Competition for Water for the Food System
by Strzepek, K., and B. Boehlert
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1554): 2927-2940, 2010
MIT News Release: November 24, 2010
Although the global agricultural system will need to provide more food for a growing and wealthier population in decades to come, increasing demands for water and potential impacts of climate change pose threats to food systems. We review the primary threats to agricultural water availability, and model the potential effects of increases in municipal and industrial (M&I) water demands, environmental flow requirements (EFRs) and changing water supplies given climate change. Our models show that, together, these factors cause an 18 per cent reduction in the availability of worldwide water for agriculture by 2050. Meeting EFRs, which can necessitate more than 50 per cent of the mean annual run-off in a basin depending on its hydrograph, presents the single biggest threat to agricultural water availability. Next are increases in M&I demands, which are projected to increase upwards of 200 per cent by 2050 in developing countries with rapidly increasing populations and incomes. Climate change will affect the spatial and temporal distribution of run-off, and thus affect availability from the supply side. The combined effect of these factors can be dramatic in particular hotspots, which include northern Africa, India, China, parts of Europe, the western US and eastern Australia, among others.
© 2010 The Royal Society
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