Scientists developed a method to research the water theft

Here’s something you might not know – around 30-50 % of the world’s annual water supply is stolen. A shocking fact, right? It is very difficult to find and punish those thieves and it is also rather challenging to protect that vital water supply. Now a team of scientists led by the University of Adelaide have developed a method, which will improve understanding of water theft and maybe will help to protect it.

Most water is stolen in the agricultural sector, especially in the developing countries, although it does happen everywhere. Image credit: Gnangarra via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.5 au)

Water is an absolutely crucial resource. Although the Earth is pretty much a planet of water, most of it is salty and not suitable for drinking. In fact, huge portions of the planet are lacking water. Millions of people do not have access to a freshwater source. And then when you have a reliable supply of water, you have to worry about thieves. It is Interpol that estimates that as much as 30-50 % of the world’s water supply annually is stolen and that’s a huge number.

A lot of water is stolen in the developing world. And a lot of it is stolen in agricultural settings. This is the reason why you don’t hear about it often – it is seen as a sort of farming problem. Furthermore, most water thieves are actually poor people and sometimes this dangerous and hurtful action is seen as their attempts to survive rather than a serious crime. But, of course, water theft is a problem in developed countries as well. In this research scientists performed three case studies: in Australia, the US and Spain. For example, in the US marijuana growers were stealing water from fire hydrants and they weren’t doing that because they were poor.

This study allowed scientists to create a new method to better understand the drivers of water theft. They found that the main drivers to water theft include social attitudes, institutions and future supply uncertainty. However, researchers say that the novel framework and model are even more valuable than information about drivers – it should help water managers to test the effectiveness of various detection, prosecution and conviction systems as well as possible deterrents.

Dr Adam Loch, lead author of the study, said: “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% of ‘lost’ water, targeting those who steal for profit making, then that would be good for our water supply, and good for us”.

Earth might be the blue planet, but water resources are still scarce. We can be compassionate and work towards ensuring that freshwater is accessible to everyone, but at the same time we have to protect our resources. Hopefully this study will help scientists with that.


Source: University of Adelaide

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