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UN warns of energy and water dilemma

Global energy and water shortages are intertwined, says a UN report ahead of World Water Day

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(Image by Bo Qiu / Greenpeace

Water resources are not regarded as seriously as energy and are being poorly managed, says a report published by the UN.

The report says the interdependence of water and energy is also under-appreciated. For example, mining one tonne of coal uses between 0.2 and 3 cubic metres of water, while purifying one cubic metre of fresh water to drinking water uses 0.37 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity or 2.58 to 8.5 kWh of electricity for converting sea water.

For China the energy-water issue is particularly acute. A Greenpeace report from 2012, Thirsty Coal, pointed out the high water use of coal-mining in the water-scarce north-west of the country. Li Shuo, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said that the total water consumption of 16 of China’s major coal mining centres was equivalent to one sixth of the Yellow River.

LIkewise, coal to gas projects in China - 
largely in arid and semi-arid regions of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang - have also been criticised. Media reports have pointed out that synthetic gas projects produce polluted waste water and are inefficient as the gas has to be delivered long distances to the east of China.

Zhang Weidong, head of the UNDP’s Energy and Environment Office, told chinadialogue that manufacturers needed to take the issue of water scarcity more seriously. He said the water crisis facing the world means “companies need to carry out water risk evaluations as soon as possible.” He said that a project with Coca Cola had seen the company provide water it did not need at its Guangxi factory to local farmers’ cooperatives during the dry season.

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