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Water Challenge - a blog by Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Welcome

I hope this blog will create discussion about the important issue of water use and availability around the world.

Your comments and views are very important and I encourage you to help me build and develop the conversation.

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe

Chairman Nestlé SA

Water management – part two: on different users and overuse of freshwater

Water for agriculture – Berri irrigation pumping station in South Australia

In my first part I outlined some basic principles for access to water for basic needs in families and water as a human right. Let me now broaden the perspective by looking at other water users and drivers of their demand, and look into the issue of widespread and increasing overdraft of freshwater.

When talking about water management, tap water often comes to mind first. But the water used in households represents only a small percentage of total freshwater withdrawals for human use, some 10-15%.

Water management – part one: water for survival as a human right

Often when I talk about water management, some people think this means water privatisation. But it is not as simple as that.

I’d like to discuss some of my ideas on this subject in a four-part post, summarising points I’ve made earlier on this blog along the way.

Water management, for me, means using water very carefully according to its value and great importance for individuals and society - making sure there is the highest possible societal outcome from the provision and use of this increasingly scarce resource.

Water shortage “has to become the first priority”

Today’s Financial Times (please note the Financial Times has a paywall) carries an excellent, in depth look by Pilita Clark at “A world without water”, in which I make the case for world leaders to make water scarcity a bigger priority than climate change.

In the piece, which draws on a range of expert views, I argue that this problem is persisting because water is “so undervalued that it is typically used inefficiently – and there is not enough investment to boost supplies”. Regular readers of this blog will recognise this as a consistent theme: the need to set a price for water in order for its essential value to be recognised.

Rising food waste and water shortage

The German word for food is ‘Lebensmittel’, i.e., a means to live, which reflects better than anything else its importance. But “one third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally.” (FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation)

On the one hand, this has an economic impact: the global economic cost of food wastage, based on 2009 producer prices, is USD 750 billion, approximately the 2011 GDP of Turkey or Switzerland. (Source)

On the other hand, it adds significantly to water overuse: present wastage is the equivalent of more than 1,000 cubic kilometres of freshwater abstracted per year, i.e. close to 25% of total estimated global withdrawals for human use in 2005. (2030 Water Resources Group, Charting our water future, page 6) This is particularly important as water, and the rapidly growing gap between withdrawals and sustainable supply, will be by far the most critical chokepoint for global food supply security for the next 10-20 years.

2014 Stockholm Water Prize for John Briscoe

In September 2014, the Swedish King will hand over the Stockholm Water Prize to John Briscoe for his unparalleled contributions to global and local water management, inspired by an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people on the ground.

For several reasons, I have the feeling that there are relatively few people who are working in the water space who do not know John. John has been making a considerable impact for quite some years in a number of countries around the world. Please do read his CV if you would like to know more.

     

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