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Message of the UNCCD Executive Secretary on World Water Day

22/03/2012 - Food security is one of the biggest challenges facing the global community for the next two decades. Today, we are over seven billion people, with another two billion expected to join by 2050. To meet the expected growth in food demand, the world will need to raise its production by 70 percent. Therefore, the theme of this year's World Water Day, Water and Food Security is particularly apt.

Water is essence of life on Earth and increasing our food production depends on it. However, this crucial resource is finite and cannot be renewed. Already, more than 1.2 billion people live in areas with severe water scarcity. As the population and demand for water grows, the risk of water-related conflicts and instability is also escalating.
Limited water resources are our common global challenge. Neither industrialized nor developing countries are immune to water scarcity. Large parts of Australia and the United States suffer acute water shortages. Still, whereas an urban Australian on the average consumes 300 litres of water daily, an individual in sub-Saharan Africa has access to less than 20 litres a day.  
One of the biggest users of water globally is agriculture, with irrigation claiming about 70 percent of all freshwater. But, agricultural land does not only claim water. Nurtured properly, it can give water back. In other words, effective land management secures and increases both the water availability and its quality. Clearly, the solution to the water crunch lies in the land.  By preventing land degradation, we can increase the level of ground water and enhance its availability globally.
Drylands, where land is highly vulnerable to degradation, call for special attention. Population growth in drylands is one of the highest rates in the world. Significantly, drylands make up 44 percent of all the world’s cultivated systems and account for 50 percent of its livestock. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) promotes the adoption and implementation of national policies on the sustainable use of land and water in the drylands. With one in three people living in the drylands, achieving water security in these areas would significantly increase the chance of achieving food security globally.
We cannot stop using the land, but we can avoid its degradation. Let us prevent land degradation, improve soil productivity and do whatever it takes to rehabilitate degraded land. The international community should set and implement an ambitious target, which will empower a land-degradation neutral society where the implementation of sustainable land and water management initiatives is supported at all levels. Such a goal aims at supporting and encouraging farmers to rehabilitate their degraded land. It also has the potential to strengthen reforestation and agroforestry policies.
With political will and cooperation we can achieve this paradigm shift. Building a land-degradation neutral world is a prerequisite for assuring the availability of the water needed for the global community to achieve food security. I congratulate UN Water for its efforts to raise awareness about the link between food security and water.

Luc Gnacadja
Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

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