|Turmoil in Saudi Arabian water sector as country runs dry|
Half a century ago, Saudi Arabia sat on one of the world’s biggest and oldest aquifers, containing an estimated 500 cubic kilometres of water. However, there has been chronic mismanagement of water resources. In one generation most of that massive amount of water has been exhausted, mainly through a seriously flawed agricultural policy. The Saudi authorities have tried to lower water use, mounting big publicity campaigns and giving away water-saving devices such as more efficient showerheads. In some areas the campaigns have been successful, but the government is realising mistakes arising from its overly generous subsidy regime. Once people have grown used to paying virtually nothing for services, they deeply resent any charges – even if the taps are running dry.
Kieran Cooke, former foreign correspondent for both the BBC and the Financial Times, reports.
The animation at the right comprises a series of false-colour images showing the evolution of agricultural operations in the Wadi As-Sirhan Basin, as viewed by satellites in 1987, 1991, 2000, and 2012. The images were captured by similar sensors – the Thematic Mapper and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus – on three different Landsat satellites (4, 5, and 7). For scale, the agricultural fields in the images are about one kilometer across and use center-pivot irrigation. Image made by Michael van der Valk with NASA data.