Will the Middle East run out of water?

by on June 27, 2005 at 7:11 am in Economics | Permalink

Farmers, who account for 70 percent of the world’s water consumption, are often hugely uneconomical about it.  For example, in growing water-intensive crops they derive a less-than-optimal nutrition content from a given quantity of water.  Agriculture, in fact, is one of the real villains in the global water drama…Half the water used by the world’s farmers generates no food…A 10 percent improvement in the distribution of water to agriculture would double the world’s potable water supply.

Middle Eastern countries could solve many of their water problems with free trade, economic diversification, and better agricultural incentives, and yes that means don’t grow bananas in the desert.  Yemen needs to stop growing qat; this addictive drug accounts for over seventy percent of their water use.

Ideally the relatively water-rich Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey could be selling water to the rest of the region but for political reasons don’t expect much of that anytime soon.  Sometimes the easiest way to trade water is inside a tomato.

As for desalination, the costs have fallen dramatically over the last decade, and may continue to fall.  The real problem is not producing the water but rather transporting it uphill.  Desalination won’t solve your problems if you live in the mountains.

The above passage is from Fredrik Segerfeldt’s excellent Water for Sale: How Business and the Market Can Resolve the World’s Water Crisis, published by Cato, and thanks to Alex for the pointer.

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