Drawing lessons from the recently held United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP), Warwick Lorenz of Australian Pump Industries urges governments to prioritise water resources for a sustainable and secure future
In general terms, irrigation is the process of turning unproductive soil into food or fibre. It was the Sumerians who, 5,000 years ago, began irrigation in Mesopotamia.
Today, we are faced with challenges that the Sumerians never imagined with a world population heading for 12 billion by 2050! Papers delivered by a series of authorities at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai (COP) clearly point out that an increasing world population is already in serious trouble with up to 700 million people chronically undernourished.
Heatwaves and wildfires, like those being experienced in Australia already this summer, show us that we are heading for chronic water shortages, crop failures and diminishing yields, unless we take steps to harness the water resources that we have.
The search for water security
Australia is called the ‘Dry Continent’ based on its geographic land formations. Vast deserts turn into lush pastures when hit by cyclonic rainstorms that can sometimes be years apart. Without artesian water, Australia’s inland would be in real trouble.
The power of water
The reality is that the world’s population, particularly first world countries, are used to a protein laden diet. Statistics tell us that it takes eight kilos of cereals to produce one kilo of beef. Statistics also tell us that the globalisation and the rise of cities based on the mechanisation of agriculture, has led to a huge rise in water demand from growing cities and industry. Irrigation and agriculture are still the biggest users. We depend on our farmers for our existence.
The future of irrigation
Countries like Australia need to invest heavily in water infrastructure in the form of dams, channels and conduits to bring water into areas where it can be held in artesian basins (Australia’s great Artesian Basin is a huge section of Australia that can run dry in a major drought).
Lessons from COP
We learn from COP that we are in trouble. We can expect a major climate security crisis, initiated by water shortages, and overuse of existing resources. These all lead to supply chain dislocations, affecting the most vulnerable nations in Africa, Asia and even South America. Irrigation needs water and there are no easy answers. No doubt, governments would be better spending their funds on water security infrastructure than armaments.
Hunger hot spots
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has already identified 20 hot spots with countries facing critical food emergencies. Those countries that can develop infrastructure to aid irrigation need to move now. We can all see, just by daily weather events that this is negative steady progression where production of food will be a massive problem.
To produce high value cereals, countries like Australia need to accelerate the conversion of grazing land to cropping for more effective use of water. That means more irrigation.
Irrigation needs a water source to start with and unfortunately, we can no longer depend on the rain. It may come exactly when we don’t want it, and in huge volumes of flood as we are already seeing around the world.
There are lessons to be learnt from COP. Let’s hope governments and humanity can learn them fast enough.