Intense competition for freshwater between municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses (OUR World 2.0)

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Dwindling water supplies make every drop count

by Stephen Leahy

Drought and chronic water shortages played a significant role in sparking Syria’s civil war and in unrest throughout much of the Middle East, water experts now believe. Around the world, water demand already exceeds supply in regions with more than 40 percent of the world’s population. That may climb to 60 percent in the coming decade, a new study has found.

“Water-scarce regions can’t grow enough food to feed their own people,” said co-author Manzoor Qadir of United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).

About 70 percent of the world’s freshwater — and up to 95 percent in some countries — is used for irrigation. There is intense competition for freshwater between municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses. Increasingly, agriculture has been losing out, particularly in water-stressed regions, Qadir told IPS.

Between 2006 and 2011, up to 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced its worst ever drought and a series of crop failures. In 2009, the UN reported that over 800,000 Syrians lost their livelihoods and fled to cities as result of the drought.

The entire Mediterranean region is undergoing a prolonged drought that has been linked to climate change, according to a recent US study. If climate-altering carbon emissions continue at current rates, droughts in the region will worsen and lengthen.

Treating a vast resource

As water supplies fall, many regions are using urban wastewater, a very valuable resource if it is treated properly, says the study “Global, regional, and country level need for data on wastewater generation, treatment, and use”, published Sep. 5 in the journal Agricultural Water Management.



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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.