• The Financial District


An Australian team has devised a method to reduce water theft, which covers between 30% and 50% of the world’s water supply is stolen annually, with the agricultural sector largely to blame since it consumes 70% of available supply.

There’s a lack of accurate data around water theft, partly because those that steal the resource are often poor, vulnerable, and at-risk in developing countries, although there are also cases in the developed world. With that in mind, a group of researchers developed a novel framework and model, which they applied to three case studies.

“As the scarcity of our most precious resource increases due to climate change and other challenges, so too do the drivers for water theft,” said Adam Lock, who headed the study team from the University of Adelaide. “If users are motivated to steal water because it is scarce, and they need it to keep a crop alive, then the opportunity cost of that water may far exceed the penalty, and theft will occur.” The study was published recently in Nature Sustainability, ZME Science writer Fermin Koop wrote on August 27, 2020.

The team looked at cotton farms in Australia, marijuana cropping in the US, and strawberry fields in Spain. They found that water theft increases when governments fail to support detection and prosecution, when there is uncertainty regarding water availability in the future, and when social attitudes regarding water theft are permissive. They suggest that stronger disincentives might be needed to dissuade users from stealing water. The United Nations sets the minimum water requirement per person at 50 liters per day. This is based on the idea that a person drinks about two liters per day, using the rest for cooking, washing, and sanitation. While people in water-stressed countries can’t meet that level, the average use in the US is between 400 to 600 liters per person a day.

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