Over 50% of world population to face water shortages by 2050: FAO urges countries to prepare for it

With agriculture contributing to 70% of freshwater consumption, agrifood systems thus become central to the water scarcity faced by the world, notes FAO

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 07 July 2023
Three high-level roundtables on the theme of water were held during the 43rd FAO Ministerial Conference. Photo: FAO.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has urged countries to prepare for water shortages that would affect five billion people across the world.

Three billion people living in agricultural areas already experience high or very high levels of water scarcity. About 57 per cent of the global population would face water shortages by 2050 for at least a month every year, FAO highlighted during its 43rd session of Mnisterial Conference.

Watch video: A third of people surveyed by global study suffer from freshwater shortage

The session hosted its first roundtable titled Water Scarcity: Making water flow for people and planet on July 3, 2023. It was followed by a series of high-level roundtables, of which three were on the theme of water.

The increased stress on water resources is likely to deepen. It may lead to unequal access to water and can widen the existing social disparities, specifically affecting vulnerable sections such as small-scale farmers, indigenous communities and women, FAO noted.

With agriculture contributing to 70 per cent of freshwater consumption, agrifood systems thus become central to the water scarcity faced by the world, it added.

One of the attendees, representing Namibia, a country highly impacted by climate change, urged governments to “act now.” 

Gambia’s representative stated that the issue largely affects women, as they play a leading role in the country’s agricultural sector.

At the same time, Argentina’s representative pointed out that different types of governance within countries make it challenging to conceive global solutions.

The series of meetings discussed elaborately on flood management and the best solutions to mitigate water scarcity, shortages and frequent widespread and catastrophic floods.

In recent years, floods affected over two billion people worldwide; they accounted for $20 billion in losses in 2021 alone, the roundtable pointed out.

While the catastrophic floods in Africa killed 2,000 people, 1,700 more died in Pakistan, of which one-third were children. The floods also displaced eight million people in the country.

In a roundtable titled Integrated Flood Risk Management, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu lauded Vietnam for its efforts towards enhancing food security.

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In Vietnam, “trash fish caught in the flood season were used as feeds for cultured fish, enhancing their food security. This kind of example encourages us to rethink agricultural flood management in an integrated and holistic way,” he said.

A technical report on Integrated Flood Risk Management produced by FAO has listed decreasing vulnerability and building resilience, minimising flood impacts on those exposed and using effective governance for managing flood risks as the components of good flood risk management.

South Africa’s Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Angela Thoko Didiza, pressed that civic education, rural and urban planning and early warning systems would help achieve the same.

Zimbabwe’s Minister for Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Anxious Jongwe Masuka, asserted that his country was working on providing better alerts to its population.

On the other hand, Jaana Husu-Kallio, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland, one of the most digitally advanced countries in the world, informed that her country was working on piloting digital flood management plans.

The July 5 roundtable emphasised the need for water infrastructure to reach the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals.

It noted how assured water supply infrastructure allowed farmers to diversify agricultural practices and brought resilience among crop varieties. The roundtable pointed out that effective water storage infrastructure can help countries deal with excess water scarcity, enable farmers to cultivate crops and reduce the impacts of extreme weather events.

Water infrastructure is crucial for increasing the efficiency of agrifood systems, making them resilient and sustainable, Dongyu stressed. “We need to invest in infrastructure that is better suited to the water challenges we face today,” he added.

Dongyu shared examples from the Sahel region in Africa as well as from Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, where FAO has provided farmers with mechanisation opportunities. The organisation has been steering multifunctional paddy fields which accommodate fish and shrimp farming in addition to paddy cultivation.

Such initiatives helped these regions harness multiple benefits of creating value-added infrastructure, controlling floods, recharging groundwater and offering ecosystem services.

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