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Press Release 00/18


Rome/The Hague, 17 March -- In the future, globally there should be enough water to grow the food needed by an expanding world population. But, an increasing number of regions and countries will face water scarcity and will not be able to produce all the food they need locally. That was the message delivered at the World Water Forum in The Hague today by Assistant Director-General Louise Fresco of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"Hungry people, and hungry regions, can exist in the midst of plenty. It is no accident that many of the nearly 800 million people who still go to bed hungry every night live in water-scarce and in water flooded regions. Water and food security are intimately linked, access to water is a key to food security," Ms. Fresco said.

Much of the needed increase in crop production will come from irrigated land, according to FAO. Currently, about 20 percent of agricultural land is being irrigated in developing countries, providing 40 percent of the crops grown in these countries.

FAO expects that the area of land being irrigated in a large number of developing countries will continue to increase until 2030. If farmers apply improved water management techniques to increase efficiency, FAO estimates that an increase of 34 percent in irrigated land area can be achieved using only 12 percent more water. To accomplish this, farmers will have to be more efficient and productive in their use of agricultural water, learning to produce more crop per drop. If this is achieved, no major water crisis should affect irrigated food production at the global level and future demand for irrigation water beyond 2030 is expected to continue to slow as world population growth also slows.

At the regional level, the story is quite different and varies dramatically. In the Near East and North Africa, about 60 percent of available water resources are currently being used for irrigation, while Latin America barely uses one percent.

Of the 93 developing countries studied by FAO in 1996, 12 already used almost half their water resources for irrigation, a situation that FAO considers critical. Another eight countries suffer from water scarcity, using more than 20 percent of their water resources for irrigation.

"Water is a key factor in efforts to eradicate food insecurity and rural poverty. Rural people must have equitable access to water and other productive resources," Ms. Fresco said. "In particular, since women represent the most vulnerable group and are in control of household food security, women in irrigation must gain access to water and other rights and have full participation in decision-making processes."

Many developing countries rely heavily on irrigation. In all regions, except Europe and North America, agriculture is by far the biggest user of water, accounting worldwide for almost 70 percent of water use, with domestic use.

According to Ms. Fresco, irrigation can contribute to food security by increasing local food production. It also helps rural people increase their incomes.

"Soil moisture management techniques in rain-fed agriculture also substantially increase and stabilize local production," said Ms. Fresco. "Drought management can reduce vulnerability and enhance the resilience of rural communities in large parts of the world."

According to Ms. Fresco, "Secure water rights and full cost pricing of irrigation water are essential for the economic sustainability of the irrigation sector, and of investment in increasing water-use efficiency." Policy reforms should encourage the private sector to invest in improved water management, while protecting the rights of the poorest people by ensuring more equitable access to water.

"Lack of agreement between countries on transboundary river management hinders or blocks efficient water development and water quality management," Ms. Fresco said. "Further progress is needed towards agreements on the shared use of limited water resources."

She added that pollution caused by too much fertilizer and pesticide use, particularly in irrigation schemes, could now be prevented through integrated pest and plant nutrient management.

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For further information contact:

John Riddle
FAO Media Relations
Telephone: (39) 06 5705 3259
e-mail: [email protected]

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