Access to water for all in the Middle East and North Africa: FAO is focusing on innovative approaches and investments

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The Director-General of the food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) stressed that water scarcity can exacerbate food insecurity, migration and malnutrition in the Middle East and North Africa. José Graziano da Silva spoke at a Conference in the framework of the land and water days for the Near East and North Africa, organized by the League of Arab States and co-organized with FAO in Cairo, Egypt, from 31 March to 4 April 2019. The objective of the event is to review progress made in the fight against water scarcity in the region, and to promote the exchange of knowledge between countries and partners.

Strengthening innovation, policies and investments in the water sector in the Near East and North Africa region (NENA) is fundamental to “prevent the scarcity of water from compromising our ambitious vision of eradicating all forms of malnutrition, to maintain peace and to leave no one behind, “said FAO Director-General.

At the Conference, Graziano da Silva said that if conflicts and climatic disasters were partly responsible for the increase in hunger in the region, the shortage of water was hurting the livelihoods in rural areas, forcing populations to migrate from rural to urban areas. He noted that “one in three people living in the countryside is considered poor due to lack of water” in the region. To effectively combat water deficits in the region, Mr. Graziano da Silva emphasized the need for a “new generation of policies and investments”. It also emphasized the importance of inter-ministerial coordination between water, food and trade policies, as well as mechanisms to reward farmers who manage sustainable land and water resources.

“It is also important to keep in mind that water scarcity does not always come from the physical lack of water. Many regions suffer from a shortage of water because of the lack of investment, “he said.

Agriculture as a victim of water scarcity

José Graziano da Silva wished to point out that the increasingly frequent and intense episodes of heatwave, as well as the proliferation of water-related disasters, have to weigh heavily on agriculture.

Therefore, it is very important to deploy the means to ensure food production, while preserving water resources, through, for example, the use of innovative irrigation systems, crops and animals drought-resistant and the spatial distribution of production.

“The rise of sea level and the intensification of the salinity of groundwater are to be expected. Floods and the increasing salinization of freshwater resources could affect the major producing areas of the region, such as the Nile Delta, he warned.

Progress made by NENA countries

Graziano da Silva congratulated the countries of the NENA region for their “great advances in their long and incessant struggle against water scarcity”.

“The Gulf countries, for example, are pioneers in the area of water desalination. Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia have deployed great resources to recover water. Egypt and Lebanon have made considerable progress in the field of drip irrigation. Significant progress has also been made in the recycling of wastewater, he said.

Despite all this progress, however, the Director-General of FAO encouraged the countries of the NENA region to continue their research into innovative solutions to meet the challenges ahead, which are becoming increasingly complex.

Projections show that the frequency of droughts could increase by 60% by the end of the century, compared to current levels in the region.

“In fact, no other region has been so severely affected by desertification and water scarcity as the NENA region. This is due in part to the unsustainable management of soils, soil erosion, sand and dust storms, deforestation and the rapid degradation of rangeland, “said José Graziano da Silva.

Water shortage and obesity

In her speech, Graziano da Silva also highlighted the adverse effects of water scarcity on obesity. “Because of the scarcity of water, the region is increasingly dependent on food imports. This can lead to increased overweight and obesity. World food markets are facilitating access to ultra-processed foods that are inexpensive but high in calories and energy, fat, sugar and salt, he deplored.

“A diet composed of fresh and local foods is often more costly than a diet made up of ultra-processed and imported foods. Here in the NENA region, the proportion of obese adults is about 30%, according to the World Health Organization. In some countries of the region, this figure can reach nearly 40%, “he said, stressing the need to discuss the regulation of trade in foodstuffs, which is responsible for imports of products harmful to the Health.

Farmers are part of the solution                

After stating that farmers and rural households must be at the heart of water scarcity strategies, he said: “not only to encourage them to adopt more efficient technologies, but also to ensure access to water drinking water for rural households. This is vital for ensuring food security and improving nutrition. “

Food wastage must be reduced to conserve natural resources, especially freshwater, soils and farmland, said José Graziano da Silva.

All these measures require thorough research, adequate infrastructure and an appropriate institutional framework, he noted.

Graziano da Silva added that the FAO regional programme on water scarcity in the NENA region, launched in 2013, was helping countries cope with each of these challenges.

FAO published new guidelines for irrigation investment projects at the start of the week, enabling the introduction of innovative methods, tools and resources to address the challenges facing the development of irrigation must cope (water scarcity, competition for limited natural resources and the consequences of climate change).

Consolidate regional collaboration

Today, FAO has also signed an agreement with the Arab Organisation for agricultural development (OADA) to strengthen their existing partnership and give new impetus to their joint actions on: food security in countries affected by conflicts, investment in agriculture and fisheries, planning and training in agricultural policy analysis, control of transboundary animal diseases, and development of date palm cultivation through a value-chain methodology.

Distributed by APO group for food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

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