Water : will there be conflicts?
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CTA. 1998. Water : will there be conflicts?. Spore 74. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Over 97% of the world's water is saline and in oceans. Of the 2.5% of water which is fresh, only 3% is directly available as part of the cycle of rainfall and evaporation, in rivers and lakes; the rest is in ice, permanent snow, and fossil...
Over 97% of the world's water is saline and in oceans. Of the 2.5% of water which is fresh, only 3% is directly available as part of the cycle of rainfall and evaporation, in rivers and lakes; the rest is in ice, permanent snow, and fossil groundwater. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is in no doubt that 'human demands are about to collide with the ability of the hydrological cycle to supply water'. The consequences for agriculture will be drastic. The theft of water by farmers from a community water supply project in Kenya made news in the North recently. Water was being diverted for irrigation of mange-tout peas, a chic item on European dinner tables. Along with strawberries and soft fruits, these peas are grown in increasing volumes in many parts of Africa and air-freighted to meet out-of-season demand in European markets. The export of food crops and other biomass also represents the export of a very scarce resource-water. According to the World Water Council, a global think tank on water issues, by the year 2050, water shortages are forecast in more than 70 countries, including 35 in Africa and several in the Caribbean, resulting in what is called 'water stress'. Agriculture is the major consumer of water. 'Irrigation uses more than two-thirds of the world's available freshwater resources, producing 35% of the world's agricultural output from 17% of the world's arable land. In all, agriculture uses 90% of all the freshwater which is economically accessible', reports A M Shady, President of the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage. 'To produce more food and fibre with less water is the challenge for the 21st century'. In sub-Saharan Africa, virtually all farmers practise rain-fed farming, but this is increasingly subject to unreliable and short rainy seasons, drought and other forms of climate change. Closing the gap between the growth rates of population and a reliable food supply through intensified production requires a two-pronged approach: intensified water harvesting and conservation, and intensified irrigation. Low-cost methods exist for improved water harvesting: rehabilitation and protection of water catchments to reduce erosion, floods and silting; prevention of loss through evaporation and leakage; management of groundwater resources, and improved storage. Improved attention to conservation measures can also bring important savings. Major savings can be achieved through more efficient irrigation, such as drip methods, and through changes in cropping patterns, using mixes of less water-intensive crops, shifting the cropping period into seasons where there is less evaporation, and improving the water-holding capacity of the soil. Using treated waste water in irrigation has great potential, especially in peri-urban agriculture, when water from industrial and domestic sources could be used. It also requires investment. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, USA, this approach could provide the major long-term irrigation supply in those countries suffering from 'water stress'. 'The vision thing' Overall water policies are slowly emerging at national and global levels, with increased activity during 1998: conferences hosted by the French government in March, and by UNESCO in June. World Water Day (March 22), organised in 1998 by the International Reference Centre on Community Water Supply, focused on groundwater. The United Nations designated the April 1998 session of its Commission on Sustainable Development to be devoted entirely to freshwater resources. Two years from now, on World Water Day 2000, the second World Water Forum will meet in The Hague, Netherlands, to present a 'Vision for Water, Life and The Environment' to Heads of States and other leaders. The task of these policy forums is to work out realistic programmes that accept that, in many low-income countries with high water stress, water consumption per head will actually fall. At the same time, water prices are bound to rise. This increases the difficulties of small-scale farmers, says Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), since 'other sectors, such as domestic demand and industrial supply, can generally afford to pay more'. It may be necessary, suggests IFPRI, to 'help small irrigation farmers, particularly with partnerships that will give them access to capital, technology, know-how and markets'. To compete at all, the farmer must first have access and control, and this requires ownership, control and capacity building. As long ago as 1993, in its annual State of Food and Agriculture report, FAO called for farmers to be assisted in obtaining ownership rights and management responsibilities for water supply systems: 'Without such developments there will be less scope for farmers and consumers to benefit from existing agricultural technologies.' The choices are clear: if the cost of water is passed on to the consumer, then food prices will rise, with all that this means for food security. If farmers have to absorb the increased cost, then poorer farmers growing relatively low-value products will require support or could be forced out of business. The market place turns into a battlefield? The pricing of water will almost certainly lead to a new wave of structural adjustments. Within many countries, including at least half the ACP States, the implementation of pricing policies will have to take account of the possible economic and social impact on the peri-urban and rural poor. It is recognised at national and global levels that many strongly water stressed countries will become less self-sufficient in food production-indeed the idea is already being floated of one country abandoning agriculture. There is a real danger that water scarcity will lead to local unrest, and even international conflict. The hope of A M Shady that 'mankind will never have to fight over water' is not yet a promise that mankind can make to itself. l For more information: AWN - African Water Network, PO Box 10538, Nairobi, Kenya. Fax: +254 2 555513 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org CSD - Commission on Sustainable Development, United Nations, New York, NY 10017, USA. Website: http://www.un.org/csd FAO - Water and Agriculture section, via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy. Fax: +39 6 514 6172 Website: http://www.fao.org GWP - Global Water Partnership, c/o Sida, S-10525 Stockholm, Sweden. Fax: +46 8 698 5627 Email: email@example.com Website: http://www.gwp.sida.se (for technical assistance issues) ILRI - International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement, PO Box 45, 6700 AA Wageningen, Netherlands. Fax: +31 317 417187 Website: http://www.ilri.nl ICID - International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, 48 Nyaya Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Dehli, India. Fax: +91 11 301 5962 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org UNESCO, Division of Water Sciences, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris 15, France. Fax: +33 145 68 5811 Website: http://www.unesco.org WWC - World Water Council, 10 place de la Joliette, Atrium 10.3, 13304 Marseille Cedex 2, France. Fax: +33 491 99 4101 Email: email@example.com Website: http://www.worldwatercouncil.org (for policy issues).
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