Monday, July 21, 2008

The Middle East, Food, and Water

This New York Times story does a great job of summing up the most important problems the world faces in the 21st century. The Middle East faces huge problems concerning population growth, food, and water. There are already far too many people living in the region. Given the lack of birth control in these Islamic nations, these numbers continue to skyrocket. The biggest problem with this is the dry and increasingly degraded environment of the region. They don't have enough water for their people to drink and they can't grow enough food for their people either. This is forcing these nations to make difficult choices, none of which are likely to have positive consequences.

Should they export their food growth to poorer countries, as Saudi Arabia is doing? Not a terrible idea on one level except that it turns these other nations into colonies and could exacerbate political instability. Plus as nations like Pakistan also continue to see their populations explode, they will need that land and water for their own people.

Should they commit themselves to growing food wherever they can? This is a short-term solution at best because the soil is bad and because they increasingly don't have the additional water it takes to grow crops in the desert.

Should these nations protect the valuable farmland they have? Yes, but it's not going to happen. Land along the Nile and other major agricultural areas is also valuable for industrial developments and human habitation. Developers and industralists have more money and power than farmers. There is no sign that nations will go down this track.

Equally, there is little sign that the kind of population control necessary to bring these problems under control will happen either.

Of any Middle Eastern nation, it is not surprising that Israel is in the best situation. Their agricultural programs are the most modern and the best for conserving resources. And although many religious Jews and some policy makers are concerned that Israeli Jews are not having children at the rate of their Arab neighbors, in the long run their limited population could provide them with the best internal stability. Unfortunately however, as these same problems spiral out of control in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and among their neighbors, they will be surrounded by nations with massive social problems, huge populations, and very little internal stability, thus making Israel's security all the more tenuous.