Global warming, deforestation and other issues are changing the climate and threatening water shortages in some places and too much water in others.

This has enormous implications for flooding some populations out of places where they can live, but also for farming, as population growth means there is little new land available for agricultural development.

According to Holly Williams, writing in the UK’s Independent Newspaper on May 11 2010, water movement varies around the world. The Pacific Ocean has quite a self-contained cycle, with little water movement towards land while The Atlantic and Indian oceans see more water cycling onto land. The majority of water in Europe, the Americas and Africa comes from the Atlantic as rain – and returns to the ocean through rivers.

Water movement is dictated by temperature changes and in November 2009 a satellite launchd by the Centre for the Study of the Biosphere from Space has been helping plot the changes in the world’s water patterns. It measures the emissions of natural microwaves from the earth’s surface to track changes in the soil’s dampness and increases in saltiness on the surface of the seas.

It’s expected to reinforce evidence of the effects of global warming by showing how the increase in temperature could lead to more extreme rainfall distribution, where wet areas will get wetter and dry areas dryer, leading to increased risks of flood and drought.

If climate change is not taken seriously both low to middle income developing regions and highly developed countries will face water stress in the future.

Unless they adopt adequate and sustainable water management initiatives, by 2025 India, China and select countries in Europe and Africa are predicted to face water scarcity.

Developed countries traditionally have high per capita water consumption and need to focus on reducing it through improved water management practices.

Although low and middle income developing countries currently have low per capita water consumption, they also have rapid population growth and inefficient use of water across sectors.

India is a good illustration: industry expansion, the purchasing power of the rapidly growing middle class able to buy equipment like washing machines, and farmers striving to increase production and meet changing food demands are pushing up water demand. Demand for agricultural products with a high water footprint is expected to rise with increased disposable income and urbanization and the proportion of non-food grain, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables and animal products in people’s daily diets is expected to grow from 35% in 2000 to 50% by 2050.

The website Circle of reports that cross-border private land investments have been occurring since early 2000 and that A World Economic Forum Water Initiative report has found that if forecasts for future water demand are accurate, and reforms to trade do not occur, rapidly industrializing economies across South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, supporting approximately 2.5 billion people will be searching elsewhere for water-rich land for their food.

So countries need to get serious about water conservation and minimising waste water, and there are signs that some are introducing such measures

India, one of the world’s leading crop producers, recently recognized the need to manage existing water reserves in order to avoid future water strain; however, it’s alleged that the initiatives taken so far are too few and too spread out. It needs to do much more to clean up its rivers, promote water conservation and curb industrial and human pollution of its water.

China is implementing large scale, multi-sector projects using innovative water management techniques to reduce the impact of water stress. They include inter-basin river linkage, plans to build three massive north-south aqueducts to pump water from the Yangtze River to Beijing by 2010, community-based Rainwater Harvesting (using rainwater tanks supplying nearly 2 million people and supplementing irrigation for 236,400 hectares of land) and by introducing water treatment technologies in six cities across China.

Inter-Basin River schemes have also been used by the USA, like the Colorado River Canal System which supplies water to over 25 million people and helps irrigate 1.42 MM hectares of land. Most of Southwest US receives water supplied from this canal system. In 2005, the EPA launched a pre-treatment program in the Mid-Atlantic Region, where publicly owned treatment works collect wastewater from domestic, commercial and industrial facilities and transport it to treatment plants before it is discharged and 1,900 industries across 6 states are regulated under this program

The new generation agricultural biotechnology products being researched by biopesticides developers are also making a contribution. The UN’s Food and Agriculture organisation says that biotechnology has a valuable role to play in addressing the challenge of water scarcity in developing countries.

Such tools could include biopesticides and biological yield enhancers that focus on drought resistance in plants without further depleting the soil in which they grow but also the new generation agricultural products will reduce the chemical residues in the land, water sources and food.

Copyright (c) 2010 Alison Withers

Leave a Reply