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Food and water: Plugging the drain before resources dry up

Food and water: Plugging the drain before resources dry up

What if you could see how much water it takes to fill the supermarket shelves with food? About 4.2 litres (1.1 gallons) for every almond; over 52 litres for a single orange; more than 18.5 litres for a walnut — the numbers get even more mind-boggling if you think about how much water it must take to make products like almond milk and orange juice. All told, the Ohio University Russ College of Engineering and Technology reports that 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawalsgo to agriculture. In countries where the economy is growing quickly, that number jumps to 90%.

The impact of this is shocking, especially when food waste is factored in. Clean water isn’t exactly plentiful. According to the UN, water scarcity affects four out of ten people worldwide. There’s an invisible tug-of-war at play. On one hand, the Russ College of Engineering and Technology notes that agriculture will need 19% more water for an increasing global population that will supposedly need 60% more food by 2050. On the other, the UN estimates each person needs up to 49 litres of water per day for hydration, sanitation and cooking. If agriculture continues consuming this much freshwater, there may not be enough to go around.

This tug-of-war, in its most elementary terms, is one in which agricultural water use competes with each person’s daily water requirements.

The broken water system

We’re dealing with a situation where, in some parts of the world, farmers are using too much water to grow too much food for a select number of people; while in other parts of the world people go hungry because of a lack of water and, consequently, food. The situation is illogical, to say the least.

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