Stockholm: Present plans by China and India for biofuel production could mean they face water scarcity by 2030, a researcher said.
Charlotte de Fraiture, a Colombo-based scientist with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), said she did not “see a lot of potential” for biofuel production in either China or India because of the water.
“It’s not that I’m saying don’t go for biofuels. It’s just that India and China are two water-short countries”.
IWMI carried out a five-year study on water which was completed in the spring of this year. While water usage for biofuel crops is relatively small now, it is growing fast, as is the whole biofuel industry.
Bioethanol production doubled between 1990 and 2003, de Fraiture wrote in a report, and it is projected to double again by 2010.
About 7,130 cu. km of water is used for food production, IWMI says. One cubic km is the volume of a cube with each side being 1 km. It contains 1,000 trillion litres.
To put that in perspective, the runoff of the Nile river, for instance, is about 85 cu. km, de Fraiture says.
Right now, biofuel crops use about 100 cu. km, or 1% the total for food.
Assuming biofuel usage rises, as many expect, IWMI findings point to 180 cu. km of water for irrigation being used for biofuel by 2030.
Both China and India are approaching water scarcity, which de Fraiture defines as using 75% of all potentially useable water for human purposes. At 60%, a country is in the danger zone—both China and India are at that level.
“Those two countries, if they pursue their biofuel plans as they are on the table now, they will definitely be in the red zone in water terms,” she said.
China and India could focus on improving their water management systems. “But that only brings them so far because water is a scarce good in those countries. Both of the countries are now into infrastructural solutions,” she said.
An ambitious project to link rivers in India and a project to bring water from the water-rich South to the North are examples that show policymakers in both countries are aware of the problems they face, de Fraiture said.