Continued high rates of food overproduction and waste will not only cause food but also water shortages, according to a report by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
The study, entitled 'Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain', was presented during World Water Week, which wrapped up on 22 August in Stockholm.
It warns that "tremendous quantities of food are discarded in processing, transport, supermarkets and people's kitchens," adding: "This wasted food is also wasted water." In the US, up to 30% of food, worth some $48.3 billion, is thrown away each year, it notes, pointing to similar levels of waste in Europe.
"That's like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion litres of water into the garbage can - enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people," the report laments.
Global food needs are expected to roughly double by 2050. At the same time, dwindling oil reserves and increasing concerns about climate change are leading countries to invest heavily in biomass – meaning land for food production is also getting scarcer. What's more, as countries like China and India get richer, demand for more water-intensive agricultural products, such as beef and bioenergy, is increasing.
Food prices have already begun to soar in recent months, causing riots in a number of poor countries, including Haïti, Mexico, Egypt, Morocco and Senegal (EurActiv 04/07/08). Furthermore, an estimated 1.2 billion people already live in areas where there is not enough water to meet demand, causing death, illness and disease related to bad sanitation.
"Weak policy, poor management, increasing waste and exploding water demands are pushing the planet towards the tipping point of global water crisis," warned the report, calling on governments to place an effective water-saving strategy, requiring that food wastage be minimised, firmly on the political agenda.