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Waste Not, Want Not


A boy in Benin waters food crops that are growing on land where agriculture previously failed. The water is pumped by means of solar power.(Courtesy SELF)
Next week (8/26-31) is World Water Week, and this year’s theme is Water and Food Security. Some 25 hundred officials, policymakers and scientists will gather in Stockholm for the largest annual meeting on water development issues.

According to Jens Berggren, when it comes to water, it’s a matter of supply and demand.

“The U.N. has assessed that by 2030 the global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent,” he said.

Berggren is director of World Water Week at the Stockholm International Water Institute. He said although he believes there’s actually enough water for everyone, much of the supply simply goes down the drain.

“The bad news is that we are extremely wasteful. We waste enormous amounts of water in the food that we produce, and we also waste enormous amounts of the food that is produced. So up to 50 percent of the food that is produced in the world never reaches the mouths of the consumers, but is either lost in the fields or wasted in the chain toward the consumers,” he said.

Wasting food, he said, is comparable to wasting water because it takes a lot of water to produce what we eat.

“In many developing countries the lack of storage facilities means that we waste a lot of the food that is produced on the fields. It rots away. It’s lost. The lack of infrastructure, such as roads, means it cannot be transported in a safe manner. So there we lose a lot of water that is embedded in the food. And in more Western communities we lose a lot of water that is embedded in the food by just throwing the food away.”

Berggren said about $300 billion dollars in food is thrown away every year by consumers in the United States and Western Europe.

“We waste food also in our water supply system. There are lots of leakages in our domestic water supply that could quite easily be fixed. We waste also water by bad irrigation practices. Instead of giving the plant the right amount at the right time, you just flood entire fields. And sometimes there is even rice that is being grown in deserts with huge evaporation from those fields. So there are several ways where we lose water,” he said.

Despite the enormous waste of food and water, he said, the know-how is available to ensure food and water security.

“A lot of the management techniques and the technologies and things that we would need to fix this problem exist on the shelves today, or in the books that have been written. It just hasn’t been implemented in practice. And I believe that that is because for some reason, decision makers and the general public have not really been aware of the problems that are confronting water.”

However, Berggren added a recent World Economic Forum survey of business leaders shows they are now well aware of the need to protect and conserve water. He said one of the goals of World Water Week is to raise global awareness about the issue.