New Delhi (NVI): More than 3 billion people around the world live in agricultural areas with high levels of water shortages and scarcity, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report.
The FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2020 report, showed that the available freshwater resources per person have declined by more than 20 percent over the past two decades globally, underscoring the importance of producing more with less, especially in the agriculture sector.
The report said, “Improved water management, supported by effective governance and strong institutions including secure water tenure and rights will be essential to ensure global food security and nutrition, and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
“Achieving the internationally agreed SDG pledges, including the Zero hunger target (SDG2), is still achievable,” it added.
The SOFA also emphasised that only by ensuring more productive and sustainable use of freshwater and rainwater in agriculture, accounts for more than 70 per cent of global water withdrawals.
“With this report, FAO is sending a strong message,” FAO director-general QU Dongyu warned in the report. “Water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly if our pledge to achieve the SDGs is to be taken seriously,” he added.
The report also stressed that, from investing in water-harvesting and conservation in rainfed areas to rehabilitating and modernizing sustainable irrigation systems in irrigated areas, action must be combined with best agronomic practices.
These could involve adopting drought-tolerant crop varieties and improved water management tools, including effective water pricing and allocation tools, such as water rights and quotas, to ensure equitable and sustainable access.
However, effective management strategy must start with water accounting and auditing.
The SOFA also revealed that about 11 percent of the world’s rainfed cropland face frequent drought, as does about 14 percent of pastureland
Moreover, more than 60 percent of irrigated cropland is highly water stressed and 11 countries, all in Northern Africa and Asia, face both challenges, making it urgent and necessary to adopt sound water accounting, clear allocation, modern technologies and to shift to less thirsty crops.
The report found that, about 1.2 billion people — 44 percent of them in rural areas and the others in small urban centers in the countryside live in places where severe water shortages and scarcity challenge agriculture.
At least 40 percent of them live in Eastern and South-eastern Asia and a slightly higher share in Southern Asia, while Central Asia and Northern Africa and Western Asia are also severely affected, it added.
Nearly 50 million people live in sub-Africa areas where severe drought has catastrophic impacts on cropland and pastureland once every three years.
“Although the inherent characteristics of water make it difficult to manage,” the SOFA report notes that water should be recognized as an economic good that has a value and a price. “At the same time, policy and governance support to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable access for all is essential, it added
Noting that the rural poor can benefit substantially from irrigation, the report recommends that water management plans be problem-focused and dynamic.
Despite that water markets selling water rights are relatively rare, SOFA said that when water accounting is well performed, rights well established and beneficiaries and managing institutions participating, regulated water markets can provide equitable allotments while promoting conservation.