Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Water export-A new concept of water logistics

Is India well advised to discourage food exports, especially fresh ones containing high moisture levels because of the claim recently made by a scientist that the water contained in these foods is irretrievably lost once for all. This is not considered a desirable situation especially for a country like India which is projected as a water stressed one facing massive shortage in the coming years. In the name of foreign exchange earning, are we exporting of foods without taking into consideration its impact on water dynamics. Can this be true? While the claim of water loss is true, whether it will have much impact on water supply is a highly debatable issue. After all export of a few million tons of food products cannot be a significant cause for water "drainage" out of the country considering that the country's water supply comes mostly from rains and Himalayan glaciers which again are influenced by cloud formation and other weather features. It is interesting to listen to the argument of irretrievable water loss through food exports though the concept put forward may not stand scientific scrutiny.   

"Have you heard of water export? Apparently, India has been sending "virtual" water to other countries through its food exports, and this trend is likely to continue. "Water used in agriculture is recirculated, but the (virtual) water exported out when we export food is not recoverable. Over a period of time, if food export is extensive, the country's water reserves go down affecting water sustainability," says Prashant Goswami, a researcher at the CSIR Fourth Paradigm Institute, Bengaluru. In answers send by email and given on the phone, Goswami, a Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar awardee, says that in contrast, China is a net importer of food and is therefore amplifying its water reserves. He suggests a change in India's food policy. Goswami, a climate and atmospheric modelling expert, warns in a study that if the current rate of net export of water in end products continues, India will lose its "entire available water in less than 1,000 years." This projection may go down further if parameters like increase in food demand and reduction in surface water due to climate change are taken into consideration, according to the study. The findings of the study 'Virtual water trade and time scales for loss of water sustainability: A comparative regional analysis' were published in the March 20 edition of Nature Scientific Reports. India, the US, and China are known to be the world's leading virtual water users and in the wake of growing consumption, such water trade plays a key role in the water sustainability of a nation, the study's author Goswami said. Goswami also said that for several decades, China has maintained a positive trade balance (more import than export) in virtual water trade and it is supplementing its water reserves".

The prediction that India will lose its entire water reserves in 1000 years cannot be taken at its face value because many experts believe that recycling of used water and conservation measures in India can solve the water crisis. Besides India has a long coastal line with access to Arabian sea and Indian Ocean and after all 97% of water on this planet is present in sea water. With solar distillation technology coming of age and reverse osmosis water desalination system, India can never be water stressed as long as it is able to find resources to invest in technology and infrastructure to augment its water needs from the sea and ocean around it.


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