The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said yesterday that by 2025 some 1.8 billion people will be living in areas of absolute water scarcity
, and two-thirds of the world’s population may be water-stressed. The leading factors prompting FAO to sound the alarm are population growth and increased water use, especially in the agriculture sector, which sucks up roughly 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals (the figure is even higher in several developing countries where drip irrigation and water-conservation measures have yet to be implemented).
None of this is news to most of us in the water world, but the FAO deserves credit for recommending proper management—the right answer, but not a revolutionary one. Integrated water resource management (IWRM)—a coordinated and participatory way of developing and managing water resources—has been the favored solution to water problems around the world for many years. Yet little action has been taken so far; water is a field full of experts, each with his own interests and concerns—fish in the stream, health of individuals, capacity of governments, etc.
The success of IWRM depends on including all stakeholders and illustrating how this comprehensive look can benefit everyone now and as well as in the future. With health, livelihoods, the environment, and much more at stake, developing a management plan is not an easy process. But as Pasquale Steduto, chief of FAO’s Water, Development and Management Unit, noted, progress is possible:
“Sound water resource management at all levels can help countries adopt flexible approaches that allow more people to have the water they need while preserving the environment. The global community has the know-how to cope with water scarcity, but we have to take action.”Effective action doesn’t have to be large-scale or technology–intensive, as shown by The New York Times story about farmers plowing around trees in their fields instead of chopping them down. We should all take note. IWRM doesn’t necessarily mean big. Bottom-up can work. Small can be beautiful.