Water and food security

The distribution between the needs for populations and agriculture is another key water issue.

Food security threatened by a growing world population

As the world's population will reach 9 billion people in 2050, it is urgent to consider the consequences this will have in terms of urban pressure and increased food needs. At this rate, the demand for water will increase by 64 billion cubic metres per year by 2050. How can we feed the planet while at the same time meeting the crying need for access to water and sanitation for populations? Will the resource be sufficient?

Many factors explain the increase in water consumption: a growing world population, rising standards of living and the development of irrigation correlated with greater food production. In many parts of the world, water shortages are worsening and increasing water stress. In these situations of scarcity, should one use be given priority over another? All needs must be taken into account: society is only sustainable if people can live and feed themselves. It is not a question of opposing cities and countryside, towns and suburbs, but of satisfying all needs; it is a question of organization.

Arbitrating between different water uses

Worldwide, only 10% of water consumption is for personal or domestic use. 70% of consumption is for agriculture and 20% for industrial uses or electricity production. Ensuring the right to water, especially in a context of resource scarcity, will therefore imply prioritizing the different uses of water and the volumes allocated to them.

A double dilemma arises: to increase water resources by having arbitrated between agricultural, industrial and domestic use and to respect the environment in which the water resource is returned.

Solutions for better food security in developing countries

Solutions exist according to countries and needs, with seed improvement, adoption of better agricultural practices or the reuse of wastewater. The aim is to waste less food, change eating habits and produce differently, in particular by improving irrigation techniques. Better soil management, conservation of resources and more rational production and consumption patterns can help ensure food security.

In addition, the implementation of incentive pricing for farmers is at the centre of reforms in several countries, such as in Morocco through the Green Plan launched in 2008. It provides for a system of financial incentives and simplification of administrative procedures for granting subsidies within the framework of the national water saving programme.

To learn more, read the summary of the conference "Reconciling food security and access to water" organised by (Re)sources on the occasion of the World Water Forum in 2009.

Recommendations from (re)sources

* To move from a management of conflicts of use to an organization based on the conciliation and optimization of successive water uses.

* The reuse (after treatment) of urban wastewater is a perennial resource for agricultural or industrial uses.

* Their use in short circuits for the irrigation of agricultural land favours the development of peri-urban agriculture, which is destined to become the granary of the cities.