5 June, Rome 2003 -- On the occasion of World Environment Day 2003, celebrated today under the theme "Water - Two Billion People are Dying for It!", FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf called on the international community "to help safeguard the source of food security on our planet."

"I am convinced that if all countries concerned made better agricultural water management a political and financial priority, we would experience fewer disasters like the current food crisis in Southern Africa and in the Horn of Africa," Dr. Diouf said.

"We could then concentrate our efforts more on improving the development and management of water for agriculture to meet the growing demand for food, alleviate poverty and sustain economic growth," he added.

Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, is hosting this year's World Environment Day, which will also be marked throughout the world by celebrations aimed at stimulating more awareness on environmental problems. Water shortage is one of the most worrying problems for the new millennium.

The FAO Director-General indicated that, in line with other UN organizations, the FAO had chosen for its World Food Day - celebrated last October - the theme "Water, Source of Food Security".

Clearly, it will be an enormous challenge to provide enough water for global food production. Looking 30 years in the future, FAO estimates that feeding a growing world population will require 60 percent more food.

Water scarcity

Most of that increase will come from intensified agriculture supported by irrigation. But water is already scarce in many countries. By 2030, one in five developing countries will be suffering actual or impending water scarcity, according to FAO.

More water is needed to grow enough food to feed the world. The answer lies in improving agricultural productivity and water efficiency. By using more efficient irrigation methods, enhanced water harvesting, better seeds and improved agricultural techniques, farmers will be able to produce higher yields, obtaining the greatest gains from precious water supplies, FAO experts say.

Currently, some 20 percent (around 205 million hectares) of agricultural land in the developing countries is irrigated and it provides about 40 percent of crop production in these countries. Developing countries are expected to expand their irrigated area by 40 million hectares by 2030.

Some regions are facing serious water problems. Several countries of the Near East and North Africa, as well as South and East Asia are using more groundwater than is currently replenished. Some are even drawing on precious fossil groundwater for crops, a resource whose value for drinking water should not be ignored.

Countries should invest in both improved technologies and better management in order to achieve more 'crop per drop', according to FAO.

Pierre Antonios
Information Officer, FAO
[email protected]
(+39)06 570 53473