By a rough estimate, we use around 70% of all freshwater available for agriculture and allied activities while the 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.


There is a consensus that it is time for launching a coordinated global action programme to reduce the amount of hidden water used in the food and drink production. Can this be true? The amount said to be used as of now this 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 database 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 average a person needs at least one ml of water for every calorie consumed and imagines 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 a 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, a 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 everyone 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 seawater 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. The primary responsibility of the governments world over must be to reorient their food production policies to cut down on water usage by different stakeholders by 20% within a matter of 5 years. Though the industry is using less water than farmers, there is considerable scope to reduce its water footprint 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 anymore. It is known that the world will need 60% more food by 2050 to feed the population and even with the best of technologies an extra 20% of the water will have to be secured to make the extra food required by then.

As for the food and beverage industry water is a critical input there cannot be any compromise on water needs 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 that 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.

The author is retired Deputy Director, CFTRI, he is the Chairman, Diversified Food Technologies (India), Mysore. This article was published in the May 2015 issue of “Processed Food Industry” monthly magazine.