The cost of solar technology has come down, way down, making it is a viable way to expand access to energy for hundreds of millions of people living in energy poverty. For farmers in developing countries, the growing availability of solar water pumps offers a viable alternative to system dependent on fossil fuel or grid electricity. While relatively limited, experience in several countries shows how solar irrigation pumps can make farmers more resilient against the erratic shifts in rainfall patterns caused by climate change or the unreliable supply and high costs of fossil fuels needed to operate water pumps. Experience also suggests a number of creative ways that potential water resource trade-offs can be addressed.
Groundwater stored in the earth’s crust underpins all our lives – the ultimate source of freshwater for billions has become victim of over-extraction and the ultimate sink for pollutants.
For too long, not enough has been done to regulate the use of this precious, on-demand resource and manage disposal of waste. If rates of groundwater depletion have tripled in the past 3 decades, then the rate at which pollutants have accumulated in shallow aquifers can only have equaled or exceeded that rate.
The lack of care given to groundwater is placing a huge tax on the poor who have no access to clean piped water supply and depend on groundwater for their health and livelihoods. Self-supply, through the use of wells, from polluted aquifers in urban and rural areas is widespread, but un-reported. The impacts are all too apparent in the densely populated urban slums and rural communities that often live just centimeters above polluted soil and rock. Out-migration of poor farmers who are no longer able to access deepening groundwater tables has been a feature in arid and semi-arid regions, but intensive agriculture is also leaving behind a legacy of nitrates and pesticides which imprint aquifers for decades.
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China’s most arid regions are facing an increasingly serious water crisis, and local water policies often aggravate the problem. In such climates, growth in the agricultural sector has come with high environmental costs.
With the help of new technologies that measure real water consumption in agriculture, governments are designing innovative water rights systems that actually save water. Based on results from two successful pilots, the World Bank Group is partnering with China to tap into science to transform water management in agriculture at the national level.
Peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water. There are substitutes for oil, but not for water.
For those of us who were teenagers in the 1980s, it is difficult not to remember the famous Live record released in 1983 by the reggae band UB40. Almost 30 years later I am still listening to their sound. As we mark World Food Day on October 16, I am reminded of one of the songs in that album, Food for Thought. In fact, I still remember some of the lyrics: "Eat and drink rejoicing, joy is here to stay." Drink, eat, and rejoice – a reminder of the link between water, food, happiness, well-being, and prosperity.