FAO: At least 35% more freshwater needed to feed expanding population

Producers would need at least 35 percent of additional freshwater resources to meet the growing demand for food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Managing the earth’s stressed water resources is an imperative to produce the extra food required to feed an expanding population by mid-century, according to the participants of the Rome Water Dialogue held last November 29 in the lead-up to next year’s UN Water Conference.

The dialogue is aimed at raising awareness of water’s role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), forging deeper links between the water sector and the largest water user—the agriculture sector; developing innovative solutions and actions for the future; and discussing the National Water Roadmap, or country-owned strategic approach to achieving global commitments and SDGs at the national level.

“By 2050, global production of food, fiber and feed will need to increase by 50 percent compared to 2012 levels to meet growing demands. Under a business-as-usual scenario, this would mean at least 35 percent of additional freshwater resources,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, addressing the event.

Qu also said “integrated water resource management is a global priority for FAO.”

‘Unprecedented stress’

Climate change is putting the world’s precious water resources under unprecedented stress. According to FAO data, currently 2.3 billion people live in water-stressed countries, of whom more than 733 million people—approximately 10 percent of the global population—live in countries with high and critical water stress.  This year has seen the climate’s impacts on water, with both record-breaking floods and droughts in many countries and regions.

Agriculture relies on water, accounting for 72 percent of global freshwater withdrawals, alongside other economic sectors, making it critical to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

While there is increasing awareness of the importance of water for agriculture and sustainable development, FAO has consistently argued there is still a need for more effective, integrated and coordinated actions, coupled with strong political will in recognizing, valuing and managing water in a holistic and integrated manner to achieve all the SDGs.

There have been several important events in the run-up to the UN 2023 Water Conference, including the Ninth World Water Forum held in March, the Second High Level International Conference on International Water Decade for Action “Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028” in June, the High Level Political Forum and the Geneva Water Dialogue in July.

“The Rome Water Dialogue is another key gathering contributing to this process. While all stakeholders, including governments, international organizations, civil society, the private sector and academia, need to be engaged in this process, the current global fertilizer crisis and a potential food crisis mean that special attention must be paid to the food security and livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people.”

FAO said a strong, coherent and explicit integration and prioritization of water into national sustainable development strategies, policies and investment plans is needed, to understand how water resources can be used across sectors to achieve countries’ social, economic and environmental objectives.

In this context, as proposed by FAO and endorsed in the Dushanbe Declaration, a country-led water dialogue and country-owned National Water Roadmaps or strategies will help to strengthen the inter-sectoral coordination for sustainable water resources management and accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.


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