Water was in the news at Davos last week, and yesterday the BBC published a piece by Dominic Waughray, Senior Director and Head of Environmental Initiatives, at the World Economic Forum. Waughray notes that Saudi Arabia is looking to access land overseas to grow crops, possibly in Pakistan or the Horn of Africa, and that China is acquiring agricultural land in Southern Africa for similar purposes. Significantly, these countries do not want the land for territorial expansion, but food, and it is a shortage of water that has prompted this move.
According to Waughray, when water availability drops below 1500 cubic meters per person per year, a country needs to start importing food, particularly water intense crops. This happened in Saudi in 2000. Another 14 will join them by 2030. By this time, the OECD predicts that 3.9 billion people will be living in areas under severe water stress, in addition to around 1 billion who already lack clean water today. This problem is being driven by excessive demand as world population grows and countries become more industrialised, but it is being exacerbated by supply-side factors such as melting glaciers because of climate change and the reduction in stocks of potable water because of pollution.