We divided them up into twelve tribes-communities. We revealed to Musa, when his people asked him for water: “Strike the rock with your staff.” Twelve fountains flowed out from it, and all the people knew their drinking place. And We shaded them with clouds and sent down manna and quails to them: “Eat of the good things We have provided for you.” They did not wrong Us; rather, they wronged themselves. (Qur’an, 7:160)
The above verse describes how Prophet Musa’s (as) people asked him for water and how he provided places where each tribe could drink. Clearly, his people were suffering from a shortage of water. Such shortages still exist, for more than 1 billion people today lack access to clean water, and 2.4 billion still live without improved sanitation. According to projected estimates, by 2025 about 5 billion people will not have access to sufficient amounts of water.204 Every year, some 12 million people die from water scarcity; 3 million of whom are children who die from waterborne diseases.205
Today, 31 countries, comprising 8 percent of the world’s population, face chronic freshwater shortages. By 2025, this number is expected to rise to 48 countries.206 According to UN predictions, renewable freshwater will become an even more limited resource by 2025, and the number of 131 million people experiencing water problems will rise to either 817 million (according to low population growth projections) or 1.079 billion (according to high population growth projections).
Groundwater, the largest source of fresh water on Earth, represents more than 90 percent of the readily available freshwater reserves208 and is therefore of vital importance to meeting the water needs of up to 2 billion people.209 It constitutes the primary source of water for up to 50 percent of the American population, a figure that rises to 95 percent in rural areas.210 Groundwater is also the safest and most reliable source of fresh water. At the same time, this water can be used to produce geothermal energy and save energy by using heat pumps. When the water sucked up from the soil meets an impermeable underground layer, it collects there and forms a water source. This water is then brought to the surface by the artesian method. Artesian springs are formed by sedimentary rocks that can store underground water.
The fact that artesian wells are drilled in rocky areas runs parallel to the description in the Qur’an. Given that Allah commanded Prophet Musa (as) to strike the rock, Surat al-A`raf 160 may be indicating this method. (Allah knows best.) The verb idrib, translated as “strike,” can also mean “to raise, to open.” Thus, this verse may be describing a water source being opened by the raising of the rock. As a result, pressurized water may have emerged, as described in the verb inbajasa (to pour out, flow freely, bubble up, flow), just as happens with artesian wells. If sufficient pressure forms, water can continue to flow to the surface without the need for a pump.
It is particularly striking that current solutions for dealing with water scarcity use underground water resources. In fact, one of the most effective methods of doing so is the artesian well. In other words, we might be copying Prophet Musa’s (as) example of striking or lifting the rock without even knowing it. Surat al-A`raf 160 may therefore be a reference to artesian wells, the first of which was opened in 1126 in the French region of Artois. (Allah knows best.)