Our planet's water supply is an incredibly valuable resource that we need to protect, and worrying new figures show between 30-50 percent of it is being stolen - meaning that water isn't paid for or counted.
This theft occurs when people and companies obtain water illegally - often for agricultural purposes. That could mean getting treated water that should be paid for free of charge, or obtaining water in ways that go against environmental guidelines.
The problem itself isn't new, but most of us have no idea it's happening. While individuals and companies are doing the actual stealing, the newly published study points the finger at political, legal, and institutional frameworks.
The root causes of water theft aren't being correctly addressed, the researchers say, the value of water is not being appreciated, and illegal actions aren't being properly punished – all of which means that a huge amount of water is lost through theft every single year.
"Ongoing water shortages occur on all continents, increasingly compounded by climate change," write the researchers in their published paper.
"By addressing likely drivers of theft at an individual scale, we may prevent irreversible harm to all water users."
There is some debate about what counts as water theft – or even if it exists at all, as water is a natural resource that we all have access to. But the team looked at three separate case studies involving improper water use: growing marijuana in California, strawberries in Spain, and cotton in Australia.
While these cases varied widely in everything from social norms to local regulations, they did highlight some common themes.
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