Tierras y Aguas

The new FAO water journey has just started!

FAO’s Land and Water Division organized a Technical Briefing on “Integrated Water Resources Management for Food Security and Climate Resilience” on 26 October 2022 for FAO Permanent Representatives and Missions. The aim of this meeting was to inform FAO Members about the overall role of water for sustainable development, the overlapping crises on water, food, energy, biodiversity, climate, and health, and the need for integrated management of the precious water resources. 

The Briefing was opened by FAO Deputy Director General, Ms Maria Helena Semedo, who emphasized the crucial role of water as one of the world’s most precious resources. Water is not only core for nutritional security and human health, but also for ecosystems and the services they provide. Water is furthermore at the heart of food production, as agriculture is responsible for 70% of global freshwater use, making it the main water user globally. Due to their manifold interlinkages and interdependencies, water is crucial to achieve all the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ms. Semedo also highlighted the importance of FAO’s contribution to the upcoming 2023 UN Conference and concluded with inviting all participants to join this "New FAO Water Journey".

The importance of water to the Sustainable Development Agenda has then further been spotlighted by Her Excellency, Ambassador Yael Rubinstein. Ms. Rubinstein complemented the remarks by Ms Semedo and highlighted again the vital role of water to food systems and our lives, as life on this planet would be impossible without water. Especially in the context of climate change, Ambassador Rubinstein called for putting water at the top of the agendas. In the background of existing and increasing challenges, there is no other option than to produce more food with less water. Competition for water resources will only increase in the future. In order to win a fair fight, Ambassador Rubinstein called for better water management in agriculture. The path to achieve 2030 Agenda and SDGs is now more urgent than ever.

The technical part of the meeting was then opened by a joint keynote presentation prepared by FAO, IWMI, and WMO, held by Mr. Lifeng Li, Director of FAO Land and Water Division. In his keynote presentation, Mr. Li highlighted that both climate change and mismanagement of existing water resources put water under increasing stress and competition. Citing the lates IPCC report, Mr. Li elaborated on the risk that global warming would soon outpace our capacity to adapt, and that there is therefore a finite window of time for adaptation. We must recognize the urgency to act now and to design solutions to produce more food, fibre, feed and biofuel with less water.

The understanding of water’s role in achieving sustainable development is crucial and has been deepened by both scientists and policy-makers.  Looking ahead, to combat existing water-related challenges, we need new ways in managing water to meet our social, economic and environmental needs and ensure efficient water use in agrifood systems.

Summarizing, Mr. Li called for integrating water into all three dimensions of sustainable development, in particular managing the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem (WEFE) nexus. FAO therefore proposes and supports countries to develop a National Water Roadmap towards the 2030 Agenda, based on the example of the National Pathways to Sustainable Agrifood Systems that were presented at the UN Food System Summit 2021. Through country-led national water dialogues and concrete actions, these National Water Roadmaps serve as a good reference point for countries to reaffirm water-related objectives to achieve all SDGs by 2030 as a voluntary commitment to be shared during the upcoming UN 2023 Water Conference.

The Briefing was structured along four Technical Sessions on the importance of water for food security and nutrition, biodiversity and the environment, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as economies. During these sessions, experts from the respective fields and international organizations emphasized the need for urgent actions to safeguard water resources, which are currently under severe stress and increasing competition.

In the first session, it was highlighted that freshwater resources have been declining in all regions of the world since the past 30 years. In order to be able to provide enough nutritious food to the rising population, water efficiency has to be improved.

During the second session, solutions to these challenges were further discussed. A promising way to achieve higher water efficiency is through implementing and fostering integrated water resource management, applying a holistic approach towards water management. Such integrated practices allow to maximise economic returns, equitable distribution and environmental sustainability of water resources. Accordingly, the importance of the Water-Energy-Food nexus in closing existing water gaps and increasing water efficiency was pointed out by different water experts.

The Panelists of session three further elaborated on the need to develop capacity in the safe use of wastewater in agriculture based on the "water fit for purpose principle" and to make climate resilience a top priority in operation and maintenance of rural WASH services and irrigation water management.

Lastly, in session four, the importance of water as the engine of economies was once more accentuated. Increased investments in solutions for wastewater reuse and capacity building as well as circular economy approaches are additional promising measures to overcome existing challenges.

These approaches should be combined with recognizing that no one-size-fits-all solution to persistent water-related challenges exist. Much more holistic and systemic approaches are needed that consider the several interlinkages between different resource systems, while at the same time taking into account the local specificalities. Strong political will as well as cross-sectoral coordination and policy coherence are essential in managing water resources across all levels, today and in the future. Opportunity exists in global policy convergence and governance mechanisms, finding synergies to co-design, co-advocate and co-invest. National governments are at the centre of water governance, who set the enabling environments and regulatory frameworks to implement such policies.

Scaling up support for implementing water actions for food security and climate resilience through integrated water management can deliver on better production, better environment, better nutrition and better life. As Mr. Lifeng Li, Director of the FAO Land and Water Division mentioned in his closing remarks “We are calling for innovation, bold actions, and stronger commitments. It is the time to join forces to create the paradigm shift that is needed for change. In the words of the FAO Deputy Director-General Ms Semedo, "a new FAO water journey starts now”.

The discussions will continue during the FAO Joint Programme and Finance Committee Meeting on 7 November  and during the upcoming  Rome Water Dialogue happening on 29 November at  FAO Headquarters and online. More information on the Rome Water Dialogue, including the registration link, is available here >>>

Watch the Flickr album of the Technical Briefing on “Integrated Water Resources Management for Food Security and Climate Resilience” here >>>