(NaturalNews) A rising global population, coupled with shrinking food production capability and water shortages, are likely to drive much of the world into strict vegetarianism over the next 40 years, say leading water scientists.
"There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected nine billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations," said Malik Falkenmark and colleagues in a recent report delivered at the Stockholm International Water Institute.
Currently, humans derive some 20 percent of their daily protein intake from animal-based foodstuffs, but that level may have to fall to around five percent in order to feed the additional two billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050 (the current global population is just over seven billion people).
Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world's population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.
"There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to five percent of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a ... reliable system of food trade," said the report.
Food price hikes have already led to civil strife
The dire warnings about water supply and availability come as Oxfam and the United Nations prepare for the a potential second global food crisis in just five years, Great Britain's Independent newspaper reported.
Already, prices for commodities like corn and wheat have nearly doubled on international markets since June, driven up in large part by drought-induced shortages in the United States and Russia, as well as weaker than normal monsoon rains in India and throughout Asia. Already, some 18 million people are facing dramatic food shortages across the Sahal in Africa.
Oxfam - an international confederation of 17 organizations that work on the local level to mitigate poverty - has already forecast that the spike in food prices will have a devastating effect on populations of developing countries that are already hard pressed economically, including parts of North Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.
Food shortages in 2008 led to civil unrest in 28 countries, and officials worry skyrocketing prices will cause similar problems this time around.
Falkenmark and his colleagues, in their report, note that adopting a largely vegetarian diet is one way to bolster the supply of water available to grow more food in a world that is increasingly climate-erratic. Animal-based, protein-rich food consumes about five to ten times more water than a vegetarian diet, the scientists said, adding that currently, about one-third of the world's arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals.
Other options include eliminating waste and bolstering trade between countries with surplus food and those with not enough, the scientists said.
Water shortages projected to lead to future conflicts
"Nine hundred million people already go hungry and two billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase," they said. "With 70 percent of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional two billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land."
Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a report saying that sustained water shortages around the world will eventually lead to economic instability, civil wars and international conflicts, as well as the use of water as an economic weapon.
"During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will experience water problems -- shortages, poor water quality, or floods -- that will risk instability and state failure, increase regional tensions, and distract them from working with the United States on important U.S. policy objectives," the report said.