FAO: Water scarcity may become next world crisis

Monday, January 26, 2009

Water scarcity may become the next world crisis, according to Pasquale Steduto, chief of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) water development and management unit, FAO reported in a release.

A total of 2.6bn people lack access to sanitation in the world, while 1.1bn lack access to clean water and 1.2bn live in areas where water is scarce.

"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 targets," he added.

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Worldwide government representatives, water companies and experts will meet in Istanbul, Turkey on March 16-22 for the World Water Forum, during which a global action plan to guarantee the sustainability of water resources will be discussed.

To prepare for the event, Latin American government representatives met in Uruguayan capital Montevideo in September last year.

These regional authorities plan to raise issues such as the sustainability of hydrological resources; irrigation; industrial water use; sewage and industrial wastewater treatment; and the expansion of potable water and sanitation, an official from Uruguay's housing, land management and environment ministry told BNamericas.

The region's main concern is the adequate use of hydrological resources in agriculture and cattle production, especially in light of the drought currently affecting the Southern Cone, the official said.

Since irrigation is such a major issue, legislators and authorities are evaluating the Chilean model whereby the government has implemented a legal framework that controls the distribution of water resources among industrial and agricultural users, the official added.

"Agriculture accounts for around 90% of the consumption of the freshwater and is by far the biggest water user. Generally, it takes between 2,000-5,000l of water to grow enough food for one person per day," Alexander Müller, FAO assistant director-general of the natural resources management and environment department, said in the release.

Because irrigation consumes such a large amount of freshwater, increasing water productivity in agriculture is likely to free significant amounts of water for other uses. If agricultural yields can be maintained with a 1% decline in water consumption, this would translate into a 10% increase in water availability for other sectors, the release said.

Delegates from more than 60 countries met in Rome from January 21-23 to continue negotiations on a global plan of action for adapting to global changes that affect how countries manage freshwater resources.