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Global experts warn of Asian water, food crisis

Scientists have warned that Asia must urgently reform its water management to avert devastating food shortages as populations increase.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Scientists have warned that Asia must urgently reform its water management to avert devastating food shortages as populations increase.

Water experts said Monday that demand for food on the continent will double by 2050 and force countries to import more than a quarter of their grain, unless they start supplying water to farms more efficiently.

"If we don't manage to do that there will be increases in malnutrition, increases in poverty, increases in social unrest," said Colin Chartres, director general of the International Water Management Institute.

Chartres cautioned that the problem will spill into Asian neighbors, based on the experiences of the food crisis of 2007-2008.

"I expect we will see more of these kind of crises as we move forward and it will be increasingly hard for the exporting countries to provide enough food," he told The Associated Press as his institute jointly published a report on water management with the United Nations.

The report was published at the start of the Stockholm World Water Week, attended by more than 2,500 scientists, politicians and other officials worldwide.

The report said South Asia could satisfy all of its additional demand for food by improving performance of crop irrigation, while Asia as a whole could meet three quarters of the extra demand.

Improving crop irrigation in Asia is particularly important because most of the land is already used for agriculture, Chartres said.

"You can't expand the area. You have to intensify what is already there, and irrigation offers a greater potential to intensify production," he said.

The report proposes modernizing old Asian irrigation systems built in the 1970s and 1980s, and expanding the use of rainwater in farming. It also says private companies and governments should support local initiatives among farmers.

Chartres said the proposed reforms require billions of dollars of investment in Asian water infrastructure during the next 30 to 40 years.

"We are putting this report out as a wakeup call," Chartres said. "I'm actually optimistic that this is an area we can tackle ... but we have to start now. "

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On the Net:

World Water Week, http://www.worldwaterweek.org

International Water Management Institute, http://www.iwmi.cgiar.org