Wednesday, April 27, 2011

this will be the arab world's next battle

Guardian | Population growth and water supply are on a collision course. Hunger is set to become the main issue. 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.

Saudi Arabia's growing food insecurity has led it to buy or lease land in several other countries, including two of the world's hungriest, Ethiopia and Sudan. In effect, the Saudis are planning to produce food for themselves with the land and water resources of other countries to augment their fast-growing imports.

In neighbouring Yemen, replenishable aquifers are being pumped well beyond the rate of recharge, and the deeper fossil aquifers are also being rapidly depleted. Water tables are falling throughout Yemen by about two metres per year. In the capital, Sana'a – home to 2 million people – tap water is available only once every four days. In Taiz, a smaller city to the south, it is once every 20 days.

Yemen, with one of the world's fastest-growing populations, is becoming a hydrological basket case. With water tables falling, the grain harvest has shrunk by one-third over the last 40 years, while demand has continued its steady rise. As a result the Yemenis import more than 80% of their grain. With its meagre oil exports falling, with no industry to speak of, and with nearly 60% of its children physically stunted and chronically undernourished, this poorest of the Arab countries is facing a bleak and potentially turbulent future.


ProfGeo said...

This article links out to quite a few other items including Worldwatch's Nourishing the Planet blog, which I didn't know about. (This is quite the week for me not having heard of things.)

Feeding the World: It’s Not About Quantity
The resilience of our food supply is as much about the quality and diversity of our food sources as it is about how much we produce.

by Danielle Nierenberg, Mara Schecter
posted Apr 08, 2011

Today’s sky-rocketing food prices are pushing more people into poverty, threatening the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, and raising concerns about global food security. At first glance, the problem seems to be one of quantity; high prices at the grocery store and local market appear to provide justification for large-scale, industrial food production. But, food security (the resilience of our food supply) is as much about the quality and diversity of our food sources as it is about how much food we produce.

A recent report by the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project finds that the solutions to the price crisis won't necessarily come from producing more food. Rather, encouraging agricultural diversity and local food production—particularly of vegetables—can help communities boost their self-sufficiency and protect vulnerable populations from price shocks...

arnach said...

Other factors to consider:

The impact of virtual water (aka inter-basin transfer via agricultural trade):

Macro/microeconic interactions:
which tops the "further reading" list:,6&as_vis=1&q=Macro-Micro+linkages+irrigation+water+management

Note that the same phenomena apply to any other water-hungry industrial or commercial activity (got microchips?).

Difficult problems are rarely easy to solve. Or, for most people, to understand. Fortunately, there are those who are willing to put forth the purposeful effort to do so, thankfully ever more so because the best tend to be of a mind set geared toward discovering solutions to the problem. Unfortunately, the average voter tends to over simplify when building the internal system simulation models that they unwittingly use to predict future consequences of their own actions, leading to the accidental personal and/or societal suicide-by-doom discussions we find so popular hereabouts. The cure, of course, being awareness. But that seems more like beating a dead mule these days than than it does education.

Anyway, perhaps someone reading this is aware of a mystic ten-dimensional mind-water connection that can be mapped via Lie groups so we can get a good flame war going amongst the cognoscenti.

CNu said...

Here's what's funny to me dood, the thorium cycle was conceived as the power plant for a nuclear bomber in the late 1950's. It works, it works well, it's comparatively safe, and there's plentiful thorium.

Why these reactors not in commercial production at this very minute?

The complex and subtle revaluation of consumables and the extraordinary level of heightened awareness that would be required to get these humans on board a virtual water regime is simply one extinction-level event beyond their conceivable reach.

Shiiiiiiiiiiittttt............, you can't even get people to read their daggone electrical power meters, and here you go talking about virtual water exchange in food products.

I say let the self-inflicted holocaust proceed laissez le bon temps roulez and perhaps the remnants (if any) compelled to struggle back to some level or degree of civilization will be sufficiently chastened to do things correctly next time around.

Perhaps not.

in which case f**k'em.....,

arnach said...

I'm partial to the potential I see for the well-contained (as in COMPLETELY SEALED for its service life), complete fuel consumption (minimal if any radioactively useful material left) in Myhrvold et al.'s TerraPower traveling wave breeder design:

I think that the grid-distributed generation potential for this compact (did I mention COMPLETELY SEALED?) design has the potential for a huge energy security win, while the possibility for something on the order of neighborhood-scale heat cogen could free up a tremendous amount of natural gas for use as a cleaner “home grown” transportation fuel until we can get that smart grid up and running to make pure EVs more practical. Problem solved: medium, and long term, anyway. Most unfortunate that we happen to live in a world where only short term solutions are considered politically and socially acceptable.

Once again, we find ourselves in a situation where everything needs to be done all at once to make anything truly useful happen, only this time we have a bunch of suddenly fiscal conservative knuckleheads deciding it's time to start worrying about public debt. Maybe if we invest enough in the future of our country, we can grow our way out of it, right guys? Basic Supply Side Economics!! I have an idea: instead of the GOP "plan," let’s make USA #1 in energy _and_ the environment: supply, conservation, and consumption--the Triple Crown! Make China et al. come to us for the technology, only let's not let them steal it this time just because we insist on it being made a little cheaper. ROFLMAO until I cry. Speaking of f**kem...but I digress.

My understanding and experience of chaos theory suggests that every measure made to stabilize a multi-dimensional chaotic system (including all the gotta-be-done-right-now "Seem to do something, but never really fix anything" social masturbation we see these days) may actually lead to the release of a higher level of destructive potential energy, to be triggered at a later time, when that butterfly in the jungle of Brazil (here things get a little fuzzy in the math) farts, or dodges to avoid being eaten by another creature, or maybe it's the former to affect the latter.

Where's Hari Seldon when we need him?