Not a Drop to Eat
BEYOND CONTRIBUTING to deadly waterborne diseases, inadequate water supplies lead to hunger and malnutrition, warns a report prepared by the Swedish government and presented to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development this spring. The document, titled Water--More Nutrition Per Drop, concludes that unless ways are found to produce more food using less water, the world will not meet the UN's goal of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. Already, some 840 million people go to bed hungry at night.
Contributing to the problem in some parts of the world, greater wealth and urbanization have increased demand for meat and dairy products, which require more water to produce than do crops. According to the report, it takes about 550 liters (145 gallons) of water to produce enough flour for a loaf of bread, compared to 7,000 liters (1,849 gallons) used by an average developing country to produce 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of beef. Overall, agriculture accounts for between 70 and 90 percent of all freshwater used in developing nations.
The report concludes with a series of policy recommendations for national and international leaders--ranging from steps to decrease pollution and groundwater depletion to strategies for fighting nutrient loss and salinization of soil. The most important proposal, however, is to devise ways to increase the amount of food produced by every drop of water consumed. In the words of Frank Rijsberman, director general of the International Water Management Institute, "Between the late 1990s and 2020, world cereal demand will have increased by 40 percent, but the world has a finite supply of water."