About two weeks ago, I attended the Feeding a Thirsty World: Harnessing the Connections Between Food and Water Security event at the Wilson Center. Speakers from Winrock International, Water Global Practice of the World Bank, Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center, Sustainable Water Partnership, and Corteva Agriscience led discussions on the linkage and the overlap between water security and food security. I learned that the relationship between water and food security is a complex because you can’t have food security without water security. If we are only providing water solely for drinking purposes than we are only solving half of the problem. We are not developing self-reliance or empowering communities to take care of their water or agriculture systems.
More than 70 percent of global water use is for agriculture while more than 25 percent of the global population lives in areas facing severe water scarcity and more than 820 million people are food insecure. Water consumption for food production will need to increase by 70 percent before the year 2050 in order to meet the demand for a growing population. In addition, we have to consider the environmental stressors that also affect food and water availability, like the increase in floods and droughts due to changes in climate patterns. Many countries are lacking in safe access to drinking water. 3 out of 10 countries lack safe drinking water in their home globally. There are serious consequences such as political instability, economic decline, and increase in conflict and insecurity. So how can we feed a thirsty world?
There were three takeaways from the discussions: Nutrition Is More Important than Calorie Intake, The Development of Child’s Brain in Relation to Human Capital and From Relief and Recovery to Growth and Resilience. I go into greater detail on each topic below.
Nutrition Is More Important than Calorie Intake
Water scarcity has long term effects on food access which leads to poor nutrition and poor health. Total agriculture productivity needs will have to increase by 50% to meet the current demand for nutrition. We can produce enough food and calories but the water demand is very massive. The demand for water and food don’t always overlap with each other. We have the capacity to produce calories but nutrition is different than calories met. Nutrition requires a more complex diet. For a nutritional diet you need access to foods like nuts, animal sourced protein, fruits, and vegetables, but the production for these food sources tend to be more localized. Both water security and food security are contextual issues therefore a universal solution cannot be applied.
Water is important for nutrition but it hasn’t been a major topic in the food security development community. Neither has food security in relation to the water security development community. One of the reasons is that these development communities have been isolated from one another both financially and administratively, and as a result there can be a hesitancy to combine them perhaps out of the fear of less funding. Some of the greatest needs are in governance and management improvements where there can be a lack of policy coordination.
There are two basic trends linking water and nutrition security in policy development: building policy and funding linkage between food security and water security efforts are very important but still an evolving discussion about how they can relate in the future. Another is increasing the focus on supporting small-holder farmers specifically their ability to irrigate and to manage their water effectively. They are largely responsible for food security in many parts around the globe because they dominate the food production system. In some places in Africa, small-holder farmers produce up to 90 percent of the food. Irrigation is a strategy that can be used as a solution, but small-holder farmers need a different set of irrigation tools than larger scale systems. Small scale irrigation farmers are a part of a broader development program. We should encourage the support and improvement of existing practices of small-scale irrigation farmers by focusing on their potentials rather than building centralized systems that are managed by national governments.
The Development of Child’s Brain in Relation to Human Capital.
Water security is an underlying driver of healthy child growth. Malnutrition can stunt the growth of a child’s brain. Stunting is a red flag for physical and cognitive challenges faced later in life. Early investments in children brain growth lay the groundwork for the development of human capital. The World Bank started the Human Capital project last October which includes a human capital index that measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by the age of 18 given the risks of poor health and education in the country where he or she lives. The distribution of human capital across the world is imbalanced and many countries are projected to have a lower index. If we fail to invest in solutions that unlock food security and nutritional gains today, these future generations may fall short of their potential.
The World Bank has developed a framework for demonstrating linkages between water security, food security, and nutrition which is an important determinant of human capital outcomes. There are four basic pathways: production, income, water supply, and women’s empowerment.
The World Bank developed six nutrition sensitive enhancements to the types of irrigation investments that the World Bank supports as seen below. Two examples of countries, Uganda and Somalia, were mentioned where they have begun to incorporate these nutrition sensitive enhancements. Both countries face chronic food shortages and water insecurity.
From Relief and Recovery to Growth and Resilience.
We need to move beyond relief and recovery to growth and resilience. Not only making sure that farmers have enough food for survival but moving towards a surplus to assist in livelihood.
There are ways to provide stability and opportunities to increase livelihood: empowering more young men and women to have a platform to create innovative solutions, increasing access to data and information and providing an understanding of the data, and pushing for more responsibilities at the community level enabling households, local leaders, and organizations to take charge. Improving water use by making it more sustainable and productive and improving disaster risk management are efficient objectives to these approaches.
I hope these summarized points will cause you to reflect on the current inefficiencies of our global food and water systems and the ways that can support us in to moving towards a more sustainable and equitable future. For more information visit https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/feeding-thirsty-world-harnessing-the-connections-between-food-and-water-security where you can have access to view the full footage of the event.
Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner and Urban Designer from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Architectural Design, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.