“The widely-held view that the world is heading for a mounting crisis of water scarcity, hunger and poverty is only partially true,” said Dr Simon Cook, a leading expert on global food, water and poverty issues, in Pretoria, South Africa this week. “Instead, we are convinced that the major river basins of the world can support projected population growth to 2050, but only if we use and share natural resources more effectively.”
“The world population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and this means that we may need to produce up to 70% more food than what we are currently producing for 7 billion people,” he explained. “This is because, as economies grow and countries develop, people consume more food and different kinds of food.”
“A significant chunk of the solution lies in managing, using and storing water and other resources provided by river basins more effectively – especially in Africa,” he believes. “Globally we estimate that every cubic metre of water that goes into the system delivers less than 10% of its potential benefit. In Africa, this measure of water productivity may be even much lower.”
Cook’s findings and recommendations are based on US$10 million invested in food and water research since 2002 by the Challenge Programme on Water and Food – a major global cooperative research effort of the Cooperative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The work was done in 10 river basins in more than 40 countries.
He explained that the link between water and poverty is not a simple one. “It is not only about water scarcity, but also about access to water, and people’s ability to store and use the water more effectively. It is also about protecting people against water-related natural hazards.”
Based on the research evidence, Cook proposed a three-pronged solution: (1) Improving water productivity (storing and using water more effectively); (2) Balanced development that considers all water users, for example when large dams are built and (3) a new approach to water politics that focuses on long-term collaboration. “We have evidence that this can work,” he said.
Cook heads up the Basin Focal Points Project of the CPWF. He was speaking at a media briefing in Pretoria, leading up to the 3rd International Forum on Water and Food (IFWF3) that has brought more than 300 experts to Tshwane this week (14 – 17 November 2011). The experts will explore the challenges and opportunities for feeding a water-stressed world into the future, amidst growing population pressures and climate change uncertainties. IFWF-3 is one of the major events leading up to Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) at UN COP17 in Durban, South Africa.
By Marina Joubert