Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

One way we feed ourselves and this

One
of today’s megatrends is the growing demand for food, water and energy. As John
Naisbitt mentions in order to foresee the future we need to understand what is
happening in the present.1 The world will face a major problem in
the next two decades. As population increases, so does the demand for
resources. Sufficient food, water, and energy are major concerns as population
expands. According to UN, there were only 1.8 billion people in the world in
1915 and now in 2017 there is approximately 7.3 billion people.2-3
By 2030, the world population should exceed 8 billion and it will have a
significant impact on the environment, resulting in a 35% increase for food, 40% increase for water and 50% increase for energy.2-3
Reports from several international organizations including the Food and
Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, confirm the existence of a
shortage of food, water and energy.2-3 The purpose of this paper is
to explore what public health will look like when potable water becomes
difficult to find and nutritious food and energy become scarce.

Food Resources throughout
History

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To
understand what is happening now with the growing demand for food, water, and
energy, we need to go back in history. Major innovations have been made in the
way we feed ourselves and this had led to substantial changes in the way societies
are organized and administered.4 With that we see the invention of
agriculture in the fertile crescent in the Middle East, then with human growth comes
the expansion of cities and societies with governing leaders; finally with
globalization we see the need to feed people with different varieties of food
and this has led to the development of trade of high-value produce from Asia to
Europe.4-7

At
the beginning, manual labor was the chief source of power. Everything was done
by hand such as farming, planting and gathering. Each village was
self-sufficient. Most energy in use came for the woods they burned or the
animals and plants they eat. They used the help of domesticated animals to
transport goods and for farm work like ox pulled plow for instance.4
Windmills and waterwheels captured some energy, but little was left in reserve.4
All life functioned within the flow of energy from the Sun to Earth.

In
the mid-1700s, we see a sudden shift from simple hand tools to complex machines,
a shift from energy sources (animals and running water) to fossil fuels (coal
and oil).4-5 During that period, we see a growing understanding of
animal and plant nutrition, the importance of fertilizers and agriculture
changing from craft to science.4-5 Machines were used to manufacture
goods, harvesting techniques, fertilizers and new tools were presented,
resulting in increased productivity and agricultural prosperity to feed the
increasing population. Inventions such as the seed drill, mechanical reaper
allowed farmers to plant many more seeds much more quickly and to harvest their
crops more efficiently.4-5 This increased use of fossil fuels
changed society and greatly increased the efficiency of agriculture, industry,
and transportation. During that time, we see people using motorized vehicles,
trains to transport food to greater distances.4-5 

In
the 20th century, we see the beginning of the Green Revolution, which introduced the world to technologies
capable of producing more food for a growing population.6-7 The Green Revolution is often attributed with
Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American scientist, who saved millions of lives from
famine in Mexico, India and the Middle East.6-7 The crops developed
during the Green Revolution were
domesticated plants bred specifically to respond to fertilizers and produce an
increased amount of grain per acre planted.6-7 The chemical
fertilizers made it possible to supply crops with extra nutrients and
therefore, increase yield. During the Green Revolution, plants that had the
largest seeds were selected to create the most production possible.6-8

The History of Worrying
about Food

With
the history of food, we also see the history of worrying about food. There is
evidence that a number of early civilizations collapsed because of the failure
of agriculture. Evidence shows that several writers in ancient Rome were
troubled about what would happen to their city if the grain ships failed.8-9
In the 18th century, Thomas Malthus, one of the first persons who
saw this coming, investigated the problem of food supply in the Principle of Population. He argued
that “population expanded geometrically…. while food supply increased arithmetically;8-9
thus population growth would inexorably exceed that of the food supply and lead
to famine”. Paul Ehrlich in his influential book The Population Bomb, predicted famines in the developed world.8-9
But those influential personages failed to see the era of the Industrial
Revolution and the Green Revolution.8-9

Food, Water and Energy
Problem

Food Problem

 Nothing has changed, and a great pressure is
still being placed on the earth resources as its population continue to increase.
With Earth reaching its 8 billion population by 2030, is today’s food system
capable of meeting the needs of the global population? 9-11 The Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines food security as the
state of having access to affordable, nutritious and safe food and a household
is considered food secure when its inhabitants do not live in hunger or fear of
starvation.9-10  Can we
achieve the required production increases, even as the pressures on already
scarce land, energy and water resources?9-11

Among
7 billion of human in the world, 2 billion suffered from starvation with China only
having about 80 million malnourished and hungry.10-11 People go
hungry because they simply cannot afford to buy food, or they do not have the economic
and human capital to grow it for themselves. According to the United Nations,
if the number of malnourished reached 3 billion then the food problem will
become increasingly severe.11-12 This is indicating an insufficient
in food or inadequate distribution and contributing to one of the major public
health problem, malnutrition. This latter is partially about access to a variety
of affordable food, but it is the outcome of insufficiencies in education,
sanitation and many other aspects of life in deprived communities. Several
other factors also emerged and contribute to food shortages such as political
unrest, economic insecurity, and unequal food distribution patterns.

            In
the future, when exporting nations must keep surpluses at home, Egypt and countless
other countries in Africa will be without the food imports that now help them
survive.12-13 China, which now imports many tons of food,
illustrates this problem.12-13 As the Worldwatch Institute has
pointed out, if China’s population increases by 500 million and their soil
erosion continues relentlessly, it will need to import 200-400 million tons of
food each year by 2050.12-13 But by then, sufficient food imports
probably will not be available on the international market.

Water Problem

Water is also an
essential component; it is vital to life on Earth and it is integral to many
processes. The demand of water is even higher since it arises from many sources
such as agriculture, human consumption, industrial uses and production of
energy. Agriculture alone accounts for 70% of all water withdrawn and let’s not
forget the production of crops and livestock are also water-intensive; by 2050,
it is estimated that agricultural water consumption to be increase by 19%.13-14
Approximately 1 billion people still do not have access to available potable drinking
water and there is already a backlog of people without access to tap water in
cities today than there were at the end of the 1990s.14-15 According
to Millennium Development Goals,  about
20% of the world’s population lack access to safe drinking water. 14-15
Consequently, 2.6 billion people in the world did not have access to better
sanitation facilities.15-16 And of those 1.3 billion who have access
to improved sanitation, 64% live in urban areas.15-16 While the city
areas are better served than other areas, they are now struggling with
population growth. Reports show that 842,000 deaths per year are caused by
water borne diseases, about 58% of that problem is attributable to unsafe water
supply, sanitation, hygiene and cleanliness.16-17  This problem is critical in many developing
countries that discharge an estimated 95% of their untreated urban sewage
directly into surface waters.17-18 For example, India has 8
wastewater treatment facilities for 3119 towns and cities.17-18 In
certain countries and regions, a lot of progress has been done in achieving the
Millennium Development Goals but there is still improvements to be done especially
on meeting the needs of the underserved and impoverish communities.16-18

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