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Urgent actions needed for water safety

Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2018. 10:36 a.m. CST.

By Manuel Otero:The 2018 World Water Forum held in Brasilia, Brazil, brought together a record 10,000 participants from 170 nationalities, including government authorities, entrepreneurs, and representatives of civil society, the academic sector and international institutions. The forum’s unprecedented nature affords an exceptional opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of water safety as well as drive the implementation of agreements on this topic.

Given its vital importance to human life, the topic of water safety must be accorded a priority position in government agendas. The role of fresh water is irreplaceable in all aspects that guarantee our survival: food production and consumption, health, industry and power generation.

This role imposes a strategic duty with respect to the management of water as a limited, finite resource: to consider the multiple uses of water as interdependent, and therefore search for ways to share this resource while prioritizing its use in areas of society where it has a greater impact.

Although three-quarters of the planet’s surface is comprised of water, only a small percentage is available for human consumption, sanitation and production activities. Fresh water accounts for only 2.5 percent of the total water supply, and agriculture utilizes nearly 70 percent of that amount.

We have grown accustomed to thinking about water as a renewable resource due to the hydrological cycle. However, climate and temperature changes caused by man, as well as poor water management practices, have demonstrated that, in addition to being a finite resource, water is also a highly vulnerable resource.

Droughts, like floods and hurricanes, have become more frequent and severe, critically impacting the availability of and access to fresh water, especially in the most vulnerable populations. These negative effects will only continue to increase.

Efficient management of water as a vital, limited and vulnerable resource, must rely on international technical cooperation to broaden the capacity of public and private stakeholders to achieve efficient water use in agriculture and sustainable management of ecosystems.

To fulfill these objectives, we must strengthen the institutional framework of ministries of agriculture and foster integrated water management. This, in turn, would enable us to achieve agricultural sustainability, face the challenges of climate change, and strengthen innovation to improve the productivity of water resources, as well as support the training of human resources in new agricultural paradigms.

This duty stems from disturbing evidence. The use and availability of water resources in agriculture are restricted by the pollution and exploitation of aquifers; urban and industrial competition for water; the depletion, salinization and erosion of irrigated land; and the low level of infrastructure for irrigation.

Latin America, together with Africa, is one of the regions with the greatest potential to increase its agricultural production due to the availability of fresh water and of new land with the potential to be incorporated into agricultural production. This condition, however, is not uniform; certain countries and regions are already exposed to water shortages, which confers an even greater responsibility on our hemisphere to guarantee water for the future. We must take on this duty and work to make up for lost time.

We face great challenges within a context of deficiencies and threats. We must feed a growing population with higher income. There is no other option but to foster sustainable water use in rural areas, generate the necessary conditions to improve water management, and curb desertification and soil salinization.

The growth in food production over the past 50 years is largely due to increased groundwater catchment. Nevertheless, this possibility has reached its limits in many areas.

We cannot wait any longer. We are at a pivotal moment in which we must deepen, undertake and implement commitments. We must do this for all of us, but especially for those who will come after us.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

Manuel Otero is the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

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