Magazine article The Futurist

Water Pressure Builds Worldwide: Skyrocketing Water Consumption in Leaving Many Countries High and Dry. (Government)

Magazine article The Futurist

Water Pressure Builds Worldwide: Skyrocketing Water Consumption in Leaving Many Countries High and Dry. (Government)

Article excerpt

Countries around the world face growing water deficits as the supply of freshwater diminishes.

Historically, water shortages were local occurrences, but in an increasingly integrated world economy, water shortfalls are crossing national boundaries. And lack of water means lack of food. Irrigation claims 70% of world water use, including water diverted from rivers and pumped from underground, according to Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.

Future competition for water seems likely to take place largely in world grain markets, says Brown, because water-scarce countries often satisfy the growing needs of cities and industry by diverting water from irrigation, then importing grain to make up for lack of production.

Iran and Egypt, for example, import 40% or more of their total supply of grain. Morocco imports 50% of its grain, and Algerians, Saudi Arabians, Yemenis, and Israelis import more than that, as high as 90% in Israel.

Water loss is a growing phenomenon that is devastating and all but invisible. Unlike other environmental disasters, such as deforestation, falling water tables cannot be readily photographed and are often discovered only when wells go dry. Water consumption worldwide has tripled over the last half century. The drilling of millions of wells has pushed water beyond the recharge of many aquifers. The failure of governments to limit pumping to the sustainable yield of aquifers means that water tables are now falling in scores of countries.

In Yemen, for example, the water table under most of the country is falling roughly two meters annually as water use far exceeds aquifers' sustainable yield. Aquifers around Yemen's capital, Sana'a, are expected to be dry by the end of the decade. In the search for water, the Yemeni government has drilled test wells two kilometers deep--depths normally associated with the oil industry--but they have failed to find water.

The Earth Policy Institute suggests two courses of action for stabilizing aquifers: Raise water prices and control population growth. The first step, Brown argues, would eliminate pervasive subsidies that create artificially low prices for water in many countries. The next step: Raise water prices. This would reduce pumping to sustainable levels by raising water productivity and reducing water use in all segments of society. …

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