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Access to safe water is crucial to sustainable development

With climate change and population growth putting increasing pressure on finite water resources, FAO is urging countries to step up efforts to increase water efficiency and provide access to safe water for all

cabo 1A woman farmer transferring water harvested from a well into a bucket for watering crops in Keita, Niger. (Image source: FAO)

“Water is universal, it crosses borders and nourishes all life-water is a human right,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director-general for climate and natural resources, while speaking at the closing ceremony of the first International Forum on Water Scarcity in Agriculture (WASAG), co-organised by FAO in Praia, Cabo Verde from 19-22 March.

According to the World Water Development report, a joint effort by the UN agencies and partners under UN-Water, there are more than two billion people living in countries with high water stress.

“As the availability of freshwater decreases due to population growth, urbanisation and changing living standards-we see an increase in agricultural, industrial and energy requirements. This struggle for balance is our greatest challenge,” Semedo said, noting that by 2050, global water demand will rise by 20-30 per cent, while supply will dwindle alarmingly.

Adverse impacts of climate change on food and water security

In her speech, Semedo highlighted that the adverse impacts of climate change continue to undermine food and water security.

“Dry areas tend to become drier, droughts tend to become more frequent and severe and coastal areas more affected by, among other things, seawater intrusion due to rising sea level. Agriculture is by far the most affected sector in periods of drought leading to crop losses and reduced production,” she said.

According to recent studies, droughts affected more than a billion people worldwide in a 10-year period, underlining that water scarcity and droughts, sea level rises, desertification, and ecosystem loss are strong social stressors that also contribute to forced migration.

Tackling water scarcity

Semedo pointed to the need to find innovative sources of water, including recycling wastewater and rainwater harvesting and increasing water efficiency, especially in agricultural sectors.

Agriculture accounts for 69 per cent of global water withdrawals, she said, noting that about 80 per cent of the world's cropland is rain-fed, producing 60 per cent of food.

Cabo Verde sets an example

“Cabo Verde is a Small Island Developing State with a dry and unpredictable climate. This exposes us to significant risks for the primary sector, especially agriculture.”

“Despite the country's arid climate, by adopting innovative technologies such as desalination, solar power energy, reuse of wastewater for agriculture and even fog harvesting, 90 per cent of the population has access to potable water. That is a highly commendable figure,” Semedo added.

She concluded by saying that FAO will continue to support governments with coping strategies in drought-resistant crops, water harvesting, saline agriculture and other techniques.


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