[permaculture] Billions face water shortages, crisis looms: agency

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lfl at intrex.net
Wed Aug 16 16:35:32 EDT 2006

Billions face water shortages, crisis looms: agency
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Aug 16, 4:41 AM (ET)

By James Grubel

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A third of the world is facing water shortages because
of poor management of water resources and soaring water usage, driven mainly
by agriculture, the International Water Management Institute said on

Water scarcity around the world was increasing faster than expected, with
agriculture accounting for 80 percent of global water consumption, the world
authority on fresh water management told a development conference in

Globally, water usage had increased by six times in the past 100 years and
would double again by 2050, driven mainly by irrigation and demands by
agriculture, said Frank Rijsberman, the institute's director-general.

Billions of people in Asia and Africa already faced water shortages because
of poor water management, he said.

"We will not run out of bottled water any time soon but some countries have
already run out of water to produce their own food," he said.

"Without improvements in water productivity ... the consequences of this
will be even more widespread water scarcity and rapidly increasing water

The Sri Lanka-based institute, funded by international agricultural research
organisations, is due to formally release its findings at a conference in
Sweden later this month.

Rijsberman said water scarcity in Asia and Australia affected about 1.5
billion people and was caused by over-allocating water from rivers, while
scarcity in Africa was caused by a lack of infrastructure to get the water
to the people who need it.

"The water is there, the rainfall is there, but the infrastructure isn't
there," Rijsberman told reporters.

He said more needed to be done to promote rain-fed agriculture and to
increase water storage in Africa, where many people live with water


"Irrigation needs to be reinvented," said Rijsberman, adding irrigation in
many countries was inefficient.

But scarcity problems could also be overcome by more efficient water use,
recycling and better pricing of water, which in its bottled form was already
rivaling the cost of oil.

Rising living standards in India and China would lead to increased demand
for better food, which would take more water to produce, he said.

Rijsberman said the price of water would have to increase to meet an
expected 50 percent increase in the amount of food the world will need in
the next 20 years.

He said in Australia, five years into a drought, irrigation water costs less
than five U.S. cents a cubic meter, compared to $1 to $2 per cubic meter for
drinking tap water and $100 to $200 per cubic meter for bottled drinking

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, whose constituency covers the
mouth of Australia's longest river system, the Murray-Darling, said solving
water problems was a pressing problem for the world.

"Improving the efficiency of agricultural production and water use is
fundamentally important to improving economic growth, sustainability and
reducing poverty," Downer said.

The Murray-Darling runs through Australia's main crop and food-growing
region but water flows have dropped dramatically because of drought and
large amounts of river water pumped out to irrigate cotton.

Downer said Australian researchers were working with counterparts in China
to develop new irrigation methods for rice, while Australian aid programmes
were working to improve water in the Mekong River through Laos, Cambodia,
Thailand and Vietnam.

A report on global water by environment group WWF released on Wednesday
warned that rich nations, like Australia, were not immune to the coming
water crisis.

It said Sydney was using more water than could be replenished and Australia
had among the highest water usage in the world.

Each day, urban Australians use an average of 300 litres of water each,
compared with Europeans who consume about 200 litres, while people in
sub-Saharan Africa existed on 10-20 litres a day, said the report.

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