Greening Arabia's Desert
After you’ve read through this series, you’ll understand how to convert desert into productive landscape in a regenerative and permanent way (the micro), and how I hope to see this achieved in the Arabian Peninsula (the macro).
Just because a place is a desert now does not mean that it has always been a desert, nor does it mean that it will stay one permanently. Let’s take a look at history to see how recently water was much more common in this region.
Conditions on the Arabian Peninsula are actually pretty good for rain – much better than you’d think. Take a look at what they are, and why they’re so promising.
Especially around Jeddah, which is in an area bordering the Red Sea, humidity is relatively high. So why in the world have rain levels been decreasing in the region?
A thousand-year tradition was recently replaced by new government measures. Now the same people who would have maintained the green of the land are all but foreced to watch it disappear.
Within 24 hours of a rainfall event here, 90% of that water is already lost to the sea, and only 10% is left to nourish all the plant life in the watershed until the next rainfall (which may not occur for another 1000 days!).
The most valuable resources in the current water cycle are the floods that periodically rush through the wadi systems of Saudi Arabia’s west coast. These floods (and other rains) constitute the only sustainable source of water in the entire Kingdom.
One of the problems in re-greening a desert area is the layer of clay that develops, almost impermeably, on the land’s surface. The solution? A very clever kind of natural pump. You guessed it: trees.
It seems that almost everything that trees push up into the atmosphere plays a major role in modifying precipitation–and most of it in the area of increasing cloud formation and rainfall.
The people in Al Baydha have two significant problems when it comes to food. First, very little of their food is produced locally, and second, their diet is significantly lacking.
Trees remove a host of pollutants: nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter of ten microns and less (PM10), including fine particulate matter (fpm) of less than 2.5 microns. A study in the UK found that urban trees reduced fine particulate matter by 50%.
There are some desert areas where dew consists of 100% of all the precipitation–particularly in the Atacama of South America as well as in some areas of the Namib desert.
Desertification is a self-replicating, self-reinforcing downward spiral of death, drought, and barrenness. Afforestation is an upward spiral leading to greater life, water, and productivity. Whichever cycle is underway largely depends, in many cases, on how people are managing the land.
Transportation. Manufacturing. Packaging. Plastics. Energy. We depend on oil for almost everything in our lives. Put that thought on a shelf for a second and let’s talk about Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s domestic agriculture is at the point of ceasing because it is out of water, and has almost no soil to start with. Meanwhile, relying on imported food presents serious, even grave, risks.