World Water Week: Urbanization, Irrigation, Global Food Security

“Global efforts to improve access to drinking water have been hampered by rapid urbanisation, with the proportion of people in urban areas with access actually declining, according to U.N. figures presented” at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, Agence France-Presse reports.

Despite global efforts to increase the numbers of people worldwide who have access to water, “[i]n cities, there are today more people suffering from a poor and unsatisfactory access to safe water and sanitation than at the end of the 20th century,” Gerard Payen of the International Federation of Private Water Operators (AquaFed), said in a statement, according to the news service.

Though “hundreds of millions of people” have gained access to water as the result of global efforts, the AFP notes population growth adds to the number of people in need. “Between 2000 and 2008, the world’s population increased by 635 million people, 80 percent of whom live in urban areas, according to U.N. numbers,” the news service adds.

The article notes “U.N. statistics showing that 114 million more people went without access to tapwater at home or in the immediate vicinity at the end of the eight-year-period. … At the same time, 134 million more people went without access to basic sanitation, the group said, pointing out that in both cases there had been a 20 percent hike of urban dwellers lacking access” (9/7).

“Current efforts to develop access to water and sanitation in cities are outpaced by urbanization,” Payen said, according to an AquaFed press release (.pdf). “A surge in the efforts is urgent to reverse this trend. This requires new determination in public policies and practical approaches from operators and system installers of all kind,” he said, according to the release (9/7). The AFP highlights the decision by the U.N. General Assembly in July to recognize access to safe drinking water as a human right (9/7).

FAO Report Examines Potential For Recycling Urban Waste Water For Irrigation

A report issued on Monday by the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to coincide with the start of World Water Week examines the potential for recycling urban waste water for crop irrigation to mitigate water scarcity and reduce water pollution, U.N. News Centre reports (9/7).

“The case studies in this report show that safely harnessing wastewater for food production can offer a way to mitigate competition between cities and agriculture for water in regions of growing water scarcity,” Pasquale Steduto, deputy director of FAO’s Land and Water Division, said in a FAO press release. “In the right settings, it can also help to deal with urban wastewater effluent and downstream pollution,” Steduto added.

However, “the FAO said the data indicates that overall the practice is not being as widely implemented as it should,” and “calls for the practice to be scaled up,” according to the U.N. News Centre (9/7).

Water Experts Discuss Impact Of Unpredictable Weather Patterns On Global Food Security

The AFP, in a separate story, reports on “the global trend of unpredictable weather patterns and rainfall that threaten food security” – a topic that received attention at the conference, following the impacts of the drought in Russia and floods in Pakistan.

The news service writes of how both circumstances have impacted global food supplies, before noting “it is not only in such extreme cases that changing weather patterns and unpredictable rainfall is causing problems. … ‘Millions of farmers in communities dependent on rain-fed agriculture are at risk from decreasing and erratic availability of water,’ head of the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Colin Chartres said in a statement. … IWMI published a report Monday stressing that the unpredictable weather required large investments in a diverse array of water storage options to counter the uncertainty.”

The article examines the impact of unpredictable weather patterns on various regions of the world and includes comments by World Water Week Director Jens Berggren; Colin Chartres, head of IWMI; Jan Lundqvist, who chairs Stockholm International Water Institute’s Scientific Programme Committee; and Sunita Narain, the head of the Centre for Science and Environment in India (Larson, 9/7).

In related news, the International Business Times reports that PepsiCo Inc. on Tuesday released a report (.pdf)  “on the company’s efforts to conserve and recycle water and provide increased access to clean water globally” to coincide with World Water Week (9/8). “In April 2010, PepsiCo unveiled a new set of global goals organized around the premise of respecting the human right to water through world-class efficiency in its operations, preserving water resources and enabling access to safe water,” according to a PepsiCo press release. The report highlights PepsiCo’s progress in several areas (9/7).

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