The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 12th

Founder of Earth Policy Institute speaks about importance of clean water for human life

Though water is the source of human life and civilization, Lester Brown says sometimes humans forget how important it is.

Brown, the founder and the president of the Earth Policy Institute, gave a lecture at the FedEx Global Education Center Tuesday. He reminded attendees that food comes from irrigation water and as it runs out, humans will face a huge challenge.

The growing population has led to a greater demand for grain, which pressed the demand for water. At the same time, the problem of over-pumping and decline of peak water has threatened the sustainability of water resources.

“Peak water in the sub-Arab region like Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has dropped, and to save underground water by 2016, Saudi Arabia will no longer produce grain,” he said.

Food prices have been rising since 2007 due to the decline in water supply, Brown said.

“In this country we are not very sensitive to the price increase of grain through consumption,” he said.

“When the cost of grain doubles, it is such a small cost in a loaf of bread, it is probably just 10 cents of the consumer dollar in the large portion of cost in making it into flour, packaging, distribution and so on,” he said. “But if you go to New Delhi, and you go to the market and buy wheat, bring it home and grind it into flour, when the price of wheat doubles, the price of your food doubles. There is no insulation here.”

The developing world is bearing the cost of this problem, he said.

“For example, in Nigeria, 24 percent of the families can no longer afford to eat every day,” Brown said.

Climate change and soil erosion has aggravated the issue, the abnormal climate pattern in the past years cause doubt about whether there is a sustainable future in agriculture, Brown said.

“In fact there is no norms to go back to,” he said.

The lecture, one of the three held by the UNC Global Research Institute’s water series, attracted more than just UNC students.

“My social studies teacher brought me here,” said Isaac Updike, a 10th grader at Carrboro High School. “I think it is very interesting to relate water with the giant ecosystem.”

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