FOSTER IMPLEMENTATION  -  A NEW ECONOMY FOR WFE  -  AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT
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I. Background/rationale

Water is essential to life on our planet. The availability of sufficient amounts of water of good quality is fundamental to all biological processes, for maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystems, for human health, and for primary and secondary production functions. Natural ecosystems and agriculture are by far the biggest consumers of the Earth's freshwater. Competition between them has intensified with human population growth, the expansion of agriculture and increasing pressure to transfer water from rural to urban areas, to the point where agriculture is often seen as jeopardizing ecosystem sustainability. But it is equally important to underline that such threatened ecosystems can no longer provide their water purifying and regulating services to sustain agricultural production and livelihoods. Although the competition for water by agriculture and ecosystems is often stressed, focussing on their mutual dependency will present the key to successful implementation of our international commitments.
There is a global consensus on the need to implement stakeholder management approaches, and on the fact that the Millennium Development Goals for food security, poverty reduction, water and preservation of ecosystems are all pieces of the same puzzle for long-term development. The day-to-day reality in most countries is a competition between different groups and sectors for access to natural resources and water. Still too often the weakest and poorest groups in society loose.
There is an urgent need, therefore, to reconcile water demands for maintaining ecosystem functions and for producing food. Finding this balance is particularly important in developing countries, where agriculture and the natural environment are often the principle potential "growth engines", and the key to alleviating poverty and reducing hunger.
The extensive global debate on sustainable development has centred largely on principles and concepts rather than practical approaches for implementation. Goodwill alone is not sufficient to ensure the harmonization of water use for food and ecosystems - that can only be the result of determined action.
What we would like and need to achieve is the implementation of what has been formulated, articulated and agreed at many meetings and fora in the past decade (see Int'l Commitments) -Dialogues have contributed to a better understanding of the driving forces of the stakeholders. It is now time to prepare for deliveries: how to make it happen what we want to achieve. Implementation is closely linked to poverty alleviation. If we do what we promised the overarching objective of poverty alleviation is serviced.

1. Enhance implementation by balancing water needs for food and ecosystems

Recent global conferences, summits and conventions have recognized the often conflicting water needs of agriculture and ecosystems, and transformed this awareness into concrete commitments and recommendations aimed at sharing our planet's available fresh water resources to meet the needs of its multiple "users" - both human requirements for sustainable socio-economic development and the needs of natural ecosystems. A conflict model will not suffice to deliver on these commitments. We rather need a model that acknowledges the complex and intertwined relations between water, agricultural production and ecosystems. Food production and ecosystems depend fully on water. Without measures to improve agricultural water productivity, the world's increasing food needs will be met increasingly at the expense of the ecosystems. These ecosystems are meanwhile the critical regulators and purifiers in the water cycle, affecting water quantity and quality necessary for sustainable food production. Implementing sustainable IWRM at a river basin level not only entails the sound management of available water resources in an integrated manner to meet the needs and uses of all sectors, but also encompasses the vigorous improvement of water productivity in all of its facets and uses to meet the present and future needs of humans and nature.
While there is a global consensus on the need to implement stakeholder management approaches and on Millennium Development Goals for food security, poverty reduction and preservation of ecosystems, the day-to-day reality in most countries is a competition between different groups and sectors for access to water. Today, the question is no longer whether or why, but rather how we can effectively achieve these improvements in practice - how to balance water quantity and quality requirements for livelihoods and for resilient ecosystems in achieving equity, environmental sustainability, and economic efficiency.

2. Valuing the critical importance of water for food and ecosystems

Water used for food (agriculture and fisheries) and water in ecosystems (nature) are important water functions that provide a major contribution to economic growth and poverty eradication - in particular in developing countries. In allocating rights to the use of water, judgements must be made about the economic, social, environmental and cultural values for all its uses. While the need for food production is evident, it is less self-evident to enhance food security through more efficient mobilization and use, and a more equitable allocation, of water for agriculture while ensuring the integrity of ecosystems. The critical importance of proper management of water for food and ecosystems has not been addressed sufficiently in broader dialogues on water management and rural development. For that reason, the FAO/Netherlands Conference aims at underlining and valuing the contribution of water for food and ecosystems in achieving sustainable development and eradicating poverty. The various components and sectors of IWRM need to come together in the formulation of water plans, as identified by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the World Water Fora. The need for water plans to address such issues as the protection and sustainable use of (wetland) ecosystems is a major concern of FAO and other international organizations, including the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

3. Water, food and ecosystems for poverty alleviation

Sustainable use of water and ecosystems and sustainable production of food are central elements of poverty alleviation. Therefore the main topics in implementing the Plan of implementation of the WSSD and fulfilling the MDGs, sustainable land use and IWRM plans should be integrated in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. More than 1.2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water; most poor people depend on rain fed agriculture for their food production; natural ecosystems are important suppliers of goods and services for the poor. Finding the balance of these different claims for water is a governance issue.
The role of women in the management of water resources and food production is often overlooked. Women not only suffer the most from the reduction and degradation of natural resources but also play a vital role in the implementation of our international commitments on the ground

4. Reconciling the water needs of food production and ecosystems

Without measures to improve agricultural water productivity, the world's increasing food needs will be met increasingly at the expense of nature. Water and ecosystems, however, have an intertwined relation. Ecosystems are fully dependent on water, but even more importantly, ecosystems are critical in the water cycle, and to water availability and quality. Therefore, implementing sustainable IWRM at a river basin level not only entails the sound management of available water resources in an integrated manner to meet the needs and uses of all sectors, but also encompasses the vigorous improvement of water productivity in all of its facets and uses to meet the present and future competing demands/needs of humans and nature.

5. Unlocking the water potential of agriculture

The role of agriculture and food production is a central issue for IWRM, and has been highlighted in many major international meetings on water management. Currently, however, the focus is generally placed on negative impacts of agricultural activities, such as pollution and the fact that agriculture accounts for some 70% of global water withdrawals. It is often overlooked that improved water management in both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture has helped boost productivity by an estimated 100% since 1960 and protected the world from devastating food shortages. Without these successes in unlocking water and land potential in agriculture, the pressure on natural ecosystems would have been much greater today. Major challenges remain in meeting future demand for food while safeguarding ecosystems. FAO's report World agriculture: towards 2015/30 projects that global food production will need to increase by 60% to close nutrition gaps, cope with population growth and accommodate changes in diets over the next three decades. Water withdrawals for agriculture are expected increase by some 14% in that period. Clearly, environmental management will need further improvement, including increased water efficiency in agriculture and agro-based industries. There is no single approach to unlocking water potential in agriculture. It requires a combination of various options, including raising land and water productivity, where necessary, and reducing productivity where negative externalities outweigh the positive impacts.

6. Managing water, soils and biodiversity

Despite the efforts of governments, NGOs and other stakeholders to halt the loss of biodiversity, ecosystems (such as forests, drylands and wetlands) and species are still severely threatened. This loss of biodiversity is interlinked with the capacity of soils to capture, store, filter and distribute water. Problems related to the availability of water for functions such as food production and environmental management are often rooted in unsustainable water use practices. The management of soils, water quantity and quality and biodiversity should therefore be based on an ecosystem approach at the basin level. More comprehensive evaluation and recognition of the values and functions of forests, drylands and water-related ecosystems is needed. Natural areas with high biodiversity values and/or with a critical contribution to managing water in a broader basin context need to be protected. Furthermore, sufficient ground- and surface water of an appropriate quality should be made (or kept) available for habitats such as forested slopes, downstream wetlands and vulnerable drylands. Negative impacts of other land uses (including agriculture) have to be prevented or mitigated. That is the challenge - to foster cooperation and find optimum solutions for all functions at the basin level.

What we want and need to achieve

What we want and need to achieve has been formulated and articulated at many meetings and fora over the past decade. Dialogue has contributed to a better understanding of the driving forces in stakeholder management. It is now time to prepare for deliverables: what we need to achieve and how to make it happen. The Conference will, therefore, take stock of progress made by the international community in realizing its pledges on sustainable water management, and seek to identify good practices in IWRM that effectively increase the productivity of water, while simultaneously securing rural livelihoods and ensuring ecosystem sustainability in catchment areas.