The Global Water and Food Crisis: What does it look like?
The global water and food crisis: What does it look like in river basins?<br />Simon Cook, Myles Fisher, Jorge Rubiano and Maya Rajasekharan<br />What is the global situation?<br />By the year 2050 global population is projected to be over 9 billion, 3 billion more than now. To feed this population, and to account for dietary change, annual cereal production must increase from about 1,840 million tons now to approximately 3,000 million tons in 2050. Food production consumes the vast majority (about 70%) of freshwater resources, therefore increased activity will place great demands on water resources. At the same time, demands are also increasing for water for urban, industrial and environmental systems. The problem can be represented as conflict between two coupled systems - food and water - that are both developing through time such that one is impinging increasingly on the other. Conflict between these systems obstructs development of economic, social and environmental security.<br /> What do these problems look like in basins? <br />The global picture seems quite straightforward. But what does it look like on the ground? From a set of research projects in 10 river basins globally, we are acquiring a detailed picture of the global food and water crisis, as it occurs in basins. The list of basins includes the Andes, the Indo-Ganges, Karkheh, Limpopo, Mekong, Niger, Nile, São Francisco Volta and Yellow River. Too numerous to recall here, features are organized according to the following themes: <br />Water in relation to development trajectory:<br />The condition of overall development strongly affects the activities and capacities for change within basins. Opportunities and risks must therefore be considered in relation to the development trajectory within basins. Conditions in the already urbanized basin such as in the Andes or São Francisco basin are very different from basins such as the Mekong containing transition economies or agricultural basins such as the Volta or Niger. <br />Water availability<br />While increasing water scarcity is of serious concern, the problem is more complex than that of simple lack of water. Water interacts strongly with processes of agricultural development and analysis shows that in most cases, water scarcity I not the major cause of poverty. <br />Water use and water productivity <br />Water productivity is a measure of how well water consumed by agriculture is converted to benefit. It is a key measure of agricultural eco-efficiency and concurrently provides a useful diagnostic of system function. Water productivity in basins is below potential in most basins and improvement of system productivity offers considerable scope to meet demand for food without putting more stress on water systems. The question is: How can this occur?<br />Water, food and livelihoods:<br />The tension between water and food systems affects people in different ways. We group these into four general types of water-related poverty, in order to make it easier to understand this complex problem. One type of water-related poverty is poverty caused by absolute water scarcity. This actually seems quite rare. More common is poverty caused by lack of access to water. A third type – particularly important in less developed areas - is when people are hit by water-related hazards such as flood, drought or disease. A fourth type is the opportunity lost when people are unable to gain from the water that is available to them. <br />How can this insight help the change process?<br />Change is a political process that is mediated by people who represent interested groups. But do such people have all the information they need? We hope that these and related activities can help to inform people and their representatives during political processes concerning water and land resources. <br /><ul><li>Water availability: Political agreement about sharing river water resources can only proceed with basic information about volumes of water moving through river basin systems. Yet major uncertainties persist. How much water flows through different parts of the river basin? What extreme flows occur? Where are groundwater reserves? These and many other basic questions create uncertainty, even in large basins such as the Nile and Ganges for which vast amounts of information exist.
Who uses the water? As water flows through basins it is partitioned through different sub-systems: irrigation, rainfed crops, livestock systems, non-agricultural consumption. The remaining flow supports aquatic systems, on which fishers, sanitation and hydro-power depend. Sub-basin water balances are often unclear. They vary widely; some areas are essentially consumers of water, other areas providers. Green water flows dominate in most basins, yet it is rarely quantified.
How effectively is water used by agriculture? Agriculture is the dominant user of water yet how efficiently is water converted into food, income or other livelihood support? What are the gross and net gains? What are the opportunities for increasing water productivity and what are the obstacles to achieving major improvement? Is this flow represented in an agreed valuation of the resource?
What are the consequences of change to people’s livelihoods? A basic understanding of how different people are affected by water availability, access and use is necessary to understand how change will affect them. Can more precise knowledge of the impact of changes help prevent problems?
Who has the power to change? Institutional analysis holds the key to explain the points of influence. It seems important to focus not only on institutions that control water but also to understand how institutions enhance or constrain the ability of the agricultural system to change.