DAEGU, South Korea, April 14, 2015 (ENS) – In 2050 there will be enough water to produce food for a global population of nine billion, but over-consumption and climate change will increase water scarcity in the planet’s neediest regions, finds a new report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Water Council.

The report, “Towards a water and food secure future” was released Tuesday at the Seventh World Water Forum now underway at the Daegu EXCO. Held every three years since 1997, this year’s forum is jointly organized by the World Water Council, the Republic of Korea, the city of Daegu and the province of Gyeongbuk.

“Food and water security are inextricably linked. We believe that by developing local approaches and making the right investments, world leaders can ensure that there will sufficient water volume, quality and access to meet food security in 2050 and beyond,” said World Water Council President Benedito Braga.

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The Nooksack River in Washington State, USA (Photo by Rose Braverman)

Meanwhile, another UN agency reports the planet will face a 40 percent shortfall in water supply in 2030 unless the international community “dramatically” improves water supply management.

The 2015 World Water Development report, released by UNESCO for World Water Day, March 22, predicts that demand for water will increase 55 percent by 2050 while 20 percent of global groundwater is already overexploited.

The FAO predicts that by 2050 some 60 percent more food will be needed to feed the world, placing added stress on water supplies. Agriculture is already the most water-intensive industry, accounting for at least two-thirds of the water drawn from rivers, lakes and aquifers in many countries.

“Water, as an irreplaceable element of achieving this end, is already under pressure by increasing demands from other uses, exacerbated by weak governance, inadequate capacities, and underinvestment,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director-general for natural resources.

“In an era of accelerated changes unparalleled to any in our past, our ability to provide adequate, safe and nutritious food sustainably and equitably is more relevant than ever,” said Semedo.

Water supply improvements are possible, says the FAO, calling for governments to allocate water rights “in fair and inclusive ways” and to help farmers increase food output even with limited water resources by empowering them to better manage water scarcity risks.

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Organic vegetable farmer in Boung Phao village, Laos waters her crop. (Photo by Asian Development Bank)

The world’s attention to water comes as UN Member States prepare to roll out a post-2015 sustainable development agenda that includes water governance and quality, wastewater management and the prevention of natural disasters.

The current UN development agenda is governed by the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, established following the UN’s Millennium Summit in 2000 and extending through 2015. The eight goals include one on environmental sustainability.

The UN is now formulating post-2015 goals that place sustainability at the core of its development activities.

“We have to integrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. We must act now to slow the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity,” declared the UN’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

“This is an opportune time to re-visit our public policies, investment frameworks, governance structures and institutions,” Semedo said Tuesday. “We are entering the post-2015 development era and we should mark it with solid commitments.”

The international community must gear up for a new era of “hydro-diplomacy” as the threat of water scarcity risks plunging the world into a period of geopolitical tension and stunted development, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the UN General Assembly March 30.

“Water is one of the highest priorities for development and lives in dignity, as well as a serious factor in maintaining peace and security,” said Eliasson opening the High-Level Interactive Dialogue on the International Decade for Action Water for Life, 2005-2015.

“The lack of water causes individual tragedies,” he said. “And it also, growingly, constitutes a threat to international peace and security. There is a need for ‘hydro-diplomacy’ – making scarce water a reason for cooperation, rather than a reason for conflict.”

Eliasson warned that in a period of “intensifying disasters, both man-made and natural,” social and economic stresses related to water supply would increasingly flare up, spawning tensions between communities and nations.

“Shared water sources have historically brought countries closer together,” Eliasson said. “Instead of seeing water-sharing as a problem, we have to treat it as a potential solution, with the help of innovative and dynamic hydro-diplomacy.”

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Children in South Sudan enjoy a drink of water. (Photo by Steve Evans)

Every day nearly 1,000 children die from diarrhea linked to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, or poor hygiene. In three countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Papua New Guinea – more than half the population does not have improved drinking water.

“The impact of water on human health as well as economic well-being is better understood than a decade ago, including water’s critical importance for households, industries, agriculture, cities, energy production and transportation,” said President of the UN General Assembly Sam Kutesa in a message to the meeting.

Kutesa recognized progress made under the Millennium Development Goals, yet, he said, 800 million people continue to live without access to an improved water source while many more are without a safe and sustainable water supply.

“This year represents a pivotal opportunity for the international community,” he said. “We are in the midst of an historic opportunity to change our world by improving livelihoods everywhere and protecting our planet.”

Léo Heller, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation, said, “What is needed is a better application of resources – by identifying and targeting those who still do not have access; by practicing effective mechanisms for affordability; by integrating the principle of equality and non-discrimination in policies and programs and by putting in place the necessary physical and regulatory frameworks to monitor who are benefitting from interventions and who are being left behind.”

Heller said, “No one should be left without access to water and sanitation under the new post-2015 development framework.”

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