Is world’s consumption depleting water supplies? Scarcity or mismanagement?
By Fiorenzo Conte
“According to Nestlé’s Peter Brabeck, roughly 4,200 cubic kilometers of water could be used each year without depleting overall supplies. Consumption is higher, at about 4,500 cubic kilometers a year, of which agriculture takes about 70%. As a result, water tables are plummeting.(..) By 2030, on most estimates, farmers will need 45% more water. They won’t get it. Cities are the second-largest users of water, and those in the emerging world are growing exponentially. (..)Agriculture’s share of the world’s water used to be 90%, so it has already fallen a long way. It will surely decline further.”
This quote is taken from the Economist and discusses the mid-term water availability outlook. So is world consumption outpacing the world’s water supplies? Will water scarcity limit agricultural productivity growth? Will provision of water keep pace with rapid urbanization? Two voices argue that the real problem could not be scarcity per se but bad management of what is already used.
Agriculture. According to professor Dyson water can constitute a limiting factor for productivity growth if and only if it continues to be distributed in the inefficient way as it is now. In fact, only under 40% of water diverted for irrigation purposes actually reaches any crops. A rise in price would have the double benefit to reduce wastage and incentivize investment for maintenance and development of irrigation systems.
Urbanization. According to the Economist the same story of bad management rather than scarcity plays out in the urban context. The story of the piped water system in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, seems to support this thesis. Up until the 1990s 72% of the water produced every day was constituted by non-revenue water- i.e. given away, or lost to leakage or theft. The fix to this wastage to the government charged a reasonable price for water usage and ran the national provider as a business.
In sum, both in rural and urban contexts, the real problem could be mismanagement rather than scarcity. If the water supplies are insufficient it is likely because they are being wasted. An increase in price could reduce this problem.
What is your position on this?