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UN-backed meeting prepares plan to combat growing danger to global water supplies

UN-backed meeting prepares plan to combat growing danger to global water supplies

Water supplies for over a billion people around the world are under threat from increasing populations, expanding cities, industrialization, climate change and even the rising demand for food, warned the United Nations, as delegates from more than 60 countries kicked off a meeting today in preparation for the upcoming World Water Forum.

The three-day meeting in Rome continues negotiations on a global plan of action for adapting to the challenges that affect how countries manage freshwater resources, in preparation for the World Water Forum, slated for March in Istanbul.

Industrial development requires more water, and as the demand for energy increases, more water will be diverted to generate hydro-electricity, noted the World Water Council, the organization that stages the triennial Forum, in a press release.

The pollution of lakes, rivers and underground reservoirs reduces the amount of clean water available and along with climate change adds further pressure to the mounting strain on the stability of water supplies.

In addition, “agriculture accounts for around 90 per cent of the consumption of the freshwater and is by far the biggest water user,” said Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources Management and Environment of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Generally, it takes between 2,000 to 5,000 litres of water to grow enough food for one person per day,” he added.

As the world population is set to grow from around 6.5 billion to over 9 billion by 2050, demand for food production will increase along with the competition for scarce water resources from industry and private households.

“Feeding the world in a sustainable way, also responding to growing climate change threats, requires new concepts and a strong political will to solve the world's growing water problems,” stressed Mr. Müller.

Because agriculture consumes such a large proportion of freshwater, maintaining harvests with just a one per cent decline in water consumed would create a 10 per cent increase in water availability for other sectors.

“We have to radically rethink our ideas about the relationship between food, water and the environment if we are to deal with water scarcity and achieve the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] targets,” said Pasquale Steduto, Chief of FAO’s Water Development and Management Unit.

“The World Water Forum, by bringing together government officials from different sectors, civil society, private sector, consumer organizations and universities, presents a tremendous opportunity to ensure that the international agenda on water management reflects this new way of thinking,” he added.

Global drought, which in part is responsible for the recent food price crisis, are predicted to become more frequent in many important food producing areas already coping with water scarcity, including the Colorado River in the United States, the Indus River in southern Asia, the Yellow River in China, the Jordan River in the Middle East, the Nile Delta in Africa and the Murray Darling River in Australia, all of which are “closed” with no possibility of using more water.

“The recent food crisis has caused world leaders [to] refocus their attention on the global food system and the issue of hunger. At this meeting we hope to impress upon world leaders that sustainable water management is inextricably connected to food security,” said Mr. Steduto.

“By fully integrating agriculture into the global policy debate on water, we can address a wide range of development issues, including food security, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, clean energy and rural and urban sanitation,” he noted.

Senior officials attending the meeting in Rome are expected to conclude negotiations on a global action plan, to be finalized and approved by the Ministerial Conference at the World Water Forum in Istanbul.