odds for imported water in restaurants that refused to serve local options. The website shows which restaurants offer local water – and if you know of a venue that isn’t yet pinpointed on the map, you can add it yourself.
This campaign by Unilever posts regular tips for UAE residents on how to reduce their water usage, from cutting back on shower time each day to what to do with leftover water from boiling