Celebrating World Water Day

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World Water Day is March 22nd and it’s an opportunity to highlight the impact of agriculture on water resources. Agriculture accounts for an astounding 70 percent of total water withdrawals worldwide, and Americans use an average of 7,500 liters (1,981 gallons) of water every day, mostly for food production, according to the United Nations. Every calorie of food production requires one liter of water irrigation, and inefficient water use can mean up to 100 liters (26.4 gallons) of water are used to produce just one calorie of energy.

Agriculture in the United States is responsible for 80-90 percent of the total water that is lost to the environment or incorporated into products. “Water is an issue we can no longer take for granted—whether we are looking at supply reliability, environmental protection or water quality,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board in California.

Yet, agricultural water conservation holds the potential for huge efficiency gains. At least half of U.S. cropland is still irrigated with traditional, inefficient systems, representing a lot of room for improvement. There’s also the potential for ​water-saving practices in the developing world to drastically improve efficiency, according to the FAO; through modernization of irrigation technology, developing countries could produce 60 percent more food using only 14 percent more water. Drip irrigation and water recycling can be implemented for small and large farmers alike, and consumers can reduce their water footprints by eating less industrial meat, choosing local foods, and supporting farmers that conserve water.

The release of the United Nations 2015 World Water Development Report (WWDR) on World Water Day will link water, food and agriculture, and sustainable development. Released annually, the WWDRs provide a mechanism for monitoring water and tracking progress toward achieving targets such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Notably, the MDG to halve the proportion of people worldwide without access to an improved drinking water source was achieved in 2010.

However, this achievement is now threatened by projected food demand increases, drought, and water scarcity, which may increase pressure on dwindling reservoirs and groundwater supplies. Food production, according to FAO, will need to increase 70 percent by 2050, which will cause competition between irrigation and drinking water uses. Worldwide weather is getting drier, and reservoirs are drying up as farmers withdraw water for irrigation. Water scarcity is expected to affect more than one in seven people by 2025.

These pressing challenges are the subject of new development goals, since the MDGs are set to expire at the end of 2015. The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the MDGs and last until 2030. Agricultural water conservation could contribute to the intricately related goals of food security and water sustainability, which are specified by SDGs two and six, respectively.

The proposed SDGs also include a goal to restore degraded land by 2020, including land affected by drought and floods. The Intergovernmental Negotiations on the proposed SDGs and targets will take place March 23-27, 2015 at the UN headquarters in New York City.

Not only will the MDGs expire this year, but World Water Day 2015 will also be the last international water day in the ‘Decade of Action: Water For Life,’ which spanned 2005-2015. According to Josefina Maestu, Director of the Office to Support the Water for Life Decade, the day “should show how much there is yet to do to ensure continued development and progress for all the world’s peoples." Events and conversations will take place worldwide to raise awareness of water sustainability issues associated with food and agriculture:

  • Workshops in Stockholm will focus on the post-2015 development agenda and managing water resources for green growth and equity.

  • Food and Water Watch will host events nationwide during the month of March, including documentary screenings. The organization is also circling several petitions and pledges concerning the privatization of water rights, bottled water, and fracking.

  • Illinois Water Day 2015 will start with a screening of Cowspiracy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, followed by an interactive panel discussions and a poster session.

  • In light of the drought in California and 30 percent mandatory reductions in the City of Sierra Madre, the Sierra Madre Rotary Club will co-host community events with the city on March 21st, including an expert panel, food trucks, children’s activities, and a tour of a water treatment plant.

  • In Ecuador, an international public forum on water will be held March 24-25 at the Yaku Water Park Museum in honor of World Water Day.

  • In Singapore, Fishing Kaki will host cleanups on March 22nd at 3 reservoirs to show how healthy waterways can help fishing communities achieve food security.

In Somalia, Northern Frontier Youth will celebrate World Water Day in Mogadishu, emphasizing the importance of potable water in rural African communities. The NGO’s agricultural program includes a pilot project for sustainable irrigation along the River Dawa.

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