FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva receiving the final communique of the GFFA 2017 on behalf of FAO and UN Water from German Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture Christian Schmidt.
Photo courtesy of FAO.
BERLIN, GERMANY -- Growing water scarcity is now one of the leading challenges for sustainable development, and that challenge is poised to intensify as the world's population continues to swell and climate change intensifies, said United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva during the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin, Germany.

Competition for water will intensify as humanity's numbers exceed 9 billion people around 2050 — already, millions of family farmers in developing countries suffer from lack of access to freshwater, while conflicts over water resources already surpass those tied to land disputes in some regions, Graziano da Silva said.

Additionally, climate change is already altering hydrological regimes everywhere, he said, citing estimates that around 1 billion people in dry regions may face increasing water scarcity in the near future. These are regions with a high concentration of extreme poverty and hunger.

Agriculture is both a major cause and casualty of water scarcity. Farming accounts for around 70% of fresh water withdrawals in the world today, and also contributes to water pollution due to pesticides and chemicals.

FAO projects that irrigated food production will increase by more than 50% by 2050, but the amount of water withdrawn by agriculture can increase by only 10%, provided that irrigation practices are improved and yields increase.

The world contains an estimated 1.4 million cubic km of water. But only 0.003% of this amount – about 45,000 cubic km – are "fresh water resources" that can be used for drinking, hygiene, agriculture and industry. Not all of this water is accessible because part of it flows into remote rivers during seasonal floods.

It takes between one and three tonnes of water to grow one kg of cereal. A kilogram of beef takes up to 15 tonnes of water to produce. FAO estimates that between 2,000 and 5 000 liters of water are needed to produce a person's daily food.

To tackle these challenges, the international community created a standalone sustainable development goal (SDG) on water and wove better management of this key natural resource throughout the entire architecture of the SDGs, Graziano da Silva said. Improved water matter is particularly important to the SDGs related to extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and climate change, he said.