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Director-General  José Graziano da Silva
A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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4 July 2017

40th Session of FAO Conference

Side Event: “Addressing water scarcity and improving food security under climate change – Perspectives from the Near East and North Africa Region”

Excellency Mr. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General of the League of Arab States;

Prof. Ibrahim El-Dukheri, Director-General of Arab Organization for Agricultural Development;

Honourable Ministers;

Ambassadors and delegates;

Ladies and gentlemen 

Welcome to this important event.

Let me extend a very special welcome to His Excellency Ahmed Abul-Gheith, as well as to the Ministers present here today.

Your participation demonstrates the commitment of the Near East and North African countries to the issues of water management, food security and nutrition.

In fact, countries in the the NENA region have made great achievements in their long and continuous fight against water scarcity.

The Gulf countries, for instance, are already world champions in desalination.

Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia have undertaken great efforts on water harvesting.

Egypt and Lebanon are advancing rapidly in relation to drip irrigation. There is also substantial progress on treated wastewater.

So there are valuable lessons to be learned from these experiences. And also great potential for South-South and Triangular cooperation.

The FAO regional office in Cairo is building a regional platform to foster this collaboration.

And this is also the main objective of this event today: gathering perspectives and experiences from different countries, discussing options, and also making recommendations.  


Despite all this progress, NENA countries should continue to look for innovative practices to face the challenges ahead.

Population growth, increasing competition between sectors, and the impacts of climate change will put more pressure on water availability in the near future.

Climate change, in particular, poses very serious risks.

It will worsen the already-severe water scarcity, and also increase the already-high aridity levels.

Agriculture accounts for nearly 80% of the fresh water usage in the region. And even more than 90% in some countries, such as Yemen or Syria.

With climate change, agriculture will be one of the hardest hit sectors.

It will suffer with higher temperatures and a reduced growing season, more frequent and intense heat waves, and increasing water-stress.

With less rain, we will see a reduction in soil moisture, as well as river runoff and aquifer recharge.

Increased uncertainty will affect productivity, and make agricultural planning more difficult.

Sea-level rise and salinization of aquifers are also expected. Flooding and increased salinity may affect key producing areas in the region, such as the Nile Delta.


It is fundamental to promote ways for agriculture, and food production in general, to use less water, and use it more efficiently.

For example: the choice of crop, the number and types of animals raised, the irrigation technologies employed, and the spatial distribution of production.

Farmers and rural households should be at the center of the strategies to address water scarcity.

Not only to encourage them to adopt more efficient farming technologies, but also to secure access to drinking water for poor rural households. This is vital for food security and improved nutrition.

Today we estimate that over 600 million people in the world still don’t have access to safe drinking water. 80% of them live in rural areas.

Reducing food loss and waste is also important to preserve natural resources, especially water, but also soils and agricultural land.

All of these measures require intensive research, adequate infrastructure and an appropriate institutional framework.

The FAO Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity for the NENA region, launched in 2013, aims to help countries in each of these challenges.

This event today will be an excellent opportunity to receive feedback from you on the developments and results of this initiative.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Water scarcity is also global threat.


Across the world, arid and semi-arid areas are experiencing similar patterns of increasing water scarcity, climate variability, and growing competition for water.

Large parts of central, eastern and southern Asia are facing declining water availability.

The American continent is also under threat, particularly in the Andean Region in South America and the Corredor Seco in Central America.

Southern Europe and Australia are also working hard to find solutions for the management of their limited water resources.

Small Islands Developing States face complex problems of water security and climate change. Rising sea levels are causing saltwater intrusion  into the groundwater supply.

In Africa, all sub-regions are affected.

Drought is one of the drivers of the famine that is ravaging parts of South Sudan, and threatening Somalia and Northeast Nigeria.

Together with the governments of the Netherlands and Iran, FAO has recently organized a seminar at Headquarters on “how to stop drought becoming famine”.

One of the main conclusions was the need to move from reactive to proactive management.

In other words, we cannot prevent a drought from happening, but we can prevent it from turning into hunger and famine.

For that, we should invest in building the resilience of livelihoods and rural households.   

The water-food nexus is becoming critical in our fight against hunger.

And it is also important to remember that water scarcity does not always emanate from the physical lack of water.

Many areas around the globe suffer from water scarcity due to the lack of investments.

Last year, at the Climate Conference in Marrakesh, COP 22, FAO launched a Global Framework called “Coping with water scarcity in agriculture”.

This framework is a concrete response to these new challenges the world is facing.

It encourages cooperation among different stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, financing institutions and development organizations.

I am confident that together, we will be able to implement strategies to prevent water scarcity from setting us back  in our ambitious vision of eradicating hunger, sustaining peace and leaving no one behind. 

I thank you for your attention.