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Unsustainable Ag Threatening World's Water Supply

Institute Warns of Possible Water Shortage

.c The Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - A report released Tuesday warned that if more is not done to reduce the amount of water used to produce food, the effort to reduce the number of the world's malnourished people would be jeopardized.

In the report, released by the Stockholm International Water Institute at the 12th meeting of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development in New York, the scarcity of water was found to have a direct relation on the proper feeding of the world's people.

Entitled ``Water: More Nutrition Per Drop,'' the study was launched by Sweden's government and produced with SIWI and the International Water Management Institute.

``Water scarcity is a harsh reality that affects billions of people in many parts of the world,'' said Lena Sommestad, Sweden's environment minister.

The report recommends that new ways be found to produce food while reducing the amount of water lost in the process. And, it adds, that new technologies to do that be made available worldwide, from farmers to policy makers.

Its key finding is that consumers, not producers, are driving global food production. That, the authors said, is causing more water to be used up as producers seek to meet demand.

It takes 145 gallons of water to produce enough flour for one loaf of bread, a fraction of the 1,849 gallons used to produce 3 1/2 ounces of beef.

``An overriding challenge today is to identify the path toward sustainable consumption and production patterns and to design incentives and other policy measures that can help us achieve these goals'' said Jan Lundqvist of the Stockholm institute, one of the report's authors.

In developing countries, agriculture accounts for as much as 70 percent to 90 percent of the fresh water used.

SIWI Senior Scientist Malin Falkenmark said that huge volumes of water of are lost, turning into vapor, in the process.

``With prevailing land and water management practices, a balanced diet requires 320,00 gallons of water a year - 70 times more than the 13 gallons a day used for the average household's domestic needs,'' she said.

Some of the guidelines offered up in the report include new controls to safeguard aquatic ecosystems against depletion, including the preservation of wetlands.

``Between the late 1990s and 2020 world cereal demand will have increased by 40 percent, but the world has a finite supply of water,'' said IWMI director general Frank Rijsberman. ``Current production patterns are unsustainable.''

Another solution is to identify unsustainable agricultural subsidies and trade barriers, particularly in areas where water is scarce, and eliminating them.

04/20/04 07:27 EDT