Nearly 30-50% of the world’s water supply stolen annually, says study

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on August 27, 2020 Published on August 27, 2020

“According to Interpol, thieves steal as much as 30-50 per cent of the world's water supply annually – a big number”

Over 30 to 50 per cent of the world’s water supply each year is stolen yet water theft is not yet understood properly, according to a study led by the University of Adelaide.

In a paper published in Nature Sustainability, researchers highlighted the issue of water theft.

“According to Interpol, thieves steal as much as 30-50 per cent of the world's water supply annually – a big number,” Adam Loch, senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide's Centre for Global Food and Resources and lead author of the study said.

Researchers developed a new framework and model to better understand water theft which they applied to three case studies: in Australia, the US and Spain. The paper further states that water theft gets limited coverage due to lack of data as “because often those stealing water are poor, vulnerable and at-risk in developing countries.”

“But theft also occurs in the developed world, especially in agricultural settings,” said Loch.

“Compounding this problem is the fact that, as the scarcity of our most precious resource increases due to climate and other challenges, so too do the drivers for water theft,” he said.

The study suggests that the framework can help regulators test the impact of changes to detection, prosecution and conviction systems to prevent theft. Currently, the penalties aren’t effective to deter theft in most cases. Other drivers to water theft include social attitudes, institutions and future supply uncertainty as per the study.

“Our findings suggest that while individuals and companies may be responsible for the act of theft, the phenomenon reflects a systematic failure of arrangements,” reads the study.

“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,” said Loch.

“Much of the world’s focus right now is on water efficiency investments, which might achieve (at best) between 10-20 per cent savings for water managers. But if we can recover 30-50 per cent of ‘lost’ water, targeting those who steal for profit-making, then that would be good for our water supply, and good for us,” he said.

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Published on August 27, 2020
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