The Arab world is surrounded by seas and oceans and yet vast areas are desert and appear to be without surface water and to lack drinking water.  In fact the Arab world is affected by the presence or absence of water and how people live with this scarce resource.

The famous falaj system

The Gulf area is the classic location for seeing how human ingenuity has overcome water shortages. For thousands of years the present countries of Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have benefited from the skills of both Arabs and Persians in creating irrigation systems suited to the climate. Because of the intense heat there is the risk of losing surface water by evaporation. The solution can still be seen today: the famous falaj system. Simple water channels were buried underground which took the water to the fields to irrigate them.

Desalinating the sea water

In the 20th and 21st centuries, because of the vast wealth available in the Gulf area the falaj system has been replaced by the availability of desalinated water. On the coast in many GCC countries you will see vast industrial complexes for desalinating the sea water and bringing drinking water deep inland.   When you travel to Arab countries these days, especially the wealthy ones, you may not have a sense that lack of water is a problem. Because of huge desalination projects, as in the Gulf, local people may well be completely unaware of the need to conserve water.

You will also find that water is a subject which comes up all the time, and it certainly does in the words used in Arabic. If you want to say, for example, that everything is going very well you can say that things are going mithl al-maa’  (just like water).

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