Desertification threatens region’s one-time food basket
Saudi Gazette report
The residents of Ain Shams village in the famed oasis of Wadi Fatima have a long list of demands. Every morning they wake up hoping their dreams would come true one day, but to no avail so far.
The villagers lack basic services despite their clamor and the loud promises made in the corridors of government departments.
The mounting demand by the residents to extend the freshwater network to Ain Shams after all the wells in its farms and orchards dried up fell on deaf ears after the contractor hired by the municipality to revitalize the garden village failed to return.
An uneasy calm descended on the farms of Ain Shams after the sounds of water pumps and the chirping of birds disappeared. Today the roars of winds and views of sand dunes welcome visitors to what was once the food basket of Makkah and Jeddah and a favored getaway for families from the region.
The agricultural village of Ain Shams, just 20 km north of the holy city, has become a dead place now with fruit and vegetable vendors in Makkah and Jeddah wondering about the fate of its farmers after its agricultural produce from the area disappeared from the local markets.
About the state of farming in Ain Shams, Uncle Abid, a village elder, said: “We used to rely on the rainy season and the floods to cultivate the land to meet the agricultural needs of Makkah and Jeddah. The land was fertile enough to grow all kinds of crops despite the simplicity of the farming methods and the absence of modern agricultural equipment.”
He remembered the experience of growing onions for the first time in the history of the village. “The first person to plant onions in the village was my father who brought the seeds from somewhere and learned how to grow them. At the time, the import of onions from Egypt was stopped for reasons I cannot remember. Ain Shams had a strong presence in the markets of Makkah and Jeddah with the increasing demand for agricultural produce. The demand was so high that the village farms used to run out of stocks,” Uncle Abid said.
The residents called on the municipality to complete paving the road between the Mundsa and Jumer Bridge, which was constructed three years ago to link the village with Al-Jumoum governorate. The project is falling behind schedule and the facilities on either side of the road are yet to be finished.
Fadel Al-Awfi said the villagers were blown away by the new dual carriageway, which they hoped would play a significant role in bringing down the frequent accidents that killed many residents of the village and its visitors. “But their happiness faded soon because the road project was abandoned half way. People were disappointed as the horrific scenes of death continued on both sides of the road,” he said.
Mohammed Bin Ghali, a 59-year-old retiree, said some streets, especially the new neighborhoods, of Ain Shams lacked lighting.
He recalled that there was a move by the Jumoum municipality to erect dozens of lamp poles along the main streets. He called for illuminating the streets to ensure the security for the village residents.