From Scarcity to Security

Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future

From Scarcity to Security

Managing Water for a Nutritious Food Future

Water is a vital resource that is becoming increasingly stressed, which threatens to undermine the progress that has been made on global food and nutrition security and resiliency. With the potential for severe economic, political, and humanitarian consequences across low- and high-income countries, water management is a critical global issue that demands immediate action.

Water is a vital resource that is becoming increasingly stressed and threatens to undermine the progress that has been made on global food and nutrition security and resiliency. With the potential for severe economic, political, and humanitarian consequences across the developing and the developed worlds, water management is a critical global issue that demands immediate action.

Competition for water

Competition for water

Water touches every aspect of our lives: food, health, environment, industry, and leisure. The competition for water resources is increasing between people and the natural environment as well as between cities and rural areas.

Water touches every aspect of our lives: food, health, environment, industry, and leisure. The competition for water resources is increasing between people and the natural environment as well as between cities and rural areas.
Marilyn Shapley/Mercycorps

Increasing global populations, rising incomes, and urbanization are causing strong growth in food and water demand and, as a result, intensified competition.

By 2050 the global population is expected to increase to 9.8 billion.

86% will live in less developed countries.

70% will live in rapidly growing uban areas.

Global demand for water is projected to increase by 30% to 50%.

Agriculture accounts for the largest percentage of water usage, followed by industrial use, and then domestic uses, including drinking water and sanitation.

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Despite rapidly growing industrial and domestic demand, agriculture is expected to remain the largest user of freshwater resources in all regions for the foreseeable future.

As nonagricultural demand for water grows, water will be increasingly transferred from use for irrigation to other uses in many regions. This will create the potential for conflict
as well as the loss of farm production and income.

The threat of water scarcity

The threat of water scarcity

Beyond direct competition, greater variability in precipitation and increases in temperature will further threaten water, food, and nutrition security. The impact of water insecurity will be felt most intensely in regions with the least resources to adapt to it.

Water touches every aspect of our lives: food, health, environment, industry, and leisure. The competition for water resources is increasing between people and the natural environment as well as between cities and rural areas.
REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

There is a dangerous link between poverty, food insecurity, other forms of vulnerability, and an unreliable water supply.

Prevelance of hunger and water stress

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Water insecurity can exacerbate existing instability and conflict.

WEATHER VARIABILITY

  • Agricultural production in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is more vulnerable to adverse weather shocks due to the region’s lower coping capacity.
  • In recent years, almost a quarter of weather-related damage has been in the agricultural sector in LMICs.
  • If climate change makes rainfall more erratic, this could lead to more conflict.
  • Militant activity in East Africa has risen after periods of both extremely high and low rainfall.
GROUNDWATER DEPLETION
  • Groundwater plays a major role in irrigation and food production globally.
  • More than a third of the world’s irrigation-equipped area relies on groundwater.
  • Intensive groundwater pumping for irrigation has caused groundwater depletion in many arid and semiarid regions.
  • Many of the depleted aquifers overlap with the world’s most important breadbaskets.
  • Sustained groundwater overdraft puts future irrigated food production at risk.

FOOD INSECURITY

  • Food price shocks can act as a catalyst for both nonviolent and armed conflict.
  • In urban areas of LMICs, high food prices and reduced access can trigger protests and rioting.
  • Food prices and grievances related to food policy were one of the major drivers of the Arab Spring.

Investments in water security and good water governance are investments in peace and security.

Strategies to move the world toward greater water, food, and nutrition security

Strategies to move the world toward greater water, food, and nutrition security

Successful, sustainable water management in agriculture is imperative to achieve the food and nutrition security goals of a rapidly growing, urbanizing world.

Successful, sustainable water management in agriculture is imperative to achieve the food and nutrition security goals of a rapidly growing, urbanizing world.
REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

Several existing strategies can be used to address the challenge posed by increasing water scarcity.

These include:

Improving overall water resource governance through institutions that are transparent, accountable, efficient, responsive, sustainable, and geographically contextualized.
Improving overall water resource governance through institutions that are transparent, accountable, efficient, responsive, sustainable, and geographically contextualized.
Allocating water more efficiently through water rights, regulations and quotas, water pricing, water trading, and subsidy reform.
Allocating water more efficiently through water rights, regulations and quotas, water pricing, water trading, and subsidy reform.
Improving crop and livestock productivity per unit of water and land through agricultural research, development, technology, extension, and financing.
Improving crop and livestock productivity per unit of water and land through agricultural research, development, technology, extension, and financing.
Shifting diets and diversifying agriculture to reduce the demand for water.
Shifting diets and diversifying agriculture to reduce the demand for water.
Increasing the supply of managed water and expanding the irrigated area through investment in infrastructure.
Increasing the supply of managed water and expanding the irrigated area through investment in infrastructure.

As the largest user of global water supplies, agriculture has a critical role to play in sustainable water solutions that allow it to meet growing production demands while enhancing water security.

Reliable access to water fosters safe, healthy populations

Reliable access to water fosters safe, healthy populations

The stakes are high for effectively developing and managing water because of its fundamental importance to food and nutrition security. Cooperation between the agriculture and the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sectors is vital.

The stakes are high for effectively developing and managing water because of its fundamental importance to food and nutrition security. Cooperation between the agriculture and the water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) sectors is vital.
Jennifer Winter

Integrating policies between the agriculture and WASH sectors opens vital new pathways for health and nutrition.

This includes improvements in the proximity and cleanliness of water sources and in technologies for water extraction.

The burden of disease from unsafe water, coupled with time spent collecting water, is a significant drag on the economies of LMICs.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected, since water collection in LMICs is gendered and often hazardous.
Access to safe water is associated with reduced incidence of enteric infection, lowering maternal and neonatal mortality rates, and reduce stunting among children under the age of five.
Closer safe water sources would empower women and girls through time savings, allowing them them time to attend school and pursue livelihood opportunities.

Ensuring solutions reach smallholder farmers and empowering women and girls in the process is not only essential to increasing water productivity, but will improve livelihoods and contribute to greater water, food, and nutrition security.

Alignment of water and food security programs is needed to ensure future prosperity

While current efforts on both water and food assistance are to be commended, to succeed in stated foreign policy, national security, and humanitarian goals, a multi-layered and multi-dimensional approach is needed. Water challenges will only get worse if left unaddressed, and the incredible development gains of the past 50 years could be lost. It will take bold action and a commitment from all actors to work together toward the common goal of a water-secure and food-secure future.

Alignment of water and food security programs is needed to ensure future prosperity

While current efforts on both water and food assistance are to be commended, to succeed in stated foreign policy, national security, and humanitarian goals, a multi-layered and multi-dimensional approach is needed. Water challenges will only get worse if left unaddressed, and the incredible development gains of the past 50 years could be lost. It will take bold action and a commitment from all actors to work together toward the common goal of a water-secure and food-secure future.