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Our Drying Planet

TigrisRiverBaghdad

An aerial view of the Tigris River as it flows through Baghdad, Iraq, population 8.76 million, the second largest city in the Arab world, July 31, 2016. (U.S. Dept. of Defense Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, March 16, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – The world faces an acute water crisis within a decade that will affect food supplies, megacities and industry globally, warns Australian science writer Julian Cribb, author of the new book “Surviving the 21st Century.

The water crisis is sneaking up on humanity unawares. People turn on the tap and assume clean, safe water will always flow. But the reality is that supplies are already critical for 4.2 billion people – over half the world’s population,” says Cribb. “During times of drought, megacities like Sao Paulo, La Paz, Los Angeles, Santiago, 32 Indian cities and 400 Chinese cities are now at risk.

World water use is already more than 10 trillion tonnes a year. While the human population has tripled since 1950, our water use has grown six-fold,” says Cribb.

In his book, Cribb cites some disturbing facts:
  • Groundwater is running out in practically every country in the world where it is used to grow food, posing risks to food security in northern India, northern China, Central Asia, the central and western United States, and the Middle East. Most of this groundwater will take thousands of years to replenish.
  • The icepack on high mountain chains is shrinking, emptying the rivers it once fed in practically every continent.
  • Around the world, large lakes are drying up, especially in Central Asia, China, sub-Saharan Africa and the South American Andes.
  • Most of the world’s large rivers are polluted with chemicals, nutrients and sediment.
  • 50,000 dams break up the world’s major rivers, sparking increased disputes over water between neighboring countries.

Pope Francis has warned that humanity could be moving toward a “world war over water.”

Addressing an international seminar on the human right to water hosted in February by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope said, “It is painful to see when in the legislation of a country or a group of countries, water is not considered a human right. It is even more painful when it is removed from legislation and this human right is denied. I ask myself if in the midst of this third World War happening in pieces, are we on the way to a larger world war over water?

Each of the last three UN secretaries-general – Ban Ki-Moon, Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros-Ghali – has warned of the dangers of world water scarcity and of future water wars.

To counter this danger, José Graziano da Silva, who heads the Rome-based UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, is focusing on the cradle of civilization, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, and the entire Gulf region, as one of the areas most exposed to the risks posed by climate change, particularly water scarcity.

In an opinion article written in January, Graziano da Silva cited research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the authority for his warning, “The Gulf region is poised to experience a significant uptick in the frequency of consecutive dry days…

If we fail to keep average global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, the region often known as the cradle of human civilization will increasingly face extreme heat waves of the kind that disable the human body’s ability to cool itself,” the FAO leader wrote.

He says avoiding that fate is within our means, but requires that governments muster the will to “increase food output by around 50 percent by 2050,” and we have to do that, he says, “without depleting strained natural resources beyond the tipping point.

Of course, food production requires plenty of water.

In the Gulf region particularly, says Graziano da Silva, no government can accomplish this alone. The region imports about half of all its wheat, barley and maize, and 60 percent of the region’s fresh water flows across national boundaries.

Graziano da Silva draws his hope for the future from the Near East and North Africa’s Water Scarcity Initiative , a partnership for water reform in the Gulf region.

This network of partners, which includes over 30 regional and international organizations, is working to provide member countries with opportunities to learn and share practices in the sustainable use and management of water.

Water scarcity in the Near East and North Africa region is already severe.

Fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world. They have fallen by two-thirds during last 40 years and are expected to drop at least more 50 percent by 2050.

Ninety percent of the region’s land lies within arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, while 45 percent of the total agricultural area is exposed to salinity, soil nutrient depletion and wind water erosion, according to the FAO.

At the same time, agriculture in the region uses roughly 85 percent of the available freshwater.

The Initiative is attempting to bring scientific tools to bear on these grim facts. Water accounting, food-supply cost curve, gap-analysis and regular monitoring of agricultural water productivity are some of the advanced tools that the Initiative will use to quantify the benefits and costs of alternative policy options to address food insecurity while sustaining water resources.

Data collection, management and analysis are the backbone of the Initiative that will support the strategic planning for water resources and provide evidence for policy formulation.

Making use of the expertise developed by FAO and its partners, the Initiative will advise governments and the private sector on the adoption of modern technologies and institutional solutions to increase the efficiency and productivity of water use in agriculture for the benefit of millions of farmers and rural communities in the region.

Options to save water all along the food value chain will be shared with the private sector, while governments will be encouraged to promote incentive frameworks that reposition farmers at the center of the sustainable management of land and water resources.

The Initiative will support the ongoing major policy processes in the region, including the Arab Water Security Strategy 2010-2030 and the Regional Initiative for the Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources and Socio-Economic Vulnerability in the Arab Region.

FAO’s work in the region ranges from emergency efforts in response to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen to running Farmer Field Schools in Egypt and helping the United Arab Emirates develop their first national agricultural policy.

The UAE is planning to roll out water meters on farms, while at the same time introducing smart subsidies targeting those who consume less water than average.

Benefits range from better diagnostic data on actual water use and incentives to actual conservation practices to allocating the savings to farmers who can invest in their businesses for even more efficiency.

That climate change poses such threats to an area known as the cradle of civilization underscores the need for urgent action to put agriculture at the center of the sustainability agenda,” says Graziano da Silva.

World Water Day, on March 22 every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply close to home, spending countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water.

This year’s theme: Why waste water? is in support of Sustainable Development Goal 6 – to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

And now it’s not just a day, or just a week, like the prestigious annual World Water Week in Stockholm in September, but the United Nations has designated another decade to mobilize for water conservation and sustainable use.

The UN Water for Life Decade 2005-2015  a knowledge hub, a best practices program, encouraged communications regarding water and integrated into its work the accomplishments of the UN-Water technical advisory unit.

In December 2016, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution “International Decade (2018–2028) for Action – Water for Sustainable Development” to help put a greater focus on water during 10 years.

Emphasizing that water is critical for sustainable development and the eradication of poverty and hunger, UN Member States expressed deep concern over the lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene as well as concern over water-related disasters, scarcity and pollution worsened by urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and climate change.

The new Decade will focus on the sustainable development and integrated management of water resources for the achievement of social, economic and environmental objectives.

To set the agenda in motion, UN-Water, in its 26th meeting in Geneva in February, decided on the establishment of a Task Force to facilitate its support to the planning and organization of the International Decade for Action – Water for Sustainable Development.

The Decade will commence on World Water Day March 22, 2018, and end on World Water Day, March 22, 2028. It could be the last decade that humanity can use to avert the predicted water crisis.


Featured Image: Mullah Neoka and his sons are wheat farmers in Afghanistan’s Herat province, once the bread basket of central Asia before land mines made farming impossible. HALO Trust, a UK-supported project to clear land mines has restored the land for agriculture. 2011. (Photo by Catherine Belfield-Haines / UK Department for International Development) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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Hope for the Hungry

Hope_for_the_Hungry

By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, July 26, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world go to bed hungry while at the same time, a third of the world’s food is wasted, say the number-crunchers at the United Nations food agencies.

But there is fresh hope for the hungry. Leaders of two UN agencies fighting hunger worldwide are applauding new legislation in the United States that aims to strengthen global food assistance programs in the years ahead.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) praised U.S. President Barack Obama for his July 20th signing of the Global Food Security Act (GFSA). The United States is the largest donor to both UN agencies.

The measure was passed by the U.S. Congress on July 6 by members of both the Democratic and Republican parties, during a time of otherwise great division in the U.S. Congress and politics.

The United States is helping to put and even stronger emphasis on how food security and economic development are intertwined, while stressing the central role of small-scale family farmers in the fight against hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

This law will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people throughout world, showing once again why the United States is a leader in promoting food security and helping those who struggle to feed their families so they can start to build their own future,” says WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

The new law supports initiatives to develop agriculture, assist small-scale food producers and improve nutrition, especially for women and children worldwide. It seeks improve the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene to poor communities and build their resilience to withstand shocks, such as conflict, droughts and floods.

President Obama signed into law the Feed the Future program, the U.S. government’s global hunger initiative, ensuring it will continue helping countries provide their people with enough food – even after the Obama presidency ends in January.

The new law authorizes for the first time USAID‘s International Disaster Assistance and Emergency Food Security Program. This means future White House administrations and future Congresses could more easily make cash assistance available to people experiencing hunger unexpectedly, due to natural disasters or war.

And it has never been more needed. One-third of all the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted as it moves from farm, ranch or orchard to table, at a global cost as high as US$940 billion a year, calculates the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

At the same time, more than 800 million people around the world are undernourished, the FAO reminded everyone in June.

Food loss and food waste generates about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the UN agency says, adding that if it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter – behind China and the United States.

In an attempt to lose less food and feed more people, a partnership of international organizations has launched a new global framework to giv businesses, governments, and other organizations ways to measure, report on and manage food loss and waste.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol is the partnership, and they have developed the global Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard for quantifying and reporting on food removed from the food supply chain due to waste or loss.

The new Standard was launched at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2016 Summit June 6 in Copenhagen.

3GF enables public-private partnerships to support the large-scale adoption of green technologies, practices and policies that they hope will accelerate solutions to intractable problems that markets and governments have been unable to solve on their own.

This set of global definitions and reporting requirements comes as a growing number of governments, companies and other organizions are making commitments to reduce food loss and waste.

Waste makes everybody poorer,” Denmark’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kristian Jensen said. “I am pleased that a new strong alliance between public and private actors will provide an efficient answer to the global challenge of food loss and waste. 3GF has promoted yet another green and innovative solution to global challenges.

The new Food Loss and Waste Standard will reduce economic losses for the consumer and food industry, alleviate pressure on natural resources and contribute to realizing the ambitious goals set out in the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Jensen. “We need to push for more solutions like this for the benefit of people, profit and the planet.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol is the multi-stakeholder partnership convened by the nonprofit World Resources Institute and begun at the Global Green Growth Forum in 2013.

This standard is a real breakthrough,” declared Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute. “There’s simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted. Now, we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources and ensure more people get the food they need.

FLW Protocol partners include some of the largest and most influential of organizations: The Consumer Goods Forum, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Union-funded FUSIONS project, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), The Waste and Resources Action Programme and World Resources Institute.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner acknowledged, “The scale of the problem of food loss and waste can be difficult to comprehend. Having this new standard by which to measure food loss and waste will not only help us understand just how much food is not making it to our mouths, but will help set a baseline for action.

UNEP is urging all countries and companies to use the new Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard to start measuring and reporting food loss and waste, in parallel to taking action to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal SDG Target 12.3: Halve food waste by 2030.

Wasting a third of the food we produce is a clear symptom of a global food system in trouble,” said President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Peter Bakker. “The FLW Standard is pivotal to setting a reliable baseline for streamlined and efficient action on the ground for countries, cities, and small and big businesses along the food value chain.

Together with tangible business solutions,” said Bakker, “the FLW Standard can help to significantly reduce food loss and waste around the globe.”

The FLW Standard will also help reduce food loss and waste within the private sector.

In 2015, The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, adopted a resolution for its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50 percent by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the FLW Standard.

Some leading companies, like Nestle and Tesco, are already measuring and publicly reporting on their food loss and waste.

An executive summary of the Food Loss and Waste Protocol can be found at Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard


Main Image: In the Philippines, girls eat food offered by Feed My Starving Children, a Christian nonprofit organization. (Photo by Feed My Starving Children) Creative commons license via Flickr