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It is often said that future wars in the Middle East will more likely be fought over water than oil, but in reality the competition for water is taking place in world grain markets.

The countries that are financially the strongest, not necessarily those that are militarily the strongest, will fare best in this competition.Knowing where grain deficits will be concentrated tomorrow requires looking at where water deficits are developing today.Thus far, the countries importing much of their grain have been smaller ones. Now we are looking at fast-growing water deficits in both China and India, each with more than a billion people.

As noted earlier, overpumping is a way of satisfying growing food demand that virtually guarantees a future drop in food production when aquifers are depleted.

 

Many countries are in essence creating a “food bubble economy”—one in which food production is artificially inflated by the unsustainable mining of groundwater.

 

At what point does water scarcity translate into food scarcity? David Seckler and his colleagues at the International Water Management Institute, the world’s premier water research group, summarized this issue well: “Many of the most populous countries of the world—China, India, Pakistan, Mexico, and nearly all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa— have literally been having a free ride over the past two or three decades by depleting their groundwater resources.

The penalty for mismanagement of this valuable resource is now coming due and it is no exaggeration to say that the results could be catastrophic for these countries and, given their importance, for the world as a whole.”

Since expanding irrigation helped triple the world grain harvest from 1950 to 2000, it comes as no surprise that water losses can shrink harvests. With water for irrigation, many countries are in a classic overshoot-and-decline mode.

 If countries that are overpumping do not move quickly to raise water use efficiency and stabilize water tables, then an eventual drop in food production may be inevitable.
 
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