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Brace for food wars: Science writer issues warning to world

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By Thin Lei Win

The world must act now to avoid conflict over food, land and water spreading from hot spots such as Syria to power centers like London and New York, according to a top science writer.

Julian Cribb, an award-winning Australian journalist, called for an overhaul of global food production to avoid disputes over resources proliferating in new territories.

"We tend to think of food crises as something that happens in Africa or some other developing country," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"We think supermarkets will always be full of food… But the world only has about three months supply of grain in store at any one time," said Cribb.

The world's food systems are coming under increasing strain from a combination of climate change, water scarcity and soil and biodiversity loss, he said.

Yet if harvests were to fail in a major grain-growing region, prices of grain and bread would spike, he said.

"Supermarkets can be emptied in 24 hours, if people panic. We are far closer to hunger than most of us suspect," said Cribb, whose book 'Food or War', published by the Cambridge University Press, comes out in October.

Globally, more than one in four people struggles to eat healthy food and one in nine goes hungry, according to the United Nations.

Cribb identified seven "powder kegs" at risk of conflict in the coming four or five decades. South Asia topped the list, followed by Africa and China. United States also made the cut.

South Asia and China are facing critical water shortages that could unleash conflict while fights are already breaking out in parts of Africa over water and grazing rights, he said.

"In America, it is going to take 6,000 years to replace the groundwater they've taken out in the last 150 years," according to Cribb, referring to heavy use by farmers.

"Even though America is an advanced country, with all the technologies and solutions, they've not managed their water well, and they are as vulnerable as many other countries to groundwater shortages."

"I'm not saying a shooting war would break out over water. But there is definitely danger of conflict of various kinds."

He said confrontation could take many forms, from physical to legal, affecting neighbours, governments and industries.

Farming guzzles freshwater, uses fossil fuels and relies on pesticides, he said, urging a new system that is climate-resilient, environmentally-friendly, nourishing and affordable.

Cribb proposed three new options: farming that repairs natural resources, deep-ocean aquaculture that avoids pollution and disease, and the recycling of urban water and nutrients.

There is no time to be lost, Cribb said, as humans devour fertile soil and water at record speed.

"The most destructive object on the planet…is the human jawbone."

© Thomson Reuters Foundation

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

6 Comments
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Yeah, I remember after the 3/11 quake, all of the stores were stripped bare within a few hours. If there is a shortage, people only care about themselves and panic, if it was to become worldwide countless would perish in fights.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Future wars will be over water.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Water, mineral resources, land. Bleak times ahead because of the greedy few who are concerned only about the short term.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The world's food systems are coming under increasing strain from a combination of climate change, water scarcity and soil and biodiversity loss, he said.

Add over-population to that list.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It won't happen in my lifetime, but yes, massive disruptions are coming.

The global population has gone from fewer than 2.5 billion when I was born, to 7.7 billion this month. That is an unsustainable rate of population growth. Add to that an almost certain rise in sea levels, which will damage many of the world's major cities. From London to Tokyo, from St. Petersburg to Los Angeles, from Rio de Janeiro to Shanghai, and from Alexandria to Cape Town, there will almost certainly be major destruction of infrastructure, and loss of habitation and farm land.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Oh boy, this is a toughy, but I’ll give it a shot. The future wars will be fought over......whatever resource is scarce. There it is.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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