NPR : News

Water, Water, Everywhere, But Not Enough To Waste

Here's a fact worth pondering: Farming accounts for 70 percent of all the water that's used for any purpose, worldwide. And demand for it is growing, along with the planet's population and our increasing appetite for meat. That's according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which recently published this poster and others in a striking series on the vital role of water in growing our food.

But what if that water runs out, leaving fields wilted and stomachs empty? In some places — think of California, or China's Yellow River basin — there's genuine scarcity of water for agriculture. Yet according to a collection of studies just published in the journal Water International, that's an exception to the rule.

Researchers examined ten of the world's most important river basins, including the Nile, the Mekong, the Volta and the Indus-Ganges, and concluded that in most of them, there's plenty of water for everyone.

The catch? It has to be used efficiently and shared fairly.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural productivity is lowest and food shortages are most common, "huge volumes of rainwater are lost or never used," says Alain Vidal, director of the Challenge Program on Water and Food, which commissioned the studies.

Small reservoirs could help. They catch rainfall and store it until it's needed. Just as important: All farmers need access to that stored water, not just the wealthy and well-connected.

The "Challenge Program" that sponsored these studies is the brainchild of a far-flung network of institutions called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. It's dedicated to improving crops and farming practices in the world's poorest countries.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


Not My Job: Comedian Carol Burnett Gets Quizzed On Cougars (The Cats, Of Course)

In the 1970s, families would sit down together every Saturday to watch The Carol Burnett Show. The first five seasons of the legendary variety show are now out on DVD.

Time To Pursue The Pawpaw, America's Fleeting Fall Fruit

Ever seen a pawpaw in the supermarket? Didn't think so. Ohioan Chris Chmiel wants to change that by growing and promoting this seasonal, mango-like fruit that's native to the U.S.

An Evangelical Leader's Changing Views On Gun Ownership

As legislators fail to find solutions to mass shootings, Evangelical Minister Rob Schenck thinks religious groups have a part to play in educating people about guns and their relationships with them.

This Week In Data Collection News, And The Privacy Paradox

As California tightened its digital privacy protections, news involving Google, Pandora and other firms highlighted the way companies increasingly rely on data about their users. How much do we care?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.