As much as half the world’s water supply is being stolen, with agriculture responsible for much of that, according to a new study.
Writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, an international team of researchers says thieves steal between 30% and 50% of the planet’s water supply every year. Overhauling legal and political frameworks could protect precious water supplies, they say.
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The theft of water takes various forms, including using treated drinking water without paying for it and taking water from natural sources in breach of environmental guidelines. Agriculture, which accounts for 70% of global water use, is often to blame. The report found that social attitudes and uncertainty over future supply help drive crime.
A ‘challenge for humanity’
While water theft does take place in richer nations, those stealing water are often poor and vulnerable people in developing countries, according to the paper. Combined with a lack of data, this has led to the issue being under-researched.
So the team, led by the University of Adelaide, developed a novel framework and model to help study the issue. They applied this to three examples of water theft: growing marijuana in California; cultivating strawberries in Spain; and cotton farming in Australia. In the Spanish case study, water was being taken from an area protected from migratory birds.
Although the study calls for tougher penalties for stealing water, the authors note that where people understand water regulations and believe everyone else is obeying the rules, water theft is much lower.
“Water crises constitute a challenge for humanity,” says the report, urging authorities to recognize the urgency of the situation. …