NEW YORK, New York, April 21, 2004 (ENS):
Unless the world finds ways to produce more food using
less water, the international community will face great
difficulties in meeting the UN Millennium Development
Goal of halving the number of undernourished people
in the world by 2015, a new Swedish report warns. Some
840 million people around the world go to bed hungry
at night, international agencies estimate.
Presented Tuesday to the UN Commission on Sustainable
Development which is halfway through its two week long
meeting at UN Headquarters, the report, entitled “Water
– More Nutrition Per Drop” was initiated
by the Swedish government. It contributes to the Commission's
theme of work for this year and next - water, sanitation
The report was produced through collaboration of international
water experts from the Stockholm International Water
Institute (SIWI) and the International Water Management
“Water scarcity is a harsh reality that affects
billions of people in many parts of the world,”
said Swedish Minister for the Environment Lena Sommestad.
Water scarcity is linked to deadly food scarcity. The
World Health Organization calls malnutrition “the
silent emergency” and says children are its most
visible victims, as malnutrition is a contributing factor
in at least half of the 10.4 million child deaths each
“Attitudes to water development and management
must be addressed and changed if we are to reduce the
number of malnourished people," Sommestad said.
"We need practical solutions that benefit poor
farmers as well as global solutions that address trade
barriers and agricultural subsidies.”
“An overriding challenge today is to identify
the path towards sustainable consumption and production
patterns and to design incentives and other policy measures
that can help us achieve these goals,” says Professor
Jan Lundqvist of SIWI, a main author of the report.
“Practical sustainable solutions mean balancing
environmental, economic and social concerns," he
The report finds that today it is consumers –
not producers – who are driving global food production,
the opposite of the situation during the Green Revolution
of the 1960s which brought increased yields through
the use of improved seeds and agricultural chemicals.
With massive urbanization and increasing wealth, the
Swedish report says, food preferences are changing and
the demand for meat and dairy products is increasing.
Production of these high protein foods consumes enormous
amounts of water. In developing countries agriculture
accounts for 70 to 90 percent of available freshwater
It takes 550 liters of water to produce enough flour
for one loaf of bread, the report estimates. This is
a fraction of the up to 7,000 liters of water that is
used in developed countries to produce 100 grams of
SIWI Senior Scientist Malin Falkenmark says that astonishingly
huge volumes of water are transformed into vapor during
the food production process. “With prevailing
land and water management practices, a balanced diet
requires 1.2 million liters of water per person per
year (3,287 liters per day) - 70 times more than the
50 liters per day used for an average households domestic
needs,” she said.
The report identifies four "disturbing trends,"
among them the fact that the average calorie intake
of people in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa is "far
below" that required to “lead a healthy and
productive life,“ while calorie intake in Western
countries is above norms.
An increasing number of rivers are "reduced to
polluted drains," the report warns, because of
the combined effect of heavy depleting water use for
crop production, urban expansion and pollution.
Groundwater levels are declining rapidly due to overexploitation
in densely populated areas of North China, India, Mexico
and also in western countries.
And the degradation of land and water is increasing
due to nutrient depletion, soil degradation, salinisation
and seawater intrusion, the report finds.
A slower trend, but also disturbing, according to the
report's authors, is the persistence of agricultural
subsidies in developed countries, giving "a clear
advantage to the rich over the poor in food production."
And people are slow to take up promising solutions
that would increase water productivity, wealth and reverse
The report identifies five new policy recommendations
which, if followed at national and international levels,
could greatly enhance humanity’s future food security
and nutritional needs.
First, the report's authors recommend a change in thinking
about water use. "Distinguish depleting water use
from through-flowbased water use, where a part of the
water supplied to the fi eld forms a return flow. This
can potentially be reused by downstream water users."
Most important, is to increase the food output per
drop of water depleted. "Farmers must be given
the incentives to invest in and benefit from the tremendous
water productivity gains that can be accomplished in
both irrigated and rain fed agriculture."
These incentives must also be directed to the small
and resource-poor farmers, for sustainability is to
strive for production and consumption patterns that
are also socially acceptable, the authors advise.
The report recommends the need to safeguard aquatic
ecosystems against water depletion by identifying the
minimum ecological service criteria for their protection.
In river basins representing 15 percent of the land
area of the world, river depletion has already exceeded
the need for committed environmental flows to protect
aquatic ecosystems such as wetlands.
“Between the late 1990s and 2020 world cereal
demand will have increased by 40 percent but the world
has a finite supply of water,” says Frank Rijsberman,
director general of the International Water Management
Institute. “Current production patterns are unsustainable.
They involve large scale groundwater overexploitation
and widespread river depletion which poses a major threat
to biodiversity and aquatic ecosystems."
Rijsberman warned, "We are seeing ever increasing
levels of environmental degradation and loss of production
potential caused by water pollution from agricultural
chemicals, water logging and salinization.”
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights