The government has said that by the end of the year Taiwan would face a water shortage, and the problem is estimated to continue throughout next year.
This is perhaps the most serious warning of its type to have been issued in the past decade, and farmers are concerned that there might not be enough water for the spring harvest. We see this kind of problem time and again, and yet, after the initial panic, few people manage to maintain a sense of urgency. Neither do we see the government formulating substantive policies in response. The prospect of water shortages therefore hangs over the nation like a specter.
Water shortages occur for a variety of reasons, but experts agree that the main cause of the current global water resources crisis is uneven allocation and inadequate management.
In order to have ideal water resources management, modern technology must be used to reduce the amount of water required in agriculture, a reasonable price for water must be set, recycling of urban water usage must be backed and pollution decreased. We should regard water as a commodity and make sure water rights are clearly defined and pricing is fair.
Although annual rainfall in Taiwan is 2.6 times the global average, the nation is only able to use 20 percent as a water resource, meaning the nation is in 18th place in UN global rankings in terms of being a “water resource-poor region.”
Most of the nation’s water — between 60 and 70 percent — is used for agricultural purposes. In fact, water for agriculture accounts for about 75 percent of total water use globally, compared with 20 percent for industrial use and 10 percent for everyday use in cities. However, the actual situation in Taiwan is not clear, as with economic and structural changes, some agricultural land is being left fallow and some has been rezoned. Consequently, the amount of land requiring the use of water for agricultural use needs to be reviewed.
The picture is further complicated by the fact that differing farming tasks require different quantities of water. How to categorize these tasks and more effectively manage water resources and enhance our ability to conserve water are important considerations, as well as how we conserve water resources and allocate them more effectively. Some countries even import grains as a way to effectively obtain international water resources.
As climate change brings a drier climate, the government should look into the cultivation of hardy plants that are resistant to hotter, drier weather and developing resource-saving irrigation equipment and technologies, as well as maintaining and upgrading the current irrigation and conservancy systems, and using better irrigation supply management. Together, these measures would go some way to addressing the potential food crisis that might result from a water shortage.
A shortage of water not only has the potential to cause international tensions as countries vie for scarce resources, it might also have a detrimental effect on human health. For this reason, experts are saying that water resources are set to become a major factor influencing human existence and survival.
Unfortunately, politicians are more interested in short-term considerations and how they fare in elections, which to them is far more important than how they might create a better future. This is as true for the energy crisis as it is for water resource shortages and the food security crisis.
The question is: Just how much more time and resources does Taiwan have?
Lee Wu-chung is a professor of agricultural economics and a former director of Yunlin County’s Department of Agriculture.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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