The Middle East, as a region, is renowned for its lack of freshwater sources. In particular, Saudi Arabia is one of the largest arid countries in the world without permanent rivers or lakes. Most would assume that this stems from the lack of rainfall in this desert Kingdom, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, almost 90 percent of freshwater (rainfall) in western Saudi Arabia flows into the Red Sea off the Kingdom’s coast. For reference, a typical flood at Wadi Al-Lith releases enough water into the Red Sea to irrigate 130 million indigenous trees for three years – an astounding number.
The entire west coast of Saudi Arabia is essentially a drainage basin for the Sarawat Mountains Watershed, resulting in the loss of a great wealth of rainwater and minerals. But that can be rectified by looking to our forefathers for answers.
Through the implementation of tried and tested permaculture principles, we can reverse the desertification of the entire coastline in the process, thus reintroducing a rich, biodiverse environment to the region.
This can be achieved by using a proven method, operated on a much smaller scale by our forefathers, to build back what has been lost over generations through over-logging and rapid development of the region.
By intervening in every watershed across the western coast, using step dams, mountain terraces, silt traps, canals, and collection points, we can capture much of that freshwater and minerals, thus replenishing natural underground aquifers. The idea is not to completely stop the flow of freshwater into the Red Sea, but slow it down enough so that more of it and the minerals it carries down from the mountains get absorbed on its way there. This has been done in the mountainous regions of Asir and Al Baha for hundreds of years and more recently in Al Baydha, 50 kilometers south of the city of Mecca.
Using those same permaculture practices, our region could be transformed into a mix of desert and mountain agroforestries and coastal Mangrove and sea plant agroforestries along the Red Sea coast.
Doing so would not only transform the landscape of the region but also adds a sustainable way for Saudi Arabians to enjoy some of their traditional past times, such as gathering around a campfire built with logs produced by sustainable logging.
While the cost of such an undertaking might be high (estimates put the price tag in the billions), the returns are also high. Those returns come in the form of an estimated increase of GDP by up to 5 percent, according to Regenerative Resources Co CEO Neal Spackman. The introduction of a sustainable agro-industry that contributes to our food security will also add jobs and produce sellable goods. On top of the financial benefits, the environmental benefits, such as sequestering an enormous amount of carbon, potentially increasing rainfall, and possibly creating the first permanent rivers in Saudi Arabia since the last ice age are no small accomplishments. The impact on eco and agro-tourism could also be huge.
As the fantastic Harriet Tubman once said: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars, to change the world.”
Let us be the dreamers, reaching for the stars, changing our world, for the better, in the process.
Talal Al Faisal is the CEO of Al Takamul Group Holding. He serves in multiple boards in businesses involved in agriculture, food stuff, consumer electronics & medical equipment. He tweets @tmafaisal.