World Water Day 2015: Water for sustainable development, water for life

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World Water Day 2015: Water for sustainable development, water for life

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WATER IS HEALTH. Farmer rinses fruit and vegetables using water from a new irrigation system in Ecuador. © IFAD/Susan Beccio


20 MARCH 2015 – Water lies at the heart of sustainable development and underpins economic growth, poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. It plays an integral part in food and industrial production, human and environmental health, energy security, sustainable urbanization and the ability of rural women and men in developing countries to pursue productive activities.

This year's World Water Day, observed on 22 March, is devoted to the theme 'Water for Sustainable Development' and marks the end of the 'Water For Life' International Decade for Action, which the United Nations launched in 2005 to make progress on water and water-related commitments.

WATER IS NATURE. Soil and water conservation practices for better watershed management in Ethiopia and Haiti. ©IFAD/Petterik Wiggers, ©IFAD/Sarah Morgan


There have been notable achievements on water access over the past 10 years. For example:

  • Millennium Development Goal 7 sets targets for safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The drinking water target was reached in 2010, five years ahead of schedule, though sanitation-related achievements still lag behind.
  • On 28 July 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognized the right to safe water and sanitation as an essential human right. This resolution represented a shift in emphasis from a needs-based approach to a rights-based approach to water and sanitation.
  • The inter-agency mechanism UN Water contributed significantly to integrated water resource management and water efficiency through a stocktaking report published in 2008 and operational guidance issued in 2012. These important documents featured lessons learned, focus areas for action, and direction on establishing an international monitoring and evaluation framework for management of water resources.
WATER IS INDUSTRY. Small local businesses like these brick makers in Sri Lanka also need access to water.


For IFAD, water management translates into a range of activities. IFAD interventions aim to improve domestic water and sanitation through the development of water reservoirs and biogas; to decrease the number of productive days that are lost to diarrhoea bouts and other water-related illnesses; or simply to reduce water drudgery in rural households.

Water for many uses
The favoured approach for IFAD is provision of multiple-use water services, because these allow for water needs beyond domestic use and offer opportunities for greater economic benefits through productive agriculture and small rural businesses. A growing trend also includes biogas development, which tackles sanitation systems as a source of renewable energy. And all of these activities have a positive impact on women achieving greater recognition at home and in the community.

WATER IS ENERGY. Powering an irrigation system that produces food and energy crops in Niger. ©IFAD/Robert Grossman


Of course, agricultural development is at the core of IFAD's work. Globally, agriculture is the largest user of water, accounting for 70 per cent of all water withdrawn. IFAD invests in sustainable food security and rural poverty reduction by promoting equitable, efficient access to water – and by empowering rural people to gain a voice in local water governance.

Among other initiatives, IFAD-financed projects:

  • Work with smallholder farmers and their organizations to secure access to water, linking them to local watershed governance mechanisms
  • Support governments in providing local water infrastructure that is adapted to local climate, and in implementing sustainable natural resources management, including water conservation and rangeland management
  • Provide smallholders with innovative technologies in both rainfed and irrigated areas, so that crop yields and quality improve, securing higher income for the farmers.

Sustainable access for the future
This year's World Water Day is especially important because it occurs as the post-2015 development agenda is being defined. To meet the needs of a growing global population, which is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, agriculture will have to produce 60 per cent more food globally. In developing countries, production will have to double.

WATER IS FOOD. Smallholder production contributes to food security in Madagascar. ©IFAD/Sarah Morgan


With a business-as-usual approach, the planet's water resources will not be sufficient to fulfil these demands. Smallholder farmers – in particular, those presently farming under rainfed conditions – will be called upon to meet the bulk of the needs. Given the worldwide trend towards urbanization, they will have to become all the more efficient in producing enough to feed city dwellers.

With that challenge in mind, IFAD will continue working innovatively to ensure sustainable access to water, thereby improving rural livelihoods and advancing rural development.

WATER IS EQUALITY. Fostering effective negotiation for secure access to water in Nepal and Somalia. ©IFAD/Mathilde Lefebvre, ©IFAD/Marco Salustro