Stating that population growth was a key driver of water scarcity, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that the annual amount of available freshwater per person has declined by more than 20 percent in the last two decades.
In its latest report “The state of Food and Agriculture – Overcoming water challenges in Agriculture” the FAO said that one out of six people face severe water shortages or scarcity in agriculture, with about 15 percent of the rural population being at risk.
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said that the report sent a strong message that water scarcity and shortage in Agriculture need to be immediately addressed.
The report showed that about 1.2 billion people live in places that face acute water shortage. Of this, 44 per cent of the people live in rural areas. The FAO report said that around 40 percent lived in Eastern and Southeastern Asia, and a slightly higher share in Southern Asia. Central Asia and Northern Africa and Western Asia are also severely affected – about one of every five people live in agricultural areas with very high water shortages and scarcity, compared to less than 4 percent in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern America and Oceania.
74 percent of rural people do not have access to safe drinking water in least developed countries
The report noted that about five percent of people in sub Saharan Africa lived in similar conditions. This means that about 50 million people live in areas where severe drought has catastrophic impacts on cropland and pastureland once every three years.
The FAO finds that 128 million hectares of rain fed cropland and 656 million hectares of pastureland faced frequent droughts, while 171 million hectares of irrigated cropland are subject to high or very high water stress. It said that about 11 percent of rain fed cropland and 14 percent of pastureland experience severe recurring droughts, while more than 60 percent of irrigated cropland is highly water stressed. The report underlines that about 62 million hectares of cropland and pastureland experienced both severe water stress and drought frequency, affecting about 300 million people.
Critical water resources under pressure worldwide Water scarcity and water quality issues are increasingly threatening food security and nutrition through their impacts on food systems – from agricultural production, the report said. It also mentioned that persistent and severe droughts, exacerbated by climate change, caused serious water shortages in rain fed agriculture, posing a higher risk to the livelihoods of rural people by reducing crop and livestock yields.
Climate change to exacerbate water related challenges
In the report, the FAO says that the challenges of water scarcity and shortages must be addressed together with the anticipated impacts of climate change. This would increase pressure on agricultural production, as crop growth and yields are highly sensitive to climate conditions. The FAO maintained that climate change would affect freshwater ecosystems, fish and aquatic populations that have low buffering capacity, and are sensitive to climate change. The Food and Agriculture organisation said that Climate change would put additional stress on agricultural production systems as they seek to meet the food requirements of a growing population.
91 countries have national plans for rural drinking water, but only nine have allocated sufficient funding to implement them.
Food security and nutrition
The FAO in the report notes that food supply chain (food security and nutrition) and health gets severely affected because of scarcity of water.
Sustainable and productive water usage
The FAO in the report says that water management strategies combined with agronomic practices will be crucial to reduce water risks and attain potential yields in agriculture for improved food security and nutrition. It also said that rain fed production helps in future agriculture. Investing in irrigation for improved water productivity will be key to address scarcities, the report said.
Around 41 percent of current global irrigation occurs at the expense of environmental flow requirements
It also stated that improving water productivity in animal production could ease pressure on water resources.
Noting that water should be recognized as an economic good that has a value and a price, the report highlighted that the price reflected the true value of water and sent a clear signal to use water wisely. At the same time, policy and governance support to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable access for all is essential, it said.
Major forests in areas such as the Amazon, Congo and Yangtze River basins are important sources of water vapour for areas downwind and are, therefore, crucial to rain fed agriculture.