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Five threats to the water that sustains our farms

What threatens the world's water supply, and what can we do about it?

Since the 1950s, innovations like synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides and high-yield cereals have helped humanity dramatically increase the amount of food it grows.

But those inventions would be moot without agriculture’s most precious commodity: fresh water. And it, say researchers, is now under threat.

Pollution, climate change and over-abstraction are beginning to compromise the lakes, rivers, and aquifers that underpin farming globally. That is raising the spectre of widespread food shortages – a situation made worse by the Ukraine crisis.

“For two-plus generations, now, humanity has lived in a relative time of plenty,” said Leticia Carvalho, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Marine and Freshwater Branch. “But we’re undermining the freshwater resources that make it possible for us to grow crops. And if we keep doing that, the consequences could be severe.”

The amount of fresh water per capita has fallen by 20 per cent over the last two decades and nearly 60 per cent of irrigated cropland is water-stressed, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The implications of those shortages are far-reaching: irrigated agriculture contributes 40 per cent of total food produced worldwide.

Here’s a closer look at what is behind the decline of the world’s per capita freshwater reserves and how those challenges are affecting farmers.

Continue reading the full story at UN Environment.

In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a resolution on sustainable lake management  calling on countries to protect, restore, as well as sustainably use lakes while integrating lakes into national and regional development plans. A separate resolution on nitrogen requests UNEP to support Member States in the development of national action plans for sustainable nitrogen management.

UNEP’s freshwater activities contribute to reaching and monitoring several water-related Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets, apart from SDG 6, for example: SDG 2.4 on agricultural production systems that help maintain ecosystems and strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change; SDG 11.5 on reducing the impacts of water-related disasters; SDG 12.4 on sound management of chemicals and waste; and SDG 15.1 on conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services. 

The SDG 6 Integrated Water Resources Management Support Programme assists governments in designing and implementing country-led responses based on SDG indicator 6.5.1 — the degree of implementation of integrated water resources management.

For more information, please contact Lis Mullin Bernhardt: Lis.Bernhardt@un.org




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