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Water scarcity continues to be a pressing issue in West Asia, and water shortage in urban areas is emerging as a priority. The continued conflicts in the region make it very difficult to pursue a sustainable development track. Biodiversity conservation is gaining momentum, but many challenges remain if the region is to achieve the 'significant reduction in biodiversity loss' by 2010 targeted by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Our Changing Environment
Saudi Arabia: Irrigation from fossil water

Saudi Arabia, although rich with oil, is short of a vital natural reSource: water. The country’s annual groundwater withdrawals in 2000 were 15 times higher than the recharge. However, Saudi Arabia has the highest production of potable desalinated seawater in the world.

Some 90 per cent of water usage is for agriculture. The kingdom has decided to diversify its economy and modernize its agricultural sector in order to become more self-sufficient in meeting the country’s growing demand for wheat. As Saudi Arabia has severely limited water resources, the government decided to use the revenues from the oil industry to support the most modern technologies available for farming in arid and semi-arid environments. However, the Saudi government has cut subsidies for wheat production for environmental and budgetary reasons, and as part of a general policy of diversifying agricultural produce and saving water.

The images show Wadi as Sirhan, a large alluvium- filled depression up to 300 metres below the
surrounding plateau.

Located in the extreme north along the border with Jordan, Wadi as Sirhan
is a remnant of an ancient inland sea and is underlain
by four aquifers, two of which contain fossil water more than 20 000 years old.

The satellite images reveal the dramatic changes
between 1986 and 2004 as a result of the transformation
of the desert to agricultural land.

The 1986 image shows Wadi as Sirhan near the village
of Al Isawiyah. The 2004 image shows the result of
introducing centre pivot irrigation, drawing on fossil water.
Once established, centre pivot irrigation quickly spread
throughout the surrounding area.

Sources: SaudiCities 1999, USGS 1998

Source: UNEP/GRID – Sioux Falls

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