The Battle for Water – Feeding the thirsty: Why we need integrated thinking on water and food security

The World Water Week 2012 will focus on food security and the global water situation. To bring some perspectives to that debate Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) is launching a report called “Feeding a Thirsty World: Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future”.

The publication is intended to provide an overview of the areas that relate to food security and water. It will give food for thought through providing the latest knowledge on issues such as food waste, land acquisition and water, gender aspects of agriculture, early warning systems for agricultural emergencies as well as a take on water and food linkages. The articles of the report aim to provoke appropriate concern and inspire action where needed. Getting the question of water and food security ‘right’ is not simply urgent and important. It is imperative to the health and well-being of all people and the planet.

The stakes are high and the importance of food security and the water that is required to produce the food ought not to be underestimated. It is clear that the international community has not responded effectively to the food crisis in the past. While commitments have been made, such as the one in 1974, when the then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stated at the First World Food Summit that “no child will go to bed hungry within ten years”, action has not paralleled the big words. Almost forty years after Kissinger’s statement hundreds of millions of children still long for his words to become true.

Today we note increasing imbalances in the global food security situation. On top of that many regions are facing droughts further driving up food prices and costing farmers their harvests. Water, a key factor for the production of food, is also under increasing demand from all sectors of the economy and in many places is not governed wisely. The pressures ultimately impact the poor and marginalized most, who often suffer disproportionately from climate variability, poor governance and extreme events. About one billion people are still hungry. This is in spite of food production steadily increasing during the last decades. The reasons behind this are many and relate to access to resources, poor governance, inequality in distribution and so forth. Overeating, undernourishment and waste are all on the rise. Increased production will not provide for food security by itself and it may in some places require more water than the planet has to give. We need a new recipe to feed the world.

New ideas and approaches to the water and food nexus will be addressed at World Water Week as well as in the report mentioned above. The international food and water community must begin to more consistently address the challenges that the water and food security relationship exposes in a more systematic and coherent manner. Attending and participating in World Water Week and discussing the topics above are a good start.

Dr Anders Jagerskog, Associate Professor, Director, Knowledge Services, at Stockholm International Water Institute