Water experts call for efficiency and recycling

The world is facing a food crisis because it is running out of water to support food production, according to an environmental consultant and author.

Speaking at the opening of the Water, Finance and Sustainability 2008 conference in London, Fred Pearce, author of When the Rivers Run Dry, said major changes were needed to find enough water for everyone to use.

He said many developed countries have even higher water consumption rates than it first appears because of the global trade in virtual water - the water used to produce food which is exported and imported.

Better use of rainwater and improved water efficiency will be the keys to surviving the crisis, Mr Pearce told delegates.

"We thought we were running out of land to grow food. Instead we are running out of water," he said.

"I would say that the world food crisis today is a water crisis."

Mr Pearce said desalination will be a key way of finding greater water resources in some coastal areas, but it was an expensive and energy-intensive solution.

Antoine Férot, CEO of Veolia Water, echoed the call for more efficient ways of using water.

He said: "Most countries have enough water to satisfy human and environmental needs. The problem lies in its management."

He recommended several steps that should be taken to resolve the crisis, including protecting water resources, reducing pollution, recycling wastewater, and using desalination.

Water demand also has to be reduced from both cities and the countryside through more efficient use, he told delegates, and costs may need to be used to drive down demand.

"Efficient management of demand involves sending a clear price message to consumers," he said.

"The price of water today does not reflect its scarcity. The concept of free water generates huge waste."

Kate Martin


| desalination | food


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