Water scarcity is one of the leading challenges of the twenty-first century, and it is expected to intensify as a result of climate change. Water use grew at more than twice the rate of population growth in the twentieth century. The world population is expected to grow from about 7.3 billion people in 2015 to 9.3 billion people in 2050; in combination with changing diets, this is expected to cause a surge in food demand of more than 50 percent.
Climate change alters hydrological regimes. Projections show a general reduction in precipitation in semi-arid areas, an increase in precipitation in temperate zones, higher variability in rainfall distribution, an increase in the frequency of extreme events, and an increase in temperature. Reduced river base flows, increased flooding, and rising sea levels are predicted to affect highly productive irrigated systems dependent on glacier melt and lowland deltas. In the semi-arid tropics, where droughts and floods are expected to increase, climate change is likely to especially affect the rural poor by reducing crop and livestock yields.
Agriculture is both a cause and a casualty of water scarcity, but it also has the greatest potential to contribute to the more efficient and sustainable management of water resources. Water scarcity, sustainable agriculture and food security are intrinsically interrelated and should be addressed holistically.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to address multiple priority areas making sure no one is left behind. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a vision of a fair, prosperous, peaceful and sustainable world. Issues related to food and agriculture are integrated comprehensively in the 17 SDGs and 169 targets. Agriculture has a major role to play in responding to climate change. Temperature rises pose a real threat to global food production, but investments in agriculture can simultaneously support climate-change adaptation and mitigation while improving the livelihoods of rural people. Because water is at the core of sustainable development, achieving SDG 6 – “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” – will help in meeting all the other SDGs.
The Paris Agreement – an outcome of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – provides opportunities for adaptation and mitigation actions in agriculture. It recognizes the fundamental goal of ensuring food security and ending hunger, as well as the vulnerability of food production systems to climate change. Adapting agriculture to climate change is closely linked to water management: adaptation measures that build on existing good land, water and agricultural management practices enhance both resilience and water security. Innovative and sustainable water-management technologies derived from applied research, combined with appropriate policies and strategies, will help in the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.
Securing access to water – especially in water-scarce countries – is crucial for achieving food security and improving rural and peri-urban livelihoods. Access can be limited by physical water scarcity – the lack of water of sufficient quantity or quality, or over-allocation; economic water scarcity – the lack of adequate infrastructure due to financial, technical or other constraints; or institutional water scarcity – the lack of an appropriate institutional framework or capacities for ensuring the reliable, secure and equitable supply of water. Significant improvements are possible in the ways in which water is used to produce food. For example, the choice of crop, the management practices in place, the number and types of animals raised, the irrigation technologies employed, the spatial distribution of production, and social habits (e.g. the distribution and consumption of food, and diet choices) can all reduce overall demand for water in agriculture and protect water quality.
In order to tackle water scarcity in a coordinated and effective manner, FAO together with a broad range of partners is launching the Global Framework for Action to Cope with Water Scarcity in Agriculture in the Context of Climate Change during the Agriculture Action Day of COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.
The Global Framework for Action seeks to catalyse international cooperation on water scarcity in agriculture in the context of climate change and growing competition for water resources. It is a call for partners from different fields and backgrounds to join a concerted effort to support countries in implementing their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) related to agriculture and water; and in achieving the food security and water-related targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- Interested parties can join one of the two working groups, namely (1) knowledge & innovation, and (2) policies & investments that will support the implementation of activities under the Global Framework for Action:
- Providing a forum for analysis, discussion and lesson learning through the exchange of information and knowledge on adaptation of agriculture to water scarcity.
- Supporting partners in prioritizing and formulating transformational projects to tackle water scarcity in agriculture (for example by organizing regional and national-level consultations).
- Facilitating collaboration and partner alliances for effective development results.
- Publicizing successful experiences in adapting agriculture to water scarcity and identifying ways in which it can be replicated.
Assisting partners with fund mobilization, particularly where this leads to a scaling up of action, through the development of joint proposals for projects and programmes on water scarcity in the agriculture sector. Potential sources of funding are the Green Climate Fund and other climate finance mechanisms, the Global Environmental Facility, international financial institutions, and bilateral development assistance, among others.
A steering committee composed of representatives of collaborating governments and organizations will oversee and guide implementation. FAO will provide secretariat service.
For more information, please contact FAO at Water-Scarcity@fao.org