The Global Water and Food Supply Problem

9 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008

See all articles by Patricia H. Werhane

Patricia H. Werhane

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Caetie Ofiesh

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

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This technical note, which presents an overview of the global water and food supply problem at the turn of the 21st century, is a good starting point for a discussion of the environmental and agricultural crises that exist throughout the world, and covers some of the potential solutions to these crises.




World Water Supply

In a statement released for World Water Day on March 22, 2000, the World Commission on Water for the twenty-first century reported troubling news. According to the Commission's statement, there were currently almost 450 million people in 26 countries living without adequate water. Projections were that by the year 2050, 2.5 billion people would be living in severely water-stressed regions. Ismail Serageldin chaired the Commission whose efforts were characterized as the first major effort to link global water scarcity with food security. Serageldin, also the World Bank vice president for Special Programs and chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), stated: “Water is life. Shortage of fresh water is looming as the most serious obstacle to food security, poverty reduction, and protection of the environment.”

Serageldin, along with the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, Klaus Toepfer, raised the possibility that the valuable commodities in the twenty-first century would shift from such traditional materials as oil and other fossil fuels to water, which, although taken for granted by many, is becoming increasingly scarce. Approximately 2.5% of the world's water is nonsaline; most of this water is locked in the polar ice caps and other remote areas, leaving only about 1/100 of 1% of the world's water supply readily available for human consumption and use. Many of these freshwater bodies are shared by neighboring countries and could become a source of contention in the future. Additionally, as cities grow to accommodate the larger numbers of people eager to move into them, they will be competing with agricultural areas for priority to a world's water supply that is being used in various ways.

At the start of the 21st century, roughly 70% of the water consumed worldwide was used for irrigation; 20% for industry; and 10% for residential purposes.

. . .

Keywords: developing countries, technological change, ethical issues

Suggested Citation

Werhane, Patricia H. and Ofiesh, Caetie, The Global Water and Food Supply Problem. Darden Case No. UVA-E-0213, Available at SSRN: or

Patricia H. Werhane (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States
434-924-4840 (Phone)


Caetie Ofiesh

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

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