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World Water Week: Promoting sustainable irrigation by focusing on ecosystems

Languages: English

A community of 300 households belong to a water users group. They maintain this pump and irrigations system to irrigate their rice fields. Hoa Binh village, Phu Viet town, Ha Tinh province. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

There is a direct link between human development and water. This is especially true for rural communities where access to water is a necessity to undertake subsistence agricultural production and to attain a minimum health standard. Many of the world’s rural poor are incredibly reliant on ecosystems in which they inhabit. About 2.5 billion people depend, directly, on farming as a livelihood worldwide, providing food for the world.

The world's agriculture uses 70 per cent of this rapidly disappearing resource. Over utilisation of water and poor water management, by agriculture, have been linked to depleting groundwater resource and reduced water quality, leading to damaged ecosystems. The effects of this are visible as the world is going through an unprecedented heatwave and drought condition now. Farmers throughout the world are struggling for freshwater sources. In a study published in May 2018, NASA scientists found significant shifts in global freshwater resources with high groundwater depletion.

Lack of empowerment of farmers to make decisions in rural areas of developing countries when it comes to water management remains an issue, especially for women. Changes in climate adds to their daunting task in many regions of the world. Research and development projects have shown women empowerment can ensure they are better enabled to maintain their water resources and ecosystems.

The target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 is to secure sustainable and resilient agricultural production practices that maintain ecosystems by 2030. However, the task is not an easy one. The ecosystems, in many cases, are highly degraded which restricts the resources and processes communities rely on. The global population will be nearing nine billion by 2050 and will require a 50 per cent boost in agricultural production and a 15 per cent increase in water removals. Meeting the water needs of the agricultural sector requires a sustainable approach towards water use.

From 1991, every year World Water Week has been convened to discuss global water issues with government and non-government agencies, local and global institutes. This year's World Water Week is focusing on “Water, ecosystems and human development” with more than 400 organisations sharing knowledge and resources. The interconnectedness of water brings in diverse proponents, like IFAD, into this week-long collaboration.

The IFAD President, as the UN-Water Chair, brings together and utilises the forces of several United Nations agencies and international organisations. Water is fundamental to IFAD's mandate. The effects of climate change are mostly visible through water; either long droughts or floods, both of which have a significant impact on IFAD’s cross cutting areas: youth, gender and nutrition. IFAD understands investing in innovative technologies and projects, policies and local institutions on sustainable management of water resources can increase water security for rural women and men.

Sustainable water resource management will remain a challenge for agriculture until and unless we can utilise local resources to their full potential. The value chain of wastewater recovery and reuse will require time and commitment from international agencies to showcase the potential to its proponents. Access to information, finance and training will enable the rural poor to explore transdisciplinary options to develop capacity and rural livelihood connected to water and wastewater resources.   

Rural development measures that promote investments for improving rain water management and efficient irrigation systems has been a priority for IFAD since its formation. These investments actively promotes on farm rainwater harvesting, conjunctive use of water, waste recycling and reuse and reclamation of degraded soils, covering SDGs 2, 6, 7, 12 and 15. IFAD is determined to promote the sustainable farming in the global South through increased productivity of rainfed and irrigated areas and strengthening local capacity to manage water resources. IFAD investments targets to prevent degradation of three core dimensions of water resource management connected to ecosystem: quantity, quality and disaster risk management.

During the World Water Week, IFAD will be focusing on water security, agriculture and the value chain of recycled water. On 30 August, the book Resource Recovery from Waste will be launched, which looks at the business models that can increase reuse of water from different sectors. The publication comes with the support from Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), IFAD and the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE). Audrey Nepveu, Technical Specialist on Water and Rural Infrastructure from IFAD, will be joining panel discussions on water security and agriculture throughout the week.