Hunger must be reduced without increasing thirst, says WWF | WWF

Hunger must be reduced without increasing thirst, says WWF

Posted on 15 October 2003    
Rice field, Dongting Hu Lake, Hunan Province, China.
© WWF / Michel Gunther
Gland, Switzerland – On the eve of World Food Day, WWF warns that the farming industry must manage water more efficiently to avoid a water crisis and to meet the world’s growing demand for food.

The WWF report highlights that world food production has to be increased to feed an expanding population, with an expected growth of 2 billion people over the next 50 years. Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the world's water, rising to 90 per cent in many developing countries. But only 20-50 per cent of the water withdrawn actually reaches the crops as most of it is lost during transfer to the fields.

The report says that many big food producing countries like the US, China, India, Pakistan, Australia, and Spain have reached or are close to reaching their renewable water resource limits. Water tables are dropping by as much as 10 metres annually in the worst cases, leading to a less reliable supply of water for drinking and sanitation.

“If we do not address the wasteful use of water in farming, this will have serious consequences for achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015,” said Jamie Pittock, Director of WWF’s Living Waters Programme.

The WWF report recommends various methods for managing water more efficiently to tackle the food and water crisis. It highlights that the main causes of water shortages are inappropriate irrigation systems and growing crops unsuited to the environment. This is being driven by misdirected subsidies, low public and political awareness of the crisis, and weak environmental legislation.

The WWF report identifies cotton, rice, sugar cane, and wheat as the “thirstiest” crops in nine large river basins rich in biodiversity. WWF believes that growing crops more suited to the location and season would give more ‘crop per drop’.

In the Niger River basin for example, rice is grown in the dry season, and therefore demands more water. Switching to growing wheat during that season could reduce water use by more than a third on average while still producing a crop of food and commercial value.

The WWF report also suggests that irrigation systems can be improved through better design, regular maintenance, and effective drainage mechanisms. Governments need to allocate water more fairly among farmers where there are shortages. They should also ensure that enough water remains in rivers and wetlands to maintain water supplies, fisheries and wildlife habitats. Altering the natural flow of rivers through dams, for example, may result in decimated fish stocks as the breeding cycles of fish are affected and migration routes are blocked. Freshwater fish are an important source of protein for many of the world’s poor.

“Governments must do more than make promises. Together with the food industry and consumers, they must start a new farming revolution — one that ensures there will always be enough food and water for everyone,” said Jamie Pittock.

For further information:

Mitzi Borromeo
WWF International Press Office
Tel.: +41 22 364 9562

Lisa Hadeed
WWF Living Waters Programme
Tel.: +41 22 364 9030

• The river basins analyzed in the study are the: Rio Grande (USA/Mexico), Konya (Turkey), Niger and Lake Chad (West Africa), Zambezi (Southern Africa), Indus (Pakistan), Yangtze (China), Mekong (SE Asia), and Murray Darling (Australia).

• At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2000, world leaders agreed to fight hunger, poverty and disease. Placed at the heart of the global agenda, the goal of ending hunger and other development goals are now enshrined in the "Millennium Development Goals" which includes the target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015.

• On World Food Day, 16 October, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is promoting the “International Alliance Against Hunger” to help feed the estimated 800 million people worldwide estimated to suffer from malnutrition. A central part of this alliance is to further develop agriculture, particularly in developing countries where most chronically hungry people live.

• In the Kafue flats in Zambia, WWF is working with plantation owners to reduce runoff and pollution that causes the river to become choked with hyacinths and reduces the river’s capacity to provide many other services.

• In the Indus Basin in Pakistan, WWF is working with farmers to improve their irrigation practices and to reduce chemicals application through Farmer Field Schools organized with local government agencies.

• In the Murray Darling Basin, source of half of Australia’s farm produce, WWF is working with the farm industry to improve water efficiency and to re-establish adequate flows in rivers for other purposes.

• In Brussels, WWF is campaigning for reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to redirect the CAP budget away from production-related subsidies and towards a policy that promotes sustainable rural development and which encourages sound management of the countryside, nature conservation and the generation of new economic opportunities.

• Freshwater fish stocks have declined by up to 90 per cent in many of the world's largest rivers such as the Yangtze River in China, the Volga River in Russia, the Niger River in West Africa, the Plata River in South America, and the Murray & Darling Rivers in Australia due to the disruption of natural river flows.
Rice field, Dongting Hu Lake, Hunan Province, China.
© WWF / Michel Gunther Enlarge
Twareg gardener with ripening crop of irrigated wheat Tadek Aïr Mountains, Niger.
© WWF / John E. Newby Enlarge
Terraced fields in the Himalayas Indus Valley, Pakistan.
© WWF / Hartmut Jungius Enlarge

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