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WASHINGTON, DC - Water scarcity could leave millions of people without access to clean water or adequate food, warns a new report released in conjunction with World Food Day 2002, the Environment News Service reports. The study by two international agricultural research centers calls for changes in water policies and investments to avert environmental damage, health risks and threats to the global food supply.
Using computer modeling, the report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) projects that by 2025, water scarcity will cause annual global losses of 350 million metric tons of food production -- slightly more than the entire current U.S. grain crop.
"Unless we change policies and priorities, in 20 years, there won't be enough water for cities, households, the environment, or growing food," cautioned Dr. Mark Rosegrant, lead author of the report and senior research fellow at IFPRI. "Water is not like oil. There is no substitute. If we continue to take it for granted, much of the earth is going to run short of water or food -- or both."
Due in part to rapid population growth and urbanization in developing countries, water use for households, industry, and agriculture will increase by at least 50 percent in the next 20 years, says the report, titled "Global Water Outlook to 2025: Averting an Impending Crisis." Increased competition for water will limit the availability of water for irrigation, which in turn will constrain the world's production of food.
Declines in food supplies could cause prices to skyrocket, the report predicts, and higher prices will lead to increased rates of malnutrition, since many poor people in developing countries already spend more than half their income on food.
Fundamental changes in water policies and investment priorities could achieve substantial benefits and sustainable use of water, the report argues. For example, the report recommends pricing water to reflect its cost and value.
"Although water subsidies are commonplace in developing countries, they tend to benefit relatively wealthy people," explained Dr. Peter Hazell, director of Environment and Production Technology at IFPRI. "Making affluent people pay for water would encourage them to conserve. It would also free up financial resources to provide clean, safe water to poor people."
The report also recommends increased investment in crop research, technological improvements and rural infrastructure to boost water productivity and crops yields from rain fed farming, which the report estimates will account for one half the increase in food production between 1995 and 2025.