World Water Crisis Underlies World Food Crisis

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September 09, 2008 | 31,880 views

The world's supplies of clean, fresh water cannot sustain growing use and inadequate management. The result has been shrinking food supplies and rising food costs in many countries.

Many of the world's irrigation areas are already highly stressed and drawing more water than rivers and groundwater reserves can sustain. At the same time freshwater food reserves are declining in the face of unsustainable water extractions from rivers.

Sanitation is a problem as well. As developing countries confront the first global food crisis since the 1970s, as well as unprecedented water scarcity, a new 53-city survey indicates that 80 percent of cities studied are using untreated or partially treated wastewater for agriculture. In over 70 percent of the cities studied, more than half of urban agricultural land is irrigated with wastewater that is either raw or diluted in streams. Most of the world is covered in water, yet the bulk of it is not available for our use because it’s salty or frozen. Just 0.007 percent of all the water on earth, or less than 1 percent of the world’s fresh water, is available for human use, according to Water Partners International.

Of that amount, much of it is polluted, unsanitary or dependent on cyclical rain patterns. Still, even though this sounds like just a tiny amount of fresh water, theoretically it should be plenty.

“Even this tiny proportion [of water], however, would be enough for humans to live on Earth if the water cycle was properly functioning and if we managed our water use wisely," said WWF Director General James Leape.

Water Shortage or Water Management?

There’s a lot of talk lately about running out of water. And this issue is already seriously impacting people in developing countries. More than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, and another two out of six lack adequate sanitation, according to the World Water Council.

It’s also been suggested by NASA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies that:

• By the year 2050, some 4 billion people (or over half of the entire world's population) will be facing severe water shortages.

• In the United States, people living in Southwestern states like Arizona could be facing severe freshwater shortages by 2025.

There’s no doubt that water resources are becoming scarce … but it seems the problem is not so much about dwindling water supplies as it is about waste and management. As this excerpt from the World Water Vision Report says:
"There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people -- and the environment -- suffer badly."

At the heart of the problem is the huge amount of water wasted by irrigation practices throughout the world.

According to the World Water Council, 66 percent of water withdrawals are for irrigation, and in arid regions irrigation accounts for 90 percent of water withdrawals (other water withdrawals are for industry (20 percent) and household use (10 percent), while about 4 percent evaporates from reservoirs).

One of the keys to solving this problem, then, actually has nothing to do with water but with food. As the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) points out in their new report “Saving Water: From Field to Fork,” food wastage is water wastage.

“Tremendous quantities of food are discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and people’s kitchens,” SIWI says. “This wasted food is also wasted water. In the U.S., for instance, as much as 30 percent of food, worth some USD 48.3 billion, is thrown away. That’s like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion litres of water into the garbage can -- enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people.”

In fact, it’s thought that up to half of the water used to grow food around the world may be lost or wasted.

In order to solve the world water crisis some major shifts in thinking and policy are going to be needed on a large-scale, but you can do your part starting in your own kitchen by purchasing only the food you need to feed your family, and making sure to eat it before it goes bad.

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