Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I had no idea...

Saudi Arabia squandered its groundwater and agriculture collapsed. California, take note. - Vox

I was just speculating the other day that the Arabian peninsula countries must grow next to nothing of the food they need.  I had no idea that Saudia Arabia in fact had gone on a ridiculous exercise in my lifetime:
Over at Reveal News, Nathan Halverson has a terrific piece
on how Saudi Arabia squandered its groundwater supplies in just a few
short decades. Back in the 1970s, the government allowed landowners to
dig as many wells as they desired, in order to transform the desert into
lush farmland. An agricultural boom followed, and Saudi Arabia
improbably became the world's sixth-largest exporter of wheat.

"By the 1990s, farmers were pumping an average of 5 trillion gallons a
year," Halverson writes. "At that rate, it would take just 25 years to
completely drain Lake Erie." The problem was that Saudi Arabia doesn't
get nearly enough annual rainfall to replace those withdrawals. Its
aquifers had built up over tens of thousands of years and were now being
drained all at once.

Not surprisingly, the party didn't last. By the 2000s, the aquifers
had become dangerously depleted. Wells dried up. Oases that had
persisted since biblical times were now gone. The country will need to
build costly desalination plants for drinking water. Most important,
Saudi Arabia's agricultural output declined sharply, with the amount of
farmland now less than half of what it was in the 1990s. In an attempt
to conserve what water remains, the country has announced that the 2016 wheat harvest will be its last. An entire industry, gone.
 Why do I get the feeling that libertarian types at the time would have been ridiculing environmentalist's warnings that this was a bad idea.  Let the market decide, etc.

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