If action is not taken soon the world could face enormous problems from dwindling or poisoned fresh water sources as early as 2025, according to a report released Wednesday.

Two non-profit environmental research groups - the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute and the Pretoria-based International Water Management Institute - used sophisticated computer modelling to project the fate of the world's fresh water sources and the repercussions of their disappearance.

The institutes found that by 2025 the world could see annual losses of up to 350 million tonnes of food, slightly more than the entire US annual grain crop, from lack of fresh water.

"Unless we change policies and priorities, in twenty years, there won't be enough water for cities, households, the environment, or growing food," warned Mark Rosegrant, lead author of the report and senior research fellow at the Food Policy institute.

"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."

At the current rate, the study predicted that water consumption would rise by 62 per cent from 1995 to 2025 as the world's population grows, and more water is needed for agriculture.

That number is higher- -- 71 per cent -- for developing countries, which will produce less and less food as water dwindles, according to the study.

By 2025 the developing world will increase their food imports from 107 million tonnes in 1995 to 245 million in 2025 -- if they can afford it.

"For hundreds of millions of poor farmers in developing countries, a lack of access to water for growing food is the most important constraint they face," said Frank Rijsberman, director general of the Water Management Institute.

"If countries continue to under-invest in building strong institutions and policies to support water governance and approaches to give better access to water to poor communities, growth rates for crop yields will fall worldwide in the next 25 years, primarily because of water scarcity."

The diminished food supply will cause grain prices to rocket. The authors predicted rice would cost 40 per cent more, wheat 80 per cent more and corn more than double its current price.

The study also predicted that the short supply would cause water prices to skyrocket.

The rising expense of basic food and water would contribute to rampant malnutrition and disease in hundreds of millions of poor people.

However a crisis "is not inevitable," Rosegrant said. "The world can both consume less water, and reap greater benefits. "To achieve sustainable water use, we must act now. The required strategies take not only money and political will, but time as well," he added

Top of page
Back to Ground water