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.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.