Water in Crisis - Spotlight on the Asian Food Crisis

By: Lori Lewis (Guest Writer)

Some of the largest food-producing regions in Asia have recently faced many crises . Russia has had devastating heat waves and fires, Thailand has endured severe drought, and Pakistan and China have suffered from flooding. This has led to a drop of 63 million mega tons of grain on the world grain market, and many of these countries are imposing export bans on rice and grain in order to provide enough food for the people in their own countries. This has had a combined effect on the global price and availability of rice and grains, causing grain prices to soar. With Asia currently inhabiting over half of the world's hungry people, this could become a grave concern. If their stocks run low and they face the need to import food from other regions, the price will be too high for the poorest, and most vulnerable, populations to afford.

Asia is one of the world's largest producers of food, contributing to the production of 90% of the world's rice, but with the global population expected to rise above eight billion people by the year 2030, they will need to produce at least 50% more rice than they are currently producing in order to keep pace with the demand.

Climate change has contributed to rising sea levels along the many miles of Asian coastline, and the impact has been most noticeable in the Mekong Delta. Severe drought has left the Mekong River at its lowest level in more than 50 years . This, accompanied by rising sea levels, has caused an increased salt concentration in the river, leaving tens of thousands of hectares of farmland vulnerable to destruction, as rice is strictly a fresh water crop.

In addition to rice and grains, another major staple of the Asian diet comes from fish. Currently, the water shortages and an increased need for energy have led to the construction of hydroelectric dams. While the dams can control the amount of water provided for irrigation during the dry season and can provide energy to the region, they have a significant negative impact on the fish population. The fish need to swim upriver to spawn, but they are stopped at the dams and cannot migrate upstream.

Asia is already facing difficulties in finding adequate sources of fresh water for their crops and consumption. Current rice production uses between 24 and 30% of the world's freshwater resources. To grow 1kg of rice, they are typically using about 3,000 liters of water , but only half of that is actually consumed by the plant. The pressure to increase crop production for both cash and to ward off food insecurity has led farmers to cut down forests to use the land for farming. However, much of this soil is poor in nutrients , and without the forest to hold the soil, heavy rains during the wet season cause significant erosion, further leaching the soil of nutrients, and sending huge amounts of sediment down streams, rivers, and lakes. In addition, increased use of fertilizers and pesticides have polluted fresh water and made the declining local fish populations unsafe to eat, which has also contributed to food scarcity.

In order for Asia to meet the food needs of their population and still be able to provide exports for world trade, they must take a deep look at the way they use their water sources.

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