World Water Day 2012 focuses on Water and Food Security

Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. This year the topic is Water and Food Security.

International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day.


Our right to water in South Africa

The Water Services Act (108 of 1997) says that all water service authorities, such as our City, must provide water and sanitation services that are efficient, affordable, economical and sustainable. This means that the poorest of the poor must be able to afford the water they need, but at the same time, the Water and Sanitation Department must generate enough money to cover the cost of treating and distributing the water.

The Act sets the minimum amount of water for households to meet their basic needs at 25 litres per person per day. Based on an average household of eight people, this translates into six kilolitres per month per household. This amount of water should be provided free to all homes in South Africa. Water must also be
supplied at a minimum flow rate of 10 litres per minute, and if there are no taps in the home, a tap must be installed within 200 metres of that household. Consumers may not be without a water supply for more than seven full days in any year. The City’s Water and Sanitation Department must also make sure that water is available for future generations. 

Consider this:

  • To make a small car requires 450 000 litres of water
  • 130 litres of water are needed to make a bicycle
  • About 19 litres of water are needed to make one litre of petrol
  • It takes three litres of water to generate 1 000 watts per hour.
  • Doing the ironing, or cooking a meal in an electric oven will use roughly three litres of water at the power station!

World Water Day 2012

Why is water a key to food security?

Food security exists when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life.

People who have better access to water tend to have lower levels of undernourishment. The lack of water can be a major cause of famine and undernourishment, in particular in areas where people depend on local agriculture for food and income.

Erratic rainfall and seasonal differences in water availability can cause temporary food shortages. Floods and droughts can cause some of the most intensive food emergencies.

How much water is needed to produce our food?

All the food from crop and livestock production, inland fisheries or aquaculture, forest products, requires water. This water comes from rain and moisture stored in soils (green water) or from withdrawals in watercourses, wetlands, lakes and aquifers (blue water).

70% of the blue water withdrawals at global level go to irrigation. Irrigated agriculture represents 20% of the total cultivated land but contributes 40% of the total food produced worldwide.

It takes about 1500 liters of water to produce 1 kg of wheat, but it takes 10 times more to produce 1kg of beef! Producing feed crops for livestock, slaughtering and the processing of meat, milk and other dairy products also require large quantities of water. This makes the water footprint of animal products particularly important.

Abalimi Bezekhaya | Harvest of Hope

Fish production from rivers and, increasingly, from aquaculture contribute about 25% to the world’s fish production and aquaculture is the fastest growing food producing sector: the average annual per capita supply of fish from aquaculture has increased at an average rate of 6.6% per year between 1970 and 2008.

Both fisheries and aquaculture require a certain quantity and quality of water in rivers, wetlands, lakes and estuaries and are therefore important water users.

How is the global demand for food evolving?

There are over 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. This means that 70% more food will be needed, up to 100% in developing countries.

Besides, with rapid urbanization and incomes increase, diets are shifting. Meat consumption in particular is expected to rise from 37 kg per person per year in 1999/2001 to 52 kg in 2050 (from 27 to 44 kg in developing countries), implying that much of the additional crop production will be used as feed for livestock production. For example, 80 percent of the additional 480 million tons of maize produced annually by 2050 would be for animal feeds, and soybean production would need to increase by a hefty 140 percent, to reach 515 million tons by 2050.

Read more about our scarce water resources and food security here