This Grass Aint Greener: The Uncertain Fate of the Middle Eastern Lawn

mowed lawn photo

Photo source: Wikipedia.

In England, where the manicured lawn came into fashion in the 17th century, natural rainfall is generally enough to keep the grass growing all year long. In contemporary America, where lawns cover an area roughly the size of New York State, lawns are hardly ecological: unproductive monocultures, lawns account for more than half of domestic water consumption and require polluting fertilizers, pesticides and lawnmowers.

In recent years, lawns have become fashionable in other parts of the world as well, including the Middle East. However, in this parched region, where water is perennially in short supply, lawns may now be on their way out of style.I can't account for every country in the region, but I can report that in the UAE and in Israel, lawns have become a standard part of the local landscape. In Egypt and Jordan, less so.

In the UAE, the grass is watered with desalinated water, produced in an energy-intensive and polluting process. In Israel, where natural water sources are slightly more plentiful, there are plans to significantly expand the country's reliance on desalinated water. In the meantime, however, the country is suffering from a prolonged drought, and the push for conservation in the water economy is on.

This makes for some strange headlines. Last week, Haaretz reported on the troubles of the sod sector in Israel, in which at least half of the companies involved in growing and selling artificial grass are in serious trouble. The reason is an official ban on watering public and private lawns by the country's Water Authority, which has been drying up business. "Other than a brief spate of municipal orders before the elections, no city or contractor would order turf that can't be watered," complained one merchant.

Still, there is plenty of evidence that the order is not being followed in many places. Along Tel Aviv's coastline, for example, miles of new lawns were planted recently when the city's coastal promenade was renovated. It will be interesting to see if the city continues to water its new lawns as the arid summer begins this month.

Further proof that lawns have become the default option in landscaping, even when the customer should know better: the Kinneret Administration (in charge of managing the Sea of Galilee, Israel's major water source) continues to cultivate a patch of lawn in front of its offices.

Grass is not the only plant that can be used as a groundcover (and neither are fake lawns, even if they are getting more eco-friendly). There are plenty of native plants and trees that could do the job just as well, and consume far less water.

Perhaps a happy medium could be found: setting aside parts of public parks for grass, and covering the rest with native plants? In any case, the future of the Middle Eastern lawn doesn't look bright.

More on lawns:
Book Review: Food Not Lawns
Fake Lawns Are Getting More Eco-Friendly
Officials Say No to Faux Lawns

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