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7.5 billion thirsty people and hunger for meat puts pressure on water supply

Nick Whigham, June 18, 2017 5:50PM News Corp Australia

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GROWING up in Australia, most of us probably don’t think twice about where our seemingly* endless supply of water comes from. But what would happen if we turned on the tap and nothing came out?

Water is fundamental* to life, which makes warnings about water scarcity* and a possible global water crisis so concerning for world leaders.

This month the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that by 2050 global demand for freshwater is expected to grow by more than 40 per cent and at least a quarter of the world’s population will live in countries with a “chronic or recurrent” lack of clean water.

A current map showing water stress, produced by the World Resource Institute. media_cameraMap showing water stress by the World Resource Institute. Picture: supplied

He told the UN Security Council that water scarcity was already causing tensions between some nations.

If we continue to use water the way we currently do, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages each day by 2025. Global policy makers are working to avoid catastrophe*.

“What’s happening bit by bit is that water scarcity is becoming increasingly common all around the world, no matter where you look as country after country hits the limit of what it can use,” said Professor Mike Young from the University of Adelaide.

Drought - The Brummel family media_cameraA dam low on water on an Australian farm. Picture: Peter Lorimer

Cities across the world are becoming increasingly thirsty as the demand for water grows and supply dwindles*. Groundwater, which is water found deep in the ground, is being pumped so aggressively that land is sinking.

While Earth is covered in water, freshwater — the kind we can drink and farm with — only represents 2.5 per cent of the total volume of water on Earth. Almost 99 per cent of freshwater is trapped in hard to reach places like glaciers and snowfields.

This means, less than one per cent of the planet’s water is actually available to the world’s 7.5 billion people.

SILAGE IN THE DRY media_cameraFarmer Peter McKay struggles due to a water shortage. Picture Nikki Davis-Jones

An increase in how much meat we eat is partly to blame. A secret report leaked last year told of fears that one food manufacturer, Nestle, had about the world “running out of freshwater”.

The report highlighted that producing meat requires 10 times more water than producing crops.

But Professor Young, who specialises in water issues, was “extremely optimistic” that a catastrophe can be avoided.

“There is no problem if water resources are well managed … if we are prepared to adjust where people live and how they live,” he said.

Prof Young said farmers were often the ones leading change.

Tugun Desalination Plant media_cameraDesalination plant. Picture: Steve Holland

“There’s a change in attitude as farmers start to realise these problems have to be resolved,” he said.

Also being considered is the added complication of climate change causing more extreme weather events.

“Climate change is talked about a lot in terms of shifting where the water is going be abundant and where it’s going to be scarce, but that’s just one of the many things that is going to have to be managed,” Prof Young said.


Australia’s drinking water — also called potable water — comes mostly from rivers, dams and reserviors.

Australia has more than 400 big dams and the largest, the Gordon Dam in Tasmania can hold 12,450,000 megalitres of water.

One megalitre contains one million litres.


seemingly: appears so

fundamental: crucial

scarcity: not much around

catastrophe: disaster

dwindles: decreases



Activity 1. Comprehension

Demonstrate your understanding of the water shortage issue by answering these questions:

• What are some of the factors contributing to the increased threat of clean water shortages?

• Describe what the world might be like in 2050 if solutions are not found.

• How can there be a problem when we have large oceans full of water?

• Why is it that many Australians seem unaware of this issue?

• Are there any solutions that could prevent future water shortages?


To get a better idea of just how difficult life would be without a reliable water supply, think about all of the reasons that you use water.

Imagine yourself doing all of the things you do in a normal day, starting from when you get up in the morning through to bedtime.

Write down all of the times and reasons you use water throughout the day.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Science

Activity 2. Information poster

A leaked Nestle report expressed concern about the growth in meat consumption leading to a potential shortage of water.
This is because a calorie of meat requires 10 times as much water to produce as a calorie of food crops.

Create an information poster with a clear and simple graphic that shows the audience the vast difference in the amount of water used to produce these two food types.

Extra resources:Poster making materials


Brainstorm a list of ways that individuals can avoid wasting water.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Science, Mathematics, Visual Art, Ethical Capability


(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, Punctuation)

Short story

You wake up one morning and walk to the kitchen to get a drink.

When you turn on the tap, no water comes out.
There’s no water working in the bathroom or the outside tap either.
Not one drop.

Even more concerning, your neighbors are complaining there isn’t any water in their houses either.

Then you see the newspaper on the table.
The headline reads GLOBAL WATER CRISIS!

What happens next?

Write a short narrative about waking up one morning and discovering there was a global water shortage.

• What might happen in the town?

• What could happen at the shops or at your school?

• How could you get some water quickly?

• Could you think of a way to store it for a long time?

• Could that cause conflict with other people?

• What might the government do?

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum links: English, Big Write, VCOP
Activity provided by Andrell Education








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