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UN warns of world water shortage

MARSEILLE, France — The world’s farmers will need 19 percent more water by 2050 to meet increasing demands for food, much of it in regions already suffering from water scarcity, according to a United Nations report.

“In many countries water availability for agriculture is already limited and uncertain, and is set to worsen,’’ according to the fourth United Nations World Water Development Report published Monday. “Concerns about food insecurity are growing across the globe and more water will be needed.’’

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has said food output must rise 70 percent by 2050 to feed a world population expected to grow to 9.3 billion from 7 billion now and as increasingly rich consumers in developing economies eat more meat.

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A quarter of world farmland is highly degraded by intensive agriculture that has depleted water resources, reduced soil quality or increased erosion, according to the agency.

The UN’s latest warning about water shortages came as the World Water Forum began in Marseille, where ministers, industry representatives and nonprofit organizations are discussing water resource management, waste, health risks, and climate change.

Mounting water shortages “are an unacceptable situation,’’ French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told delegates in Marseille, adding that while means exist to resolve water issues, indicators “like gross domestic product don’t reflect existing problems.’’

Agriculture accounts for about 70 percent of global freshwater use and as much as 90 percent in some fast-growing economies, according to the UN study.

Ground water can be “mined to exhaustion’’ and in some areas availability has reached critical limits, it said.