By Edgar O. Chua | Philippine Daily Inquirer 12:00 am | Monday, May 5th, 2014
Last November, the devastating Super Typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) slashed across the Eastern Visayas region, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos. In succeeding days, we witnessed how our people struggled with severe water and food shortages as they were cut off from power, the continued supply of which could have made the relief operations much easier.
As the Philippines grapples with the myriad challenges of rebuilding, it should perhaps take cognizance of the tight links between energy, water, and food—the significance of which was glaringly shown in the Leyte devastation.
The Energy-Water-Food Nexus may not seem apparent to some of us, but that does not negate the fact that it is omnipresent. It takes 140 liters of water to produce that cup of coffee that now sits on your desk. A glass of wine uses up 120 liters of water, while a kilo of beef requires a staggering 15,500 liters of water to produce. For every calorie of food we consume, five calories of fossil fuel energy are used in the supply chain, on average, globally. And that rises to 40 calories for high-end produce like beef.
The tight links between food, water and energy is inescapable. Water is needed for almost all forms of energy production; energy is needed to transport and treat water; and producing food requires both energy and water.
Unfortunately, the Energy-Water-Food Nexus has come under tremendous stress in the past few years and will continue to do so in the coming decades, as populations grow, cities urbanize, and prosperity increases, putting even more pressure on the world’s fast dwindling resources.
As it is, the world is headed toward a serious resource shortfall if it does not take drastic action. For example, if current water consumption trends continue, the world could face a 40 percent shortfall between global freshwater demand and supply from current sources by 2030. At the same time, it has been estimated that there will be 50 percent growth in food needs, with demand for beef increasing by more than 80 percent, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, Oxfam has recently estimated that these stresses could lead to the doubling of food prices by 2030. (Ironically, it is estimated that food waste alone in Europe and the US could feed 1.5 billion people.) And in 2050, our planet could be home to 9 billion people, which is the equivalent of adding another China and another India to the world. Imagine its impact on the world’s resources.
Needless to say, the Energy-Water-Food Nexus will be a significant factor in the quality of life in the coming decades, and its effects will be felt everywhere, whether in the form of water shortages, sky-high food prices, and a more crowded, dirtier planet. If global leaders do not act now, it would be to the detriment of the next generation who may have far less options than we have now.
We at Shell recognize the dynamic complexity of the nexus, and that it requires additional strategic thinking and collaboration, between and among strategic partners especially when these are in the context of rebuilding and rehabilitation. We believe that when looking at the most central and influential issues in the Energy-Water-Food Nexus, investment and knowledge-intensive innovation will be key factors that will lead to long-lasting solutions.
To achieve a sustainable future, a strong partnership between public and private sectors has become imperative. We need to integrate the technological and commercial expertise of the private sector with the expertise in regulatory economics of the public sector.
It is therefore very timely that Shell recently hosted the Powering Progress Together (PPT) forum in Manila. A global, multisectoral platform for debate and collaboration that was first conducted in Rotterdam in 2012, the PPT addressed dynamics within the Energy-Water-Food Nexus and their implications for the environment and global economy.
This forum brought together Filipino and international thought leaders and experts from business, academia and civil society for an interactive brainstorm on the world’s growing energy, water, food and climate challenges. Through these conversations, short-, medium- and long-term projects have been identified which Shell hopes to follow through via partnerships and collaboration that would help toward addressing the energy, water and food challenges and rebuilding the Philippines.
The author is chair of Shell companies in the Philippines