Changing the way the world uses water

Global food supply will be at risk if the world does not change the way it uses water, according to a report by two international research bodies released on Wednesday.

The report projects that by 2025, water scarcity will cause annual global losses of 350-million metric tons of food production — slightly more than the entire current United States grain crop.

The report, by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), was released to coincide with World Food Day, marked every year on October 16.

Dr Mark Rosegrant, lead author of the report and senior researcher at IFPRI, said that due in part to rapid population growth and urbanisation in developing countries, water use for households, industry and agriculture would increase by at least 50% in the next 20 years.

”Increased competition for water will severely limit the availability of water for irrigation, which in turn will seriously constrain the world’s production of food,” he said.

”Declines in food supply could cause prices to skyrocket, and higher prices will lead to significant increases in malnutrition, since many poor people in developing countries already spend more than half their income on food.”

Frank Rijsberman, director general of IWMI, said that for ”hundreds of millions” of poor farmers in developing countries, lack of access to water for growing food was the most important constraint they faced.

”If countries continue to underinvest in building strong institutions and policies to support water governance and approaches to give better access to water to poor communities, growth rates for crop yields will fall worldwide in the next 25 years,” he said.

The report recommends pricing water to reflect its cost and value, on the grounds that making affluent people pay for water would encourage them to conserve, and free up financial resources to provide clean, safe water to poor people. It also recommends increased investment in crop research, technological change and rural infrastructure to boost water productivity and growth of crops yields in rainfed farming, which will account for one-half the increase in food production between 1995 and 2025.

It urges investment in water conservation, such as the use of innovative low-cost, small-scale irrigation technologies.

”A crisis is not inevitable,” said Rosegrant. ”The world can both consume less water, and reap greater benefits. To achieve sustainable water use, we must act now. The required strategies take not only money and political will, but time as well”.

The report said that in 1995, sub-Saharan Africa produced 66-million metric tons of grain, but demand was 78-million metric tons that year, creating a deficit of 12-million metric tons. Under the business-as-usual scenario, in 2025, 138-million metric tons of grains would be produced in the region, but demand would be 172-million metric tons, increasing the deficit to 34-million metric tons.

IFPRI and IWMI receive their principal funding from 58 governments, private foundations, and international and regional organisations known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. – Sapa

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Ben Maclennan
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