FAO's flagship report urges for immediate move to address global water shortages

By UnreguserLi Jie

ROME, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- Shortages and scarcity of water must be promptly addressed at a global level, as they affect more than 3 billion people around the world overall, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged in its flagship SOFA report issued on Thursday.

According to the FAO's State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2020, the annual amount of available freshwater sources per person has declined by over 20 percent over the last two decades, increasing the need to remodel the use of water by various economic sectors, especially the current largest user -- agriculture.

The shortage of water sources was a particularly serious issue in Northern Africa and Western Asia, where the per capita annual amount has dropped by over 30 percent, and "barely reaches 1,000 m3, which is conventionally considered the threshold for severe water scarcity," the FAO stated.

"Today, 1.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with a very high recurrence of drought or extreme water scarcity," FAO Senior Economist Andrea Cattaneo stressed in a video message launching the report on Twitter.

"Increasing pressures on freshwater resources threaten both global food security and fragile aquatic ecosystems. What's more, escalating competition for water creates tensions and further exacerbates unequal access to water," he explained.

Considering all those living in areas with high or very high water shortages or scarcity at global level, there were over 3.2 billion people affected, according to the SOFA.

In the report, the FAO experts provided specific recommendations to overcome water challenges in agriculture, including investing in non-consumptive uses of water (as aquaculture) and in non-conventional sources of water, investing in irrigation technologies and infrastructures in order to increase water productivity, and making better use of rainwater especially in cropland areas affected by recurring drought.

Yet, any successful strategy must start with strong water accounting and auditing, since "awareness is key," the agency said.

"With this report, FAO is sending a strong message," FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu warned in the foreword of the report.

"Water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly if our pledge to achieve the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) is to be taken seriously," he stressed.

Water underpins several SDGs, especially the SGD-6, which calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, recalled the FAO chief, who previously served as vice minister of China's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

"This report shows that achieving this objective by 2030 will be a challenge," Qu said.

Success would still be within reach, according to the FAO, but only by "ensuring more productive and sustainable use of freshwater and rainwater in agriculture, the world's largest water user, accounting for more than 70 percent of global withdrawals."

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