How food and beverage industry can help global water conservation efforts

By a rough estimate we use around 70% of all freshwater available for agriculture and allied activities while industrial sector absorbs another 20%, leaving just about 10% for domestic use. But this supply dynamics cannot remain static with the ever growing population. From where are we going to get this additional supply? Argues V.H. Potty.

Recent reports from Delhi “state” where a new government took over the reins assuring 20000 liters of water free to every family are indeed scary when the country is facing acute shortage of drinking water in almost all parts. While quantitatively this may be sufficient, what is missed about the quality of water supplied under the so called protected water supply system in almost all towns and cities are supposed to have. Besides the tendency for many families to consume more than that is necessary and waste this precious natural resource is indeed appalling! It is true that government in any country should have the onus to ensure that every citizen is provided with clean air and clean water in adequate quantities which is not taken seriously by any government in India since independence. Instead precious money is being invested on distributing freebies on an alarming scale under the pretext of food security! If even a fraction of this money spend on food subsidies, had been invested in on potable water infrastructure projects, the current day problem of water scarcity and mal distribution would not have been so acute today.

There is a consensus that it is time for launching a coordinated global action programme to reduce the amount of hidden water used in food and drink production. Can this be true? The amount said to be used as of now thus is really mind boggling and if the average per person is computed it is still considered very high. According to some experts we must set a global target to reduce the amount of water used in food production worldwide at least by one fifth within 5 years from now which may not be difficult to achieve. If we refer to the UN data base each person consumes between 2,000-5,000 liters of water directly or indirectly through the food consumed every day working out to a staggering figure of 7.3 lakh liters to 18.25 lakh liters annually! According to health pundits on an average a person needs at least one ml of water for every calorie consumed and imagine the minimum requirement for food intake only by 7 billion people in this planet. This is the bare minimum we need for just survival. Then there are other needs like cleaning, bathing and other daily chores to keep diseases away for which additional water is needed.

By a rough estimate we use around 70% of all freshwater available for agriculture and allied activities while industrial sector absorbs another 20%, leaving just about 10% for domestic use. But this supply dynamics cannot remain static with the ever growing population calling for increased food production and greater quantity of water for industrial and domestic use. From where are we going to get this additional supply? If futuristic need projections are to be taken seriously, our water needs may burgeon to more than 7 trillion cubic meters in another 35 years! What will be the impact of such a situation on the habitats of people? Simple, almost 70% of them would be living in water starved areas while today the corresponding figure is just 7%! Under such dire predictions can the world close the eyes praying to God to save us without doing anything ourselves?

Sure lot can be done if we take a common sense approach to solve the impending water crisis. Efforts by all including individuals, families, educational institutions, industries, farmers and every one having a stake in preventing a water famine in future must put their heads together to cut down on water use, conserve it and deploy modern technologies to recycle water. Efforts must be redoubled to reclaim pure water from sea water and brackish water bodies through low cost technologies, as Israel and gulf countries have shown to the world. If this has to be converted into an action programme there are some essential steps that need to be thought of. Primary responsibility of the governments world over must be to reorient their food production policies to cut down on water usage by different stake holders by 20% within a matter of 5 years. Though industry is using less water than farmers, there is considerable scope to reduce its water foot print through technically sound solutions including water recycling in a big way. Probably it can get support from the governments through financial and other incentives to adopt them in a big way to see the impact almost immediately. How effective government cajoling can be seen in Tamilnadu where rain water harvesting has been made mandatory in the city of Chennai way back and the water shortage there is no more a critical issue. Substantial investments in water management technologies and water purification processes are inevitable and the world cannot shy away from this responsibility any more. It is known that world will need 60% more food by 2050 to feed the population and even with the best of technologies an extra 20% of water will have to be secured to make the extra food required by then.

As for food and beverage industry water is a critical input there cannot be any compromise on water need if product safety is to be ensured. Operations like raw material washing, cleaning, formulation, steam generation, packing etc need water and that too germ free water and there are continuous improvements being achieved by food scientists to reduce the water needs to as minimum as possible. Water recycling is an area which needs urgent attention and government has a big role in facilitating and encouraging the industry to go in for massive recycling efforts through appropriate and practical quality and safety standards and financial incentives. It is time we realize that water is not an individual’s problem or a particular nation’s problem but it a global problem requiring cooperative global efforts.

Source: Processed Food Industry

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