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Manchester, Lancashire, United Kingdom
We are a team of five cross-disciplinary students from the University of Manchester taking part in the Thought For Food Challenge. For more information, please see our About Us page. It's just down there on the right.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Water, water everywhere?

As a child growing up in the UK, I'd have laughed at you for telling me off for "wasting water."  I'd have pointed to the clouds forming in the sky and said "but it'll rain and fill the reservoirs back up again," or something along those lines.  I might then have suggested that the sea had plenty of water, and that surely we could never run out?!

Of course, I know better now - and I also appreciate that not all people have access to safe, chlorinated drinking water and instead have to battle with parasites,  such as the Guinea worm, while 90% of all infectious diseases worldwide are caused by unsafe drinking water.  In fact, 50% of all the hospital beds in the world are taken up by those suffering due to poor drinking water.  4 billion people per year suffer diarrhoea and 2.2 million of them die.  Furthermore, one child under the age of 5 dies every fifteen seconds due to water-related diseases.

This burden can only reduce agricultural productivity, as parasites such as Guinea worm can render people immobile and unable to tend to crops, or herd animals.  Furthermore, the amount of labour time that is reduced due to water-related illnesses, or even simply transporting water over long distances, severly reduces labour hours in developing countries.  This reduction in labour hours leads to a reduction in production, which maintains poverty in developing countries - while also increasing hunger.  Water, poverty and hunger are all heavily interlinked - and all three must be tackled to reduce malnutrition and suffering in the poorest areas on Earth.

The above video highlights several stark facts about the water crisis we face.  The most harrowing of these is the fact that fossil aquifers, which supply water to hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East, are depleting - never to refill.  "In Gaza, overpumping is reducing the hydrological pressure, which is letting the sea water in, and the wells are producing water that is less and less potable. Already Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Cyprus, Malta, and the Arabian Peninsula are at the point where all surface and ground freshwater resources are fully used. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt will be in the same position within a decade."  This blog also suggests that, in the Middle East, water might cost as much per barrel as oil.

A quick look at the world hunger map made me wince when I realised that many of the most food-secure countries in the world are found in North Africa and the Middle East.

What happens when none of these countries has enough ground-water to irrigate their fields?  Where will these countries obtain their food?  Considering an increasing amount of arable land is being dedicated to biofuels in other countries, will these produce enough to export to North Africa?  Furthermore, civil wars and revolutions have broken out accross the region - most notably in Libya, but also in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria and more.  How are these nations to feed their people in 2015, 2020, 2025 or 2030, nevermind 2050?

The question is...  how are we to feed an ever-expanding population when water security is only set to decrease worldwide?  Farmland from desert can only happen for so long...  and our days exploiting our freshwater resources are numbered.  If we are to solve the global food crisis, we first must tackle the global water crisis - which seems an almost insurmountable task unless governments start large scale desalination projects now.  I again point to the seawater greenhouse project, however, as hope for the future.



  1. One of the best solutions to the water issue is protected culture. This allows crops to be grown in wet areas without disease pressure. It also allows for more efficient water use in dry areas.

  2. Hi, thanks for that food for thought! I suppose Middle Eastern nations should be looking into sparing whatever water there is left by switching to mainly "protected culture" as soon as possible...