Looming Water Crisis Threatens Food
Environmental News Service
WASHINGTON, DC- Water scarcity could leave millions
of people without access to clean water or adequate food,
warns a new report released in conjunction with World
Food Day 2002. The study by two international agricultural
research centers calls for changes in water policies and
investments to avert environmental damage, health risks
and threats to the global food supply.
Using computer modeling, the report by the International
Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International
Water Management Institute (IWMI) 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 U.S. grain crop.
"Unless we change policies and priorities, in 20 years,
there won't be enough water for cities, households, the
environment, or growing food," cautioned Dr. Mark Rosegrant,
lead author of the report and senior research fellow at
IFPRI. "Water is not like oil. There is no substitute.
If we continue to take it for granted, much of the earth
is going to run short of water or food - or both."
Due in part to rapid population growth and urbanization
in developing countries, water use for households, industry,
and agriculture will increase by at least 50 percent in
the next 20 years, says the report, titled "Global Water
Outlook to 2025: Averting an Impending Crisis." Increased
competition for water will limit the availability of water
for irrigation, which in turn will constrain the world's
production of food.
Declines in food supplies could cause prices to skyrocket,
the report predicts, and higher prices will lead to increased
rates of malnutrition, since many poor people in developing
countries already spend more than half their income on
"For hundreds of millions of poor farmers in developing
countries, a lack of access to water for growing food
is the most important constraint they face," said Frank
Rijsberman, director general of IWMI. "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,
primarily because of water scarcity."
According to the report, it would take only a moderate
worsening in global water policy to bring about a genuine
water crisis. If governments continue to cut spending
on crop research, technology, and infrastructure, while
failing to implement institutional and management reforms,
global grain production will drop by 10 percent over business
as usual levels, equivalent to losing the entire annual
grain crop of India.
Lack of adequate investment and poorly planned systems
will hamper progress in providing water and sanitation
services for hundreds of millions of people.
"Currently, more than one billion people around the
world do not have access to a safe water supply, and adequate
sanitation is even less available," noted Dr. Joachim
von Braun, director general of IFPRI.
"Lack of clean water and sanitation is a major cause
of disease and child mortality," von Braun continued.
"While world leaders recently agreed at the World Summit
on Sustainable Development to cut in half the number of
people without access to clean water by 2015, this goal
will not become a reality unless governments redirect
their water policies to meet the needs of poor people."
Fundamental changes in water policies and investment
priorities could achieve substantial benefits and sustainable
use of water, the report argues. For example, the report
recommends pricing water to reflect its cost and value.
"Although water subsidies are commonplace in developing
countries, they tend to benefit relatively wealthy people,"
explained Dr. Peter Hazell, director of Environment and
Production Technology at IFPRI. "Making affluent people
pay for water would encourage them to conserve. It would
also free up financial resources to provide clean, safe
water to poor people."
The report also recommends increased investment in crop
research, technological improvements and rural infrastructure
to boost water productivity and crops yields from rain
fed farming, which the report estimates will account for
one half the increase in food production between 1995
"We need to invest in water conservation, for example,
using innovative low cost, small scale irrigation technologies
- such as a five dollar bucket and drip kit or manually
operated treadle pumps - that allow smallholder farmers
to irrigate crops using less water, and deliver water
to crops when it is needed," said Rijsberman.
"A number of useful new small scale technologies and
community level water management innovations have emerged
in recent years," Rijsberman added. "Governments must
learn from these practices in order to implement practical
solutions for using less water in agriculture. Without
conservation, aquifers, lakes and wetlands will be further
But the report also notes that it is not too late to
make the changes that could avert future water and food
shortages. A shift to more sustainable water use could
expand river flows and boost the water available for irrigation
and other human uses, the report notes.
"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 full report is available at: http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/fpr/fprwater2025.pdf