Of Oil & Water in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Of Oil & Water in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Of Oil & Water in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

The Author in Riyadh

Like a shimmering oasis the city of Riyadh rises out of the sand.  Located in central Saudi Arabia the capital city is 250 miles from the nearest coast.  Although the Arabian Peninsula is surrounded by water, humans cannot drink saltwater.  Saltwater can be turned into drinking water through a process called desalination however, and desalination is increasingly used as global populations grow.

When my husband and I visited Riyadh in 2012, one gallon of water cost three times a gallon of gas.  We could see why.   The population of the city has grown from 100,000 to over five million in the past century. To supply this precious resource seven desalination plants work to provide about 70% of the potable water for the use of its inhabitants. Desalination is a costly process that takes high energy though, deep underground aquifers and scarce ground water provide the rest.  Our host told us that he had dug a well for a new home that he is building on the outskirts of the city.   When he said that they had to dig 500 feet down to reach water, my husband jokingly asked if they had stuck oil as well.

Riyadh at night

I am getting parched just thinking about it, but our visit made me ponder the sustainability of the most valuable resource on our planet.  I am not talking about oil. A human cannot live more than a week without water, and as humans we lived long before the use of oil as an energy source was discovered.  Water is life. Water can also be deadly if it is unsanitary, and thousands of children die each day from unsafe water and lack of sanitation facilities around the globe.

Map of Saudi Arabian expansion out from Riyadh from 1902 to 1934

Our visit to Saudi Arabia was fantastic; we met wonderful people, and enjoyed the delicious local cuisine. We loved exploring the diverse scenery, and the juxtaposition of modernity against ancient desert culture. Opulence rising out of sand.  The stark desert that we left behind upon takeoff was contrasted by a rainy landing in our verdant home state, which left us with a general concern about our worlds limited water resources. Oil and Water do not mix.  My appreciation for water was renewed in that trip, as well as the understanding that the verdant landscape that surrounds our home and supplies our garden is a privilege of geography.  That said, with the reality of increasingly severe weather patterns around the world, it is all potentially  subject to change. It is likely that water, like fossil fuels today, will be a determining factor of world stability in the future.





Over 800 million people around the globe lack access to clean water, a basic resource that so many of us take for granted. Clean water is a basic human need, and an issue that as a global community,the preservation of our most precious resource is paramount. Water.

water bowl in Saudi Arabia


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