Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Water: The forgotten crisis

14.07.2008
How do we find more water to feed a growing population?

This year, the world and, in particular, developing countries and the poor have been hit by both food and energy crises. As a consequence, prices for many staple foods have risen by up to 100%. When we examine the causes of the food crisis, a growing population, changes in trade patterns, urbanization, dietary changes, biofuel production, and climate change and regional droughts are all responsible.

Thus we have a classic increase in prices due to high demand and low supply. However, few commentators specifically mention the declining availability of water that is needed to grow irrigated and rainfed crops. According to some, the often mooted solution to the food crisis lies in plant breeding that produces the ultimate high yielding, low water- consuming crops. While this solution is important, it will fail unless attention is paid to where the water for all food, fibre and energy crops is going to come from.

A few years ago, IWMI (the International Water Management Institute) demonstrated that many countries are facing severe water scarcity, either as a result of a lack of available fresh water, or due to a lack of investment in water infrastructure such as dams and reservoirs. What makes matters worse is that this scarcity predominantly affects developing countries where the majority of the world's under-nourished people-- approximately 840 million -- live.

The causes of water scarcity are essentially identical to those of the food crisis. There are serious and extremely worrying factors that indicate water supplies are steadily being used up. Essentially every calorie of food requires a liter of water to produce it. Thus those of us on western diets, use about 2500-3000 liters per day. A further 2.5 billion people by 2030 will mean that we have to find over 2000 more cubic kilometers of fresh water to feed them. This is not any easy task given that current water usage for food production is 7500 cubic kilometers and supplies are scarce. According to the recent report "Water for Food, Water for Life" of the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, which drew on the work of 700 scientists, unless we change the way we use water and increase "water productivity" (i.e. more crop per drop) we will not have enough water to feed the world's growing population (This population is estimated to increase from 6 billion now to about 8.5 billion in 25 years.) Compared with the lengthy agenda to combat climate change, this is a very short time indeed and yet the impacts of water scarcity will be profound. However, very little is being done about it in most countries.

Since the formulation of the UN Millennium Goals in 2002, much of the water agenda has been focused around the provision of drinking water and sanitation. This water comes from the same sources as agricultural water and as we urbanize and improve living standards there will be increasing competition for drinking water from domestic and other urban users, putting agriculture under further pressure. While improving drinking water and sanitation is vital with respect to health and living standards, we cannot afford to neglect the provision and improved productivity of water for agriculture.

There are potential solutions. Better water storage has to be considered. Ethiopia, which is typical of many sub-Saharan African countries, has a water storage capacity of 38 cubic meters per person. Australia has almost 5000 cubic meters per person, an amount that in the face of current climate change impacts may be inadequate. While there will be a need for new large and medium-sized dams to deal with this critical lack of storage in Africa, other simpler solutions are also part of the equation. These include the construction of small reservoirs, sustainable use of groundwater systems including artificial groundwater recharge and rainwater harvesting for smallholder vegetable gardens. Improved year- round access to water will help farmers maintain their own food security using simple supplementary irrigation techniques. The redesign of both the physical and institutional arrangements of some large and often dysfunctional irrigation schemes will also bring the required productivity increases. Safe, risk free reuse of wastewater from growing cities will also be needed. Of course these actions need to be paralleled by development of drought- tolerant crops, and the provision of infrastructure and facilities to get fresh food to markets.

Current estimates indicate that we will not have enough water to feed ourselves in 25 years time, by when the current food crisis may turn into a perpetual crisis. Just as in other areas of agricultural research and development, investment in the provision and better management of water resources has declined steadily since the green revolution. I and my water science colleagues are raising a warning flag that significant investment in both R&D and water infrastructure development are needed, if dire consequences are to be avoided.

Dawn Rodriguez | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.cgiar.org
http://www.iwmi.org

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht How much drought can a forest take?
20.01.2017 | University of California - Davis

nachricht Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product
02.12.2016 | Purdue University

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Helmholtz International Fellow Award for Sarah Amalia Teichmann

20.01.2017 | Awards Funding

An innovative high-performance material: biofibers made from green lacewing silk

20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ion treatments for cardiac arrhythmia — Non-invasive alternative to catheter-based surgery

20.01.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>