Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Don’t put irrigation above drinking water

Joe Turner in Water policies and technologies aiming to help meet sustainable development goals (SDGs) must rebalance the attention given to agriculture over drinking water, a UN report issued last week (15 May) has found.

The Water for Food Security and Nutrition report comes from the Committee for World Food Security, a UN body based in Rome. It makes eight recommendations, saying that better access to technologies could make water use in farming more efficient, as well as improving access to drinking water for disadvantaged people.

The report warns that population growth and climate change will put more strain on freshwater supplies, particularly in low-rainfall areas like Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Much of the available groundwater in these regions has already been extracted, with 80–90 per cent being used for irrigation in agriculture, leaving lakes and groundwater at historically low levels.  Using techniques such as rain-fed agriculture, and introducing better technologies to harvest and store water, and reduce losses through evaporation, could go some way towards ensuring enough drinking water remains, the report says.

Toby Bruce, a crop scientist at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research institute in the United Kingdom, says water-efficient crop varieties and agricultural systems will form part of the solution. “Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the world's freshwater extraction, which means improvements in efficiency could make a big difference,” Bruce says.

However, conflict between using water for agriculture or for drinking would remain, according to Raul Pacheco-Vega, a geographer at the Centre for Economic Research and Education in Mexico. He says that the concept of water for food security and nutrition needs to be extended beyond agriculture, as the existing focus on farming could leave urban communities without enough....

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