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Reports on water and food scarcity

Consumers in the West are used to having the choice of an almost infinite variety of food from around the world, but recent research indicates that food security may become far more fragile as a result of climate change.

A study from Kansas State University has suggested that at least a quarter of the world's wheat production could be lost to extreme weather from climate change if adaptive measures are not taken; and a recent UN report suggested that within 10 years, the conditions for 2.9 billion people will be classified as "water scarce" due to population growth, economic instability and climate change pressures.

The UK is not immune: a report from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has concluded that Europe has experienced a stagnation of some crop yields since the early 1990s, as well as statistically significant warming during the growing season.

This evidence is not conclusive in itself, but such academic research clarifies that such challenges are no longer over the horizon.

It is imperative that we think hard about how we as a nation can marshal our precious water resources more effectively, for agriculture, public water supply, the environment and industry. We must decide:

  • how to catch short sharp rainfall when we can, slow water down and reduce flood risk in vulnerable communities;
  • how to reduce water consumption through innovative efficiency measures; and
  • how farmers and water companies can work together to provide benefits for customers and the countryside.

We are still a long way from severe challenges to what we can buy in the supermarket, but long-term thinking about resilience and water availability is essential to ensure a stable future.