The Director General of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO) has emphasized the necessity to “scale-up” innovation, policies and investments in the water sector in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region. Citing climatic events and conflict as key contributors to rising rates of water scarcity and hunger in the region, Jose Graziano da Silva noted that poverty affects one in three in the countryside in the region and called for a new level of investment and policy coordination to deal with water, food and trade.
Speaking at the Near East and North Africa Land and Water Days Conference, April 3, da Silva said that this effort is fundamental "to prevent water scarcity from setting us back in our ambitious vision of eradicating all forms of malnutrition, sustaining peace and leaving no one behind". He suggested rewarding farmers for more efficient use of soil and water, adding that "It is also important to remember that water scarcity does not always emanate from the physical lack of water. Many areas suffer from water scarcity due to the lack of investments."
Climate change leading to unpredictable weather patterns and increasing frequency and intensity of water stress will affect agriculture the hardest. The UNFAO Director-General called for more efficient use of water through innovative irrigation, use of drought-resistant crops, intelligent distribution of production.
"Sea-level rise and salinization of aquifers are also expected. Flooding and increased salinity of fresh water resources may affect key producing areas in the region, such as the Nile Delta," he warned.
Da Silva cited Gulf countries who are pioneers in water desalination, North Africa countries for their efforts in water harvesting, and Egypt and Lebanon for advanced techniques in drip irrigation. However, these efforts are not enough to combat the all complex challenges in the coming years, with the frequency of drought expected to increase by up to 60 percent by the end of the century.
"In fact, no other region has been as severely affected by desertification and water scarcity (as) in the NENA region, mostly due to unsustainable land use patterns, soil erosion, sand and dust storms, deforestation and rapid degradation of rangelands," Da Silva said.
He noted that farmers and rural households are at the center of any solution to address water scarcity, as they would be the ones to implement efficient technologies that would, in turn, enhance food production and lead to improved nutrition.
While it is important to emphasize innovative technology, there is also a need for more research, adequate infrastructure and institutional support. Da Silva added that the FAO Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity for the NENA region, launched in 2013, had been supporting countries in tackling each of these challenges.
New irrigation investment guidelines, tools and resources to tackle irrigation development challenges were introduced earlier in the conference.
UNFAO signed an agreement with the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD) to strengthen an ongoing partnership and boost joint efforts in areas including food security in conflict-affected countries, agriculture and fishery investment, planning and training for policy analysis in agriculture, combating transboundary animal diseases, and development of date palm sector through value chains methodology.