Vol 7 N° 2 [April–June 2009]
2 The thrill of drilling
10 Poles warming faster than expected
10 Denmark gets behind climate change education
11 Ten years to save coral reefs
12 Awards for exceptional women
12 2011 to be Year of Chemistry
13 Pierre Auger Observatory inaugurated
13 Optics prize for Iranian
16 Jacques Weber on why the financial crisis is also an opportunity
16 Tending to the 'ailing mother river of China'
19 Of shipwrecks, lost worlds and grave robbers
24 New releases
The other crisis
Water is too important to be left solely to water professionals. This is the message of Water in a Changing World, the third World Water Development Report, presented to the World Water Forum in Istanbul (Turkey) by UNESCO on 16 March, on behalf of 26 UN bodies.
The report hopes to persuade governments to show more interest in their ‘blue gold’. Current investment in water is negligible compared to the sums being channelled into the financial crisis and into reducing carbon emissions – even though water supplies will be one of the casualties of climate change. ‘Water should be at the heart of policies for agriculture, energy, health, infrastructure and education’, insists Olcay Unver from UNESCO, coordinator of the report.
The authors observe that the water crisis will deepen in coming decades if foreseeable problems are not anticipated. Demand for water has never been higher, a trend set to continue as the global population swells to 9 billion by 2050, urban dwellers come to outnumber their rural counterparts, energy production rises, standards of living climb and eating habits evolve. By 2030, nearly half of humanity (47%) will be living in water-stressed areas.
Prosperous societies consume a lot of meat. And thus a lot of water, for it is the water we eat, not the water we drink, which determines how much we consume. Producing 1 kg of wheat requires 800–4000 litres of water, compared to 2000–16000 litres for 1 kg of beef. In 2002, Swedes ate 76 kg of beef each per year and Americans as much as 125 kg. Emerging economies are, in turn, developing a taste for meat. It is estimated that the Chinese consumer who ate 20 kg of meat in 1985 will eat over 50 kg in 2009. This means China will need an additional 390 km3 of water. Yet, as we shall see in a case study taken from the report, managing water scarcity is now the top priority along the Yellow River, the second-longest in China.
Then there is the energy we are ‘growing’. It takes 1000–4000 litres of water to produce just 1 litre of biofuel. Biofuel production may still be small-scale – the ethanol share of the transport fuel market was estimated at 4.5% for the USA, 40.0% for Brazil and 2.2% for the European Union in 2008 – but it is rising steadily: after tripling between 2000 and 2008 to 77 billion litres, it should reach 127 billion litres by 2017.
Energy demand could climb by as much as 55% by 2030, nearly half of which may stem from China and India alone. This means that, despite their heavy ecological footprint and social impact, dams are here to stay: electricity generation from hydropower is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 1.7% from 2004 to 2030, an overall increase of 60%. The report argues that water storage in Africa, at just 4% of capacity compared to more than 70% in most of the developed world, will have to increase to serve both energy production and all the continent’s other water needs.
How do you persuade governments to act? For economist Jacques Weber, economics holds the key. In this issue, he explains why the current financial crisis is a consequence of the growing scarcity of natural resources – and why this makes it a golden opportunity to ‘green’ the global economy.
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences