desertClimate change and desertification are increasing the amount of the earth’s surface where there is insufficient water to sustain human settlement. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from the country of Qatar, where there is no water, and 90 percent of food requirements must be imported. Fahad Al-Attiya, who is responsible for the country’s food security, explained how it works in a TED talk given in Doha in April last year.

Qatar in the 1940s had a population of around 11,000, with no water and no energy. Life expectancy was around 50 years. The commercialisation of oil led to urbanisation. The population is now 1.7 million, the annual economic growth rate is around 15 percent, and average lifespan is around 78 years. This growth is achieved in a country which has an annual rainfall of 74mm, less than 5 percent of that of many other countries.

The country’s water is provided by a large desalination plant. Desalination is made possible by the abundance of energy that the country has, oil and sunshine. Still, food production is problematic, as less than one percent of the country’s land is farmed. The answer is to build bigger desalination plants, powered by sustainable solar energy, to produce water to make more land farmable.

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