The U.N. General Assembly declared 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. And the theme of this year’s World Water Week, September 1st-September 7th, is “Water Cooperation: Building Partnerships.” 768 million people do not have access to clean water, and two and a half billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. Meanwhile, U.N. Water estimates that the food sector contributes 40 percent of organic water pollutants in industrialized countries, and 54 percent in developing countries. During World Water Week, Food Tank will highlight research and innovations that are working around the world to conserve water resources and make clean water available to everyone. Research institutions, private businesses, governments, and the donor community can work together to scale these innovations up and alleviate global water scarcity.
The Water, Energy, and Food Security Nexus is an approach that recognizes the interconnectedness of water security, energy security, and food security. This perspective urges policymakers not to isolate these issues, but instead to recognize that these three sectors are inextricably linked. In fact, a report from the Bonn2011 Nexus Conference states that taking unilateral action in one of these sectors likely makes matters worse in the other two.
Water security is an especially key component of the nexus. Water cannot be substituted or replaced, and it is often the most neglected node of this nexus, according to a video from SAB Miller. If current practices continue for the next two decades, there will be 40 percent less freshwater resources available than the world needs to achieve global water, energy, and food security, according to the Bonn2011 report. The Economist reports that this growth in demand for water will be driven mostly by the manufacturing and electricity sectors, strengthening the ties between water and energy.
Fortunately, there are initiatives underway all over the world that are finding ways to conserve water while simultaneously ensuring energy and food security.
In the Indian towns of Jalgaon, in the state of Maharashtra, and Udumalpeth, in the state of Tamil Nadu, Jain Irrigation Systems Limited successfully addressed the problem of excessive water usage in the agricultural sector by using drip irrigation. This technique uses anywhere from 30 to 70 percent less water than traditional irrigation methods by minimizing surface runoff and deep percolation. Drip irrigation also saves electricity, which is used for pumping ground water, and improves crop yields by 30 to 200 percent.
SAB Miller, one of the largest beer producers in Africa, believes that resource efficiency is the first step to managing the water-energy-food nexus and aims to become 25 percent more water efficient by 2015, and 50 percent more carbon efficient by 2020. SAB Miller uses agricultural waste, such as spent grains and rice husks, in order to generate renewable energy, leading to cheaper fuel for breweries.
The University of Hohenheim in Germany developed Skyfarming, an agricultural method that allows for high productivity of staple foods without the use of non-renewable resources. Instead of soil or water, a nutrient-rich mist is applied to the root zone of the crops. This innovative concept is a solution to the consequences of increasing agricultural land use that uses limited biogeochemical resources.
With the world population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, the already strained water, energy, and food supplies will be under even more pressure. The number of people who currently live in water-stressed countries is expected to reach 3 billion by 2025. The nexus approach acknowledges and addresses the growing trade-offs that exist between water security, energy security, and food security for the benefit of future generations.