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Global water suppy central issue at Stockholm conference

It takes roughly 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain  

August 14, 2000
Web posted at: 2:46 PM EDT (1846 GMT)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (Reuters) -- Global fresh water supplies are being used up so fast that almost half a billion people already depend on nonrenewable sources, an international conference was told Monday.

Water riots such as those in China's Shandong province last month will become more common as people struggle for control of dwindling supplies, said Lester Brown, chairman of the U.S.-based Worldwatch Institute.

Thousands of Chinese farmers clashed with police in July after officials cut off water leaking from a dam near Anqiu village in Shandong province, according to a human rights group.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

"This is an example of how desperate people become when they are deprived of water," Brown told a news conference at the start of the week-long meeting. "This is going to happen more and more. Water suddenly becomes an issue when the wells run dry."

Over-pumping of aquifers in China, India, the Middle East and United States now exceeds 160 billion tons of water per year, according to Brown, who delivered a keynote address when the conference opened Monday.

Since it takes roughly 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, this excessive pumping is equal to 160 million tons of grain, or half the U.S. grain harvest.

"In consumption terms, 480 million of the world's 6 billion people are being fed with food produced with the unsustainable use of water," Brown said. "We are already using up the water which belongs to our children," he added.

South African Education Minister Kader Asmal said that by 2025, one in three of the world's population "will struggle just to find water to drink and bathe, much less grow food."

But Asmal, winner of this year's $150,000 Stockholm Water Prize for his contribution to the awareness of water issues, challenged the view that shortages must lead to conflict.

"I have seen sovereign states and ethnic groups within nations go to war over every resource -- oil, land, humans, diamonds, gas, livestock or gold, but never ... over water development and dams," he said.

Nations in practice preferred diplomacy, realizing that stopping a neighbor's water meant cutting off life, he said in a speech at the conference which is organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute.

Industry is already adapting to the challenge of water shortage, Paul Tebo, a corporate vice president of U.S. chemical company DuPont told a news conference. "The days when water could be used, contaminated and discharged are over," he said.

The seminar will tackle the impact of finite water resources on all aspects of human behavior, particularly the most efficient ways of producing food.

At present about 70 percent of all water diverted from rivers and pumped from underground is used for irrigation, 20 percent goes to industry and 10 percent for residential use.

As countries become wealthier they consume more beef, pork, poultry, eggs and dairy products, which take more grain to produce.

The American diet, rich in meat products, requires 1760 pounds of grain per person a year, whereas the Indian diet based on rice requires only 440 pounds.

"We have to become more animal-protein efficient," said Brown, adding that the competition for water would be reflected in world grain markets.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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