Saudi: The management crisis

Zoe writes*

Over the past fifty years, Jeddah has experienced rapid and varied growth. The negative side effect of the development areas was environmental degradation due to a lack of effective maintenance. There are numerous integrated management and environmental issues today which concern Jeddah’s water resources as well as its air, land, and marine resources.

According to Magram, concerns about the environmental quality of the city are relatively new, meaning there is an overall lack of awareness and common information both from authorities and civilians, which in turn makes it challenging for the country to adopt and execute solutions/ plans, especially when this field is not of their priority.

The management of water is one of Jeddah’s most challenging problems, reports Al-Juaidi. There are numerous needs, including providing home and industrial water supplies for a sizable population, cleaning and disposing of sewage, draining water from both natural and man-made sources, and managing a sizable marine environment for both commercial and recreational uses.

With the expansion of the city, the supply, usage, and removal of water in the Jeddah region have undergone fast change. A reliable water supply has been developed for city residents across the infrastructure. According to Haddadin, however, the volume and composition of the water utilized in Jeddah today which must be disposed of, is larger than the environment’s capacity to remediate it naturally.

According to Bradbury, 98% of freshwater supply to Jeddah comes from desalination plants, a process which creates several environmental issues. Two main impacts are of concern: the impact on the marine ecosystems due to thermal pollution and the elevated levels of salt and chlorine in the return waters. Likewise, these plants are expensive to construct and manage, as well as running on fossil fuels, thus contributing to the ever-increasing greenhouse gasses and impacting the air quality in the city.

There are also major issues with sewage removal and treatment. As seen in the figure, a significant area (approximately 66%) does not have access to central sewage treatment facilities. As mentioned by Magram, sewage is gathered on-site in tanks or vaults, hauled out to collection lakes or dumped in the desert. On-site disposal methods include direct dumping in the sea, treatment through leaching systems, and disposal through deep wells. Magram concludes that the capacity of the current lake/disposal site has been reached, there is a rise in the level of the groundwater in the area of north Jeddah said to be caused by this supply of water, and the groundwater has been contaminated as a result of these disposal techniques, among other issues.

The cost of treating these conditions are high, and increasing. Future disposal strategies must be organized, taking into account the ongoing urban expansion. Future environmental and socioeconomic effects of actions about development must be anticipated, notes Lee.

Bottom Line: Jeddah’s rapid evolution has led to many environmental problems, and all of these impacts will only be magnified as the population continues to grow. As a water-scarce nation heading into a future of climate change conflicts and uncertainty, there is an urgency to adapt.


* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice ūüôā

Hossegor: towards water shortage?

Victor writes*

Soorts-Hossegor (or “Hossegor” as the city is called by locals) is located on the western coast of France, and it has always been the perfect place for summer holidays with idyllic beaches and beautiful landscapes. Yet in this heaven-like city, something is increasinly becoming a concern: water. According to the French media, last August (2022) the city decided to stop water use on public showers located by its beaches. Why? Because of an important drought happening at this time which was seriously affecting the city‚Äôs water resources.

Other factors may also have played a role in such willingness to economise water. Last summer, Hossegor was also hit by a serious heatwave. In addition to this, tourism is also crucial for the city’s economy with around 40 000 tourists which are expected each summer, contrasting with the approximately 4000 year-round inhabitants. Such an increase in population also impacts water use. As an illustration at the beginning of August 2020, water consumption increased by 20% in the city’s region.

To better understand water scarcity in Hossegor, we need to understand where and how does water is ‚Äėproduced‚Äô. Hossegor‚Äôs water is 100% provided with underground reserves: aquifers. But these are becoming an increasing concern nowadays. As of today (26/02/2023), they are reported to be lower than expected, leading regional officials to worry as the region will know more heat periods and less rainfall in the coming years – making it harder for the city‚Äôs natural water reservoirs to fill up again.

This situation does not only concern Hossegor but the entire region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Last year, around 300 municipalities in this area were at risk of or directly impacted by water shortages.

If we focus on Hossegor‚Äôs “d√©partement” (sub-region in French), namely the Landes, agricultural activities of the inland areas also play an important role in water consumption in addition to tourism on the coastline. Irrigation accounts for 74 % of the total water use for the Landes while 77% of this water comes from ground water reserves and 23% from surface water. In drought situation, the “irrigation calendar” is modified: agricultural exploitation need to start pumping water around one month before the time they would have traditionally done it. As a result, water is a highly sensitive subject for farmers who demonstrated on the matter on the 21st of February.

However, even officials and various reports on the situation of aquifers in the Landes acknowledge that the situation is not dramatically bad for now. According to a recent report, groundwater reserves are low indeed but this can still be ‚Äėfixed‚Äô according to weather conditions before the summer. Everything now depends on the amount of rain the region will receive in the following months. Furthermore, Hossegor‚Äôs water situation is far to be as bad as it is in other French regions such as the Pyr√©n√©es-Orientales, one of the most impacted d√©partements, in which water is already reserved for the “essential” users even during the winter.

Bottom Line: In Hossegor, water scarcity is very much a reality every summer. However, shortages seem to be only a few years away from reality for the city and its region but people have yet to learn how to deal with water reserves that are harder to replace every year.


* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice ūüôā

Don’t take water for granted

In his 1987 hit, “Diamonds on the soul of her shoes“, Paul Simon sings:

She said, “You’ve taken me for granted
Because I please you
Wearing these diamonds‚ÄĚ

This lyric, although a bit paradoxical, has always resonated with me, and I’ve applied it in many “taking-for-granted” situations.

One of them concerns clean water, which most of us have certainly taken for granted, and in a way that is naive (to people who do not have access to affordable, clean water) as well as dangerous (the value of water in our lives is so high — relative to its price — that we do not think of the disastrous consequences of losing access to that water).

Well, it’s worth thinking about, as the end of abundance starts to bite into our water consuming habits.

We have less and less clean water because our actions — direct in terms of mining ground water or polluting surface water and indirect in terms of climate change and water embedded in animal products — are making it so.

And those actions rarely consider what would happen if we had no clean water — let alone no water at all.

“You’ve taken me for granted because I please you, flowing this water”

My one-handed conclusion is that a lot of people are going to be surprised and upset as “their” water disappears in volume, decays in quality and increases in cost, until we no longer take it for granted. Beware.

Interesting stuff

  1. A republic requires citizens; entertainment requires only an audience‚ĶAmericans have struggled to make sense of a pandemic that refuses to conform to a tidy narrative structure‚ÄĒdigestible plots, cathartic conclusions.” Americans no longer take the time to think about understanding or fixing the world — sleepwalking into the matrix.
  2. Listen to this surprisingly nuanced discussion of climate change with Bj√łrn Lomborg and Andrew Revkin
  3. Listen to why Google has a lot to worry about (due to manipulating markets) with respect to the anti-trust suit.
  4. Watch this video about a Russian priest who stood up to Putin’s lays against discussing reality.
  5. Read about why we need more “risky playgrounds” (hear hear!)
  6. Debate: We need more farmer-led (small-scale) irrigation
  7. Read: Internet shopping is now worse than physical shopping
  8. Read: Scientists are “calibrating the thickness” of fat-tailed weather events (disasters), which is useful!
  9. Listen & learn about the problems with academic peer review (just drop it?)
  10. Read: Parents are suing social media companies for harming their kids. Good.

Climate loss, grief and migration

The climate we grew up with is leaving. International action to slow climate chaos is not really working. National action and market innovations are having some useful impacts, but they are far too few on the mitigation side and far too weak on the adaptation side. We are going to face consequences with weak defenses.

When I moved to Amsterdam in 2010, I joked that it was going to get “California weather” due to climate change.¬†

For me, these climate-change impacts are somewhat mitigated by my history of living in different places (in California, traveling, in the Netherlands), but I bet you homebodies have noticed that the climate of your youth is changing:

  • The flowers and trees are responding differently.
  • The rain and cold are coming in stronger or weaker.
  • The heat is more intense, for longer.
  • New animals are arriving while old ones disappear.

These changes are affecting holidays, foods, work, play and even chores.

Do you notice these changes? Which are good? bad?

My one-handed conclusion is that all of us will need to give up on some of our values and expectations, while some of us will need to move, either for comfort or survival.

Is this the first step in our return to a nomadic life?

Interesting stuff

  1. Watch a fact-checked (=not unhinged) debate on legalized cannabis.
  2. People who don’t read books often have character issues (to read, duh)
  3. Listen to this good discussion: The End Of China’s Miracle?
  4. Listen to¬†this nice introduction to “ecological economics” from one of its founders. I especially appreciated Daly’s point on limited resources vs unlimited utility.
  5. Read: My printer is extorting me (another chapter in the “x as a service” nightmare)
  6. Listen to Paul Ehrlich on population, sustainability, etc.
  7. Read: The death of live customer support is the agony of customers
  8. Read: People are leaving New York, so why are the rents rising?
  9. Listen to this 2016 debate over Brexit. The Leave side was deluded.
  10. Read how Vancouver has tried to reduce harm from drugs while facing a rising tide of drug problems. This public health disaster needs serious resources (you know, like the kinda $$ we spend on infertility).

Environmental justice

Back in the 19th century, economists were condemned as “dismal scientists” due to their support of equality (or freedom) for slaves. The economists argued not from justice (sorry!) but efficiency, i.e., that slavery was inefficient because it subjugated people to the will of others rather than to their own free will — and productivity.

This story is not romantic, but it illustrates how economists might “think different” on some issues, even as they come to similar conclusions.

No risk here, neighbors. Carry on!

When it comes to environmental justice (EJ), the questions are (a) “how to define EJ?” and (b) “how to deliver it?”

On (a), I would say that citizens to a particular political jurisdiction receive EJ if they are treated (or face risks) equal to others, i.e., equal risks from air, water and land pollution.

Consider a few examples to flesh out this definition:

  • Does EJ mean they are protected from harming themselves? No — assuming that they do not need special knowledge or technology to understand risks.
  • Does EJ mean that people who buy a house near an airport, pig farm or fracking operation should be protected from risks due to those activities? No, since those risks pre-exist their purchase.
  • Does EJ mean they should be protected from new risks from new or expanded operations? Yes, absolutely.
  • Does EJ mean that citizens in a different political jurisdiction have the same rights or protections? No (for good reasons) due to the realities of nation-states. No (for bad reasons) because rich states may prioritize differently than poor states or (more likely) because rich states can afford more protections.

In terms of (b), the main idea is “internalizing externalities,” i.e., using prices or regulations to reduce or prevent pollution (the threat to EJ). For economists since Pigou (1920), this prescription has been commonsense. But it’s also commonsense to pretty much anyone familiar with “don’t shit where you sleep,” which is why the problem is usually people shitting where other people sleep.

And that brings us to rights.

EJ is basically about rights — the right to not be forced to deal with air, land, light, sound, water, or other pollutions.

We have the right to not be assaulted by someone wielding a weapon, as that causes bodily harm. We do not have the right to not be assaulted by someone wielding words, as there is no agreed way to assess mental or physical harm.

My one-handed conclusion is that EJ requires the definition and enforcement of our right to be free from the pollution of others.

Interesting stuff

  1. This article on income and inequality in The Economist is really well written and insightful.
  2. Listen:¬†Human sperm counts are down by 50 percent since 1970, and half the population is “clinically infertile.”¬†The causes — plastic endochrine disruptors — are not going away, with current policies. (Other species are also losing fertility.)
  3. Read: Elephant poaching falls as income rises. (“shoot-to-kill” policies help)
  4. In 1968 and 1970, the American Petroleum Institute commissioned papers that argued fossil fuels would cause climate change. They’ve known for 55 years.
  5. Read: Artificial sweeteners are in many more products than you’d expect, and they are increasing obesity.
  6. Read (and comment): California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA): too little, too late and too slow?
  7. Listen to the scale in which humans have expanded on the subsidy of fossil (=non renewable, from the past) fuels.
  8. Watch: Espresso has less caffeine than instant, which has less than drip
  9. Watch: Trevor Noah’s analysis of what America needs (his last show)
  10. This is the best version I’ve seen of that old H2O joke:

H/T to JH

The long shadow of apartheid

Apartheid in Dutch/Afrikaans means “apartness,” and it was the (un)official ¬†policy of the Whites ruling South Africa for most of the 20th century.

They were not alone in seeking to separate people by race or color.

Race is ¬†a superficial concept [it’s melatonin melanin, subject to fads] that was invented to facilitate slave trade. The Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator was a slave trader, and he paid an academic to justify his natural and moral right to ignore the differences among hundreds of African tribes, and group all these peoples into a “Black”¬†race that deserved exploitation as a different species. (That’s “science” in the 15th century!) Listen to the¬†“Seeing White podcast series” to learn more.

As you may know,¬†Nazi Germany¬†borrowed many ideas on racism, segregation and concentration camps from White Americans eager to take advantage of Non-Whites. The White rulers of South Africa also borrowed those ideas, but their British and Dutch ancestors were “inspiring” (in all the wrong ways) to Americans and Afrikaners, respectively. (Here’s a paper on the history of racism in S Africa.)

The meaning of “Africaner” has changed many times, but there’s a heavy overlap between racist rulers and people calling themselves “Africaners.”

So, that’s quite an introduction of a extremely complex topic, but what about Apartheid?

The short answer is that it was a legal system of separating “races” in terms of living, working, socializing, and other elements of normal life. People from different races were not allowed to date (let alone marry!), work as equals, go to the same schools, and so on. From what I understand, it was similar in the Jim Crow south, but reached deeper into people’s lives (southerners could move away; South Africans could not) for longer (apartheid ended in the early 1990s).

That long, cruel history matters today.

We visited Capetown and Johannesburg. In both places, people are no longer legally separated by race, but socio-economically separated by past definitions of race. You cannot just move house to a safer neighborhood to get a better job and send your kids to a better school if your parents were poor and uneducated. And you cannot get much help from the state to reduce these challenges when the state is run by a corrupt and incompetent African National Congress, and the rich are unwilling to contribute to a broken system that they are fighting to insulate themselves from. As a result, there is massive poverty and multiple development failures with respect to water, electricity, schools, health, safety, housing — pretty much anything you can imagine necessary to a good life.

A comment that sticks with me came from a White doctor: “You will enjoy the highest quality of life in the world, living in Cape Town — until you get beaten in front of your house.”

So it’s hard for many many people, and it will take decades to overthrow the ANC and build sound institutions. (The Comrades race shows that progress is possible.)

What I find interesting, given history, is how Namibians, which was colonized by S Africa for decades and also has a rich-White, poor-Black demographic reality, seem to get along better. I attribute that to their multi-decade struggle to free themselves from S. African rule. In an “us against them” contest, people on one side tend to forget their differences when facing a common enemy. (I have a paper on this dynamic!)

That was not the case in S Africa, where enemies (Whites favoring apartheid) not only live among them, but still control significant economic power. The ANC, by presenting themselves as liberators of non-Whites, have won consistent majorities in elections without showing any competence or hesitation in looting the state.

My one-handed conclusion is that apartheid left deep scars that will take decades of effort to convert into saamhorigheid (togetherness).

To get some US-centric views on S Africa, watch Trevor Noah here, here and here.

Interesting stuff

  1. Read: To focus on energy efficiency is to make present ways of life non-negotiable
  2. Read: An Aridzona suburb loses its water supply (yep, saw that coming). Related: Drying reservoirs are reducing hydropower generation
  3. Read: Twas the first iceless Christmas
  4. Read: How ChatGPT Will Destabilize White-Collar Work and how universities are changing to reduce cheating risk
  5. Listen: Being Human in the Age of AI (reminds me of my 2005 paper on how Google [search] will eliminate amateurs — and thus the next leaders)
  6. Watch: Why Amsterdam is [not really] Removing 10,000 Parking Spaces (the ideas in my parking paper make an appearance). Related: this podcast on local zoning
  7. Read: Google maps democratises spatial feedback
  8. Read: Alaska’s Arctic Waterways are toxifying due to CC
  9. Listen: The facts behind eating local
  10. Read: The rise of the scented-candle industrial complex

H/T to ED