Mr Chairman of the Conference,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour and a great pleasure for me to be with you today in this fine city of Muscat. I should like, first and foremost, to express the profound gratitude of the Director-General of FAO to his Excellency, who is well aware of the importance of water for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the enormous potential of South-South Cooperation in overcoming the challenges facing both individual countries and the global community alike. On behalf of the Organization I should also like to thank the Government and the people of Oman for their warm welcome and their generous hospitality.
Water and food security
One of FAO’s main concerns is the immediate and long-term challenges of water scarcity, especially in relation to food security. The world will need more water and more irrigation to achieve food security and double food production by 2050. However, agriculture already consumes 70 percent of renewable freshwater resources resulting in considerable stress on the environment due to excessive abstraction and pollution of water sources. Unsustainable natural resources management practices also threaten the future availability of water in many watersheds and river basins.
At the same time, more water is and will be needed for water and sanitation services, to support economic activities, and to restore the environment. The world must also address the challenges of climate change, notably higher temperatures, greater variability of rainfall and more frequent extreme events, such as floods and droughts.
Solving this equation will require not only significant new investments in irrigation and technology but also radical changes in the way agricultural water is managed from the plant, to the field, to irrigation systems, and at the river basin and agro-ecosystem scales. Not only will irrigation need to increase its productivity, substantial efforts should also be made to improve the productivity of rainfed agriculture.
The world food crisis
The world today needs to embark on long-term reform and investment programmes, but it also faces multiple crises: the global financial crisis and economic recession was preceded by a food crisis that disrupted the international agricultural economy and highlighted the fragility of world food security. Water-related disasters, floods and droughts in some exporting countries, were a contributing factor.
In 2007, mainly because of soaring food prices, the world’s hungry actually increased – an additional 75 million people were pushed into hunger – instead of declining by 43 million to achieve the commitment of the 1996 World Food Summit. In 2008, there was a further increase of 40 million undernourished people worldwide. This means that almost 1 billion people out of 6.5 billion worldwide suffer from hunger, more than two-thirds of which are located in Asia.
The agricultural sector plays a vital role in poverty reduction; reviving agricultural production in poor countries is the only viable and lasting solution in the fight against hunger. We must therefore invest more in agriculture, and in agricultural water management in particular. At the High-Level Conference on World Food Security that was organized by FAO last June, the delegates of 181 countries – including 43 Heads of State and Government and more than 100 Ministers – reaffirmed the need to produce more. The Conference declaration made clear that investment in agricultural production was the only basis for a lasting solution to the food crisis and that adequate resources should be made available for the purpose.
Development of small-scale water control structures to boost food production in the short term, while at the same time alleviating the hunger and malnutrition of those vulnerable households that were most affected by the recent food crisis, is indeed one of the main components of FAO’s immediate response strategy implemented in its Initiative on Soaring Food Prices.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The need for action and the role of South-South Cooperation
At the High-Level Conference in Rome and the Sirte Conference on Water and Energy last year, and more recently at the Madrid Summit, commitments were made that now need to materialize.
This prestigious assembly should make it possible to move from rhetoric to action. Together, we must find concrete and effective measures to address the issue of water in all our countries, in a spirit of shared responsibility and enhanced cooperation among all stakeholders, including governments, donor communities, regional and international organizations, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society.
South-South Cooperation is an instrument that has been extensively promoted and adopted by FAO, including in the field of water control for agriculture. It has demonstrated considerable success and has had a very positive impact. It has also proved to be a very effective tool in achieving results on the ground and promoting enhanced cooperation among countries. FAO hopes that this conference will succeed in further developing the South-South Cooperation modality and forging innovative and bold cooperative programmes in the water sector.
Thank you for your kind attention.