Saudi Arabia Stakes a Claim on the Nile

18 Jun, 2013 - By

Saudi Arabia’s Glass Is Four-Fifths Empty

Anyone flying over Saudi Arabia today will see the desert dotted with cow sheds and huge circles of green, where crops to feed both the cows and Saudis are grown. The water to irrigate those fields, and cool those cows, does not come from rivers. There are no rivers. It comes from what was once one of the world’s largest reserves of underground water. More than a mile beneath the sand, the water was laid down tens of thousands of years ago during the last ice age, when Arabia was wet.

The sheikhs of Saudi Arabia have been farming the desert in this way for 30 years, spending hundreds of billions of dollars of oil revenues to pursue their dream of self-sufficiency in food. The Saudi government has been paying farmers five times the international price for wheat, while charging nothing for the water, and providing virtually free electricity to pump that water to the surface. Fortunes have been made as the giant pivots green the desert, and cows graze in their mist-filled sheds.

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