Amplifying every drop the focus of World Water Week

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, August 17, 2004 (ENS): It is still possible to fix the world's water and food imbalances, but people must find ways to produce more food using less water, say water experts gathered here for World Water Week.

At least 50 international organizations and 1,200 water experts from more than 100 countries are here to seek solutions that will take the world in the direction of food and urban water security.

The world must eat less meat if water is to be sufficient, one speaker said. "Unlike the Green Revolution of the 1960s, it is consumers – not producers – who are driving global food production," said Professor Jan Lundqvist of the Stockholm International Water Institute, host of the World Water Week events.

"Food preferences are changing, with significant increases in the demand for meat and dairy products," Lundqvist said. But producing one pound of meat takes at least five times the amount of water required to grow an equivalent amount of grain.

Even producing enough grains for everyone on Earth means using each drop of water more wisely, many speakers said. "By 2020 world cereal demand will increase by 40 percent, but the world has a finite supply of water," said Frank Rijsberman, director general of the International Water Management Institute based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

"Today’s production patterns are unsustainable, involve large scale groundwater overexploitation and widespread river depletion, and pose a major threat to biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems," said Rijsberman. "There are increasing levels of environmental degradation and loss of production potential due to water pollution from agricultural chemicals, water logging and salinisation."

The world’s urban population is expected to reach five billion by 2030, which is nearly two-thirds more than in 2000. This would mean that 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, according to United Nations predictions.

In the developing world, 23 cities will have populations of more than 10 million people by the year 2015. Safe water and sanitation are essential to make life in these cities bearable.

"Of all the natural resources available to human beings, water is the most essential for virtually every human activity," Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, executive director of UN-Habitat told the delegates on Monday. "Yet as the world's urban population reaches the three billion mark, it is distressing to note that the world's one billion urban poor, lack adequate access to water."

UN-HABITAT is increasing its involvement in water issues for cities and megacities, where sustainability in the new millennium will be defined, says Tibaijuka, since these urban area are centers of political power, public opinion and the engines of economic growth and technological innovation.

While the focus in Stockholm Monday was on urban water supplies, UN agencies are also trying creative arrangements to provide clean and abundant water to rural areas.

As part of an innovative model of development assistance that puts project management in the hands of national institutions, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) signed agreements last week with three Indian organizations to strengthen land and water management for poor farmers in drought prone areas of the country.

The projects, funded with 13.9 million euros from the Netherlands, will be implemented by two nongovernmental organizations and a state agricultural university in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, states that have been hard hit by drought and declining agricultural productivity due to unsustainable land and water use. FAO experts will provide technical and management support.

One of the projects in the Deccan Plateau region of southern India, FAO will team up with the AME Foundation, a local nongovernmental organization, to improve water management and promote alternative farming practices to bolster food security and strengthen livelihoods.

"This is the first time we have had projects based on this type of model," said Mafa Chipeta, director of the FAO's Policy Assistance Division.

"The new Indian government has placed emphasis on improving the lives of farmers and their communities, particularly in dryland areas," said Daniel Gustafson, FAO representative in India. "These three projects fit in precisely with the government's priorities."

Projects like this work well when governments are honest, but when corruption exists, it often blocks access to water resources, World Water Week speakers said Monday.

The World Bank Institute estimates that more than US$1 trillion – nearly the combined gross domestic product of low income countries – is paid in bribes annually in rich and developing countries. In developing countries people often cannot avoid corruption since the choice may be between access or no access to drinking water or irrigation water.

"Corruption is a global phenomenon that affects all societies and that threatens economic growth, political stability and sustainable development," said Martha Karua, minister of water resources and development, Kenya. "It affects poor people disproportionately and there are imminent risks of a deepening of poverty." Kenya is currently suffering under severe drought and food insecurity that gave rise to a UN flash appeal for $97 million last week.

With global investments in the water sector already lower than the projected needs today, experts say anti-corruption policies and actions are needed so that the limited financing available does not go down the drain. A recent international response is the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

"Many governments are currently intensifying the battle against corruption and Kenya was leading the way in being one of the first nations to sign and ratify the Convention," said Karua.

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