This will be the Arab world’s next battle

Lester Brown writes:

Long after the political uprisings in the Middle East have subsided, many underlying challenges that are not now in the news will remain. Prominent among these are rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, and growing food insecurity.

In some countries grain production is now falling as aquifers – underground water-bearing rocks – are depleted. After the Arab oil-export embargo of the 1970s, the Saudis realised that since they were heavily dependent on imported grain, they were vulnerable to a grain counter-embargo. Using oil-drilling technology, they tapped into an aquifer far below the desert to produce irrigated wheat. In a matter of years, Saudi Arabia was self-sufficient in its principal food staple.

But after more than 20 years of wheat self-sufficiency, the Saudis announced in January 2008 that this aquifer was largely depleted and they would be phasing out wheat production. Between 2007 and 2010, the harvest of nearly 3m tonnes dropped by more than two-thirds. At this rate the Saudis could harvest their last wheat crop in 2012 and then be totally dependent on imported grain to feed their population of nearly 30 million.

The unusually rapid phaseout of wheat farming in Saudi Arabia is due to two factors. First, in this arid country there is little farming without irrigation. Second, irrigation depends almost entirely on a fossil aquifer – which, unlike most aquifers, does not recharge naturally from rainfall. And the desalted sea water the country uses to supply its cities is far too costly for irrigation use – even for the Saudis.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 thoughts on “This will be the Arab world’s next battle

  1. Lysander

    I view this as the tragedy of the lack of Arab/Muslim unity. And I don’t mean a single Arab nation or even Arab EU or anything like that. Rather, I’d love to see a commonality of interests and cooperation towards set goals. So Saudi Arabia can’t produce its own food? In a unified setting, they could invest in agriculture in Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Turkey, helping these places towards economic prosperity while ensuring a reliable food source for themselves.

    There would be no need for war, when, through cooperation, there would be enough for everyone.

  2. blowback

    The war has already started and the current battle ground is Libya. The Libyans have the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System fossil aquifer which could supply their own water needs for the next thousand years at current usage rates. Gaddafi has developed it as a national resource but kept greedy Western and Saudi hands away from it. This “revolution” is about water not oil!

  3. Norman

    Where man is concerned, there is always a flaw. This is by no means saying the uprisings are, but that Gaddafi is the stumbling block in the way for the rich E.U./U.S.A. controllers that are buying up Africa so as to produce food crops, which will be exported to other countries, at enormous profits I might add, on the backs of those African nations population. In order to grow those crops, they need water. But they also need oil to power the transportation, manufacture, chemical, infrastructure.

  4. pabelmont

    All the world has stood by as world population has risen unnecessarily upwards beyond any, ANY, A-N-Y reasonable numbers. Thus water becomes a problem. shortages of OIL (if not now then soon) (or high-cost oil) will make factory-monoculture-food-farming far more expensive, for this type of manufacturing-food-from-oil (fertilizer from oil, pesticides from oil) makes food prices depend on oil prices.

    The nasty tricks of the banks and big financiers (futures markets speculations on OIL) can and may also raise oil prices where mere shortages have not yet done so (on a supply/demand basis).

    Global warming — due to over population, due to over use of OIL/COAL/GAS — will aggravate this.

    IN SHORT, it’s not just Arab societies. But Libya, using fossil water, is evidently living on borrowed time (as it runs down its “bank account” of fossil water). And potable-water-from-sea-water requires energy which requires either oil or nuclear or SOMETHING which, presently, few states possess.

    And still the populations rise.

    And still the populations rise.

Comments are closed.