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Is world’s consumption depleting water supplies? Scarcity or mismanagement?

April 8, 2011

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?


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica Nabongo permalink
    April 10, 2011 1:43 am

    As I was washing my hair yesterday, I was thinking about this post and I realized that the worst thing to happen to the water supply is running water. People who have running water whether in rich or poor countries take it for granted. We don’t conserve water because we know that every time we turn on the tap it will come out as opposed to having to walk a distance to fetch water and knowing that when the water in the jerrycan is finished there will be no more until you fetch it. So we should all get behind getting rid of running water. 🙂

  2. RoseN. permalink
    April 26, 2011 2:03 pm

    By the way Jessica you are being blamed by “Xtina” for the increase in my H2O2 cunsumption while you visited. My monthly bill went up to 69$ a motnth. When I brought it to Xtina’s attention she stated that you washed your hair 4 times that is why. I did not think so.But we are still blessed that the water is there whenever we want to use it. I have done a few things in the house to preserve my water like limiting how much water comes through the fauset downstairs but trully I do not see my savings.I do feel for the people that have no runnuing water because I have been there.

    • Jessica Nabongo permalink
      May 1, 2011 5:38 pm

      HAHA. I am not the one that raised your water bill. I am glad you read our blog!

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