Interpreting Middle East Economic News and Analyzing Market Trends

“Camels Don’t Fly, Deserts Don’t Bloom:” An update on Saudi Arabia’s water problems

World Desalination Capacity

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The title above is taken from Elie Elhadj’s paper on the coming water crisis in Saudi Arabia.  The paper was published in 2004!  Click here to read the full report.  We have also reported on the water crisis in Saudi Arabia here and here.  Today, there have been no effective solutions to the problem and it is only getting worse.


Here’s a recent article on the water crisis in Saudi Arabia:

Beginning in the late 1970s, Saudi landowners were given free rein to pump the aquifers so that they could transform the desert into irrigated fields. Saudi Arabia soon became one of the world’s premier wheat exporters.

By the 1990s, farmers were pumping an average of 5 trillion gallons a year. At that rate, it would take just 25 years to completely drain Lake Erie.

The Saudi government’s policy largely enriched the ruling elite and resulted in a near total depletion of its precious aquifers, Elhadj wrote.

“A combination of money and water could make even a desert bloom, until either the money or the water runs out,” Elhadj said. For Saudi Arabia, it was the water.

Now the water is nearly gone. Most of that underground water came from ancient aquifers that are deeply buried and don’t naturally refill for tens of thousands of years.

In the historic town of Tayma, which was built atop a desert oasis mentioned several times in the Old Testament, researchers in 2011 found “most wells exsiccated.” That’s academic speak for “bone dry.” The once-verdant Tayma oasis that had sustained human life for millennia – archaeologists have found stone tablets there dating back 2,500 years – was drained in one generation.

Saudi Agri Land

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Saudi Arabia will no longer be in the wheat farming business.

The government announced next year’s wheat harvest will be the country’s last. The Saudis are drinking desalinated water from the ocean – a process too expensive to irrigate farmland.

Agricultural production is in free fall. The country has less than half the farmland it did in the mid-1990s, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Read the full story from Reveal News.

This water crisis is not unique to Saudi Arabia.  The article above goes on to relate what is happening in Saudi Arabia with California’s water problems.  The truth is, the problem has become global and is especially acute in the Middle East where rapid population growth has far outstripped governments’ ability to cope with the growing water and food problems.  Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf States are facing some serious water challenges today, which will only intensify in the years to come.