News

Hungrier Planet Strains Water Supply

Food, agriculture are largest users of world's water

Demand for water is growing along with population, especially as the demand for food increases.
This year on World Water Day, Thursday, March 22, the United Nations highlights the critical role water plays in food security, at a time when water supplies are already under severe strain in many parts of the world.

Thirsty food

Water. As the population grows, there are more and more people at the tap every day. But when it comes to the world’s demand for water, drinking it is just the beginning

“Food - and agriculture in particular - is by far the largest user of water,” says  Pasquale Steduto, the head of water programs at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the water drawn from rivers and aquifers worldwide.

So, while each person drinks about two to three liters of water per day, it takes roughly 200 liters to produce that person’s daily diet of maize. Bread takes 270 liters. Rice? 420. And the meat to go with it takes even more water. Pork: 930 liters for a day’s serving. Lamb: 1400 liters. And beef is the thirstiest of all: 2400 liters.

While each person drinks about two-to-three liters of water per day, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the water drawn from rivers and aquifers worldwide.
While each person drinks about two-to-three liters of water per day, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the water drawn from rivers and aquifers worldwide.

And the demand for water is growing along with the demand for food.

“We are expecting another two billion, if not more, people coming in the next 40 years," Steduto says. "We are already in a situation of water-scarce conditions."

Over-extraction

Water is scarce in some places because farmers are pumping it out of the ground faster than it can recharge, according to the head of water policy for the US State Department, Aaron Salzberg.

“The groundwater is getting depleted to the point where that will have an impact on food security," he says. "If you look at India, for example, in the breadbasket up in the northwestern part of the country, over-extraction is a huge, huge issue and this is going to start to play a role in their ability to produce food and to meet their internal needs.”



Over-extracting groundwater for irrigation is also a huge issue in major farming regions of China, the United States and elsewhere.

Waiting for rain

On the other hand, much of sub-Saharan Africa has the opposite problem: not enough irrigation. Most African farmers depend on rainfall, which is becoming less reliable with climate change.

"This rainfall is not being predictable, putting the land at higher risk," says Steduto, "so we cannot predict or anticipate how much food we are going to produce.”

Producing more food for more people with less water in the coming years will be a challenge.

But there are solutions. Low-tech treadle pumps for farmers who need irrigation. Drip irrigation for farmers who need to squeeze more crop per drop. And eating less meat in countries that already overconsume it, just to name a few.

Making changes

“We know how to do it. We need to make this into practice," says Steduto, "so, from that side, that we have a solution, I am optimistic.”

But making changes takes time. And Steduto is less optimistic about the pace of change. So is the State Department’s Aaron Salzberg.

“I think it’s the lack of political will," Salzberg says. "The fact that governments just haven’t made the decision to make this a priority.”

But experts say that making that decision may no longer be up to those governments, as climate change threatens water supplies already stressed by a growing population.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs