U.N. World Water Day campaign

As a journalist, I avoid endorsing public awareness campaigns, but I figured that the U.N.’s World Water Day was a good time to say a few words about the ties between our struggle to keep ourselves fed and the urgent need to bring our use of water under control.

Conveniently, the World Water Day theme this year is “Water and Food Security.” Here are some food-and-water facts from the campaign organizers at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization:

  • Seventy percent of all fresh water withdrawals worldwide go to irrigation.
  • Agriculture accounts for 85 to 95 percent of all water used in many developing countries.
  • To feed another 2 billion people, the world will need to produce 70 percent more food, and up to 100 percent more in developing countries.
  • It takes about 1,500 liters (396 gallons) of water to produce 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of wheat and 10 times that amount to produce 1 kilogram of beef.
  • Roughly 30 percent of the food produced worldwide – about 1.3 billion tons – is lost or wasted.
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.

Water runs through all the “Food for 9 Billion” stories. Our recent PBS NewsHour feature about land transfers and displacement in Ethiopia looks at some of the “downstream” effects of the global water-buying spree by cash-rich, water-poor countries such as Saudi Arabia and China. Two stories from Egypt (“Food for a revolution” and “Growing pains“) show how competing claims for precious Nile River irrigation water fuel the controversy over the country’s agriculture policy. The Bangladesh climate change story is, of course, all about water – too much, too little, too salty, at the wrong time and in the wrong places. “The scientific challenge” touches on the need to make crops more efficient at transforming water, land and sunlight into food.

And keep your ears open in April for a radio story from India, by far the world’s biggest user of groundwater, where uncontrolled pumping for agriculture is sucking critical aquifers dry. We’ll meet a couple of grassroots leaders who are mobilizing citizens to capture rainwater and rein in overuse.

You can check out some World Water Day videos here. Elsewhere on the page, you can find an advocacy guide (where I found the bullet points above) and other materials. One of the overarching messages is that there is much we can do to avert a crisis – but business as usual is not an option. I have no problem endorsing that.

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Jon Miller

Jonathan Miller is executive director of Homelands Productions, a journalism cooperative specializing in public radio features and documentaries. As a freelance journalist, he has reported from Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the U.S. for NPR, BBC, CBC, American Public Media's Marketplace, Monitor Radio, VOA, Radio Netherlands and Radio Deutsche Welle. He also has written for The New Yorker, Condé Nast Traveler, Parents, American Way, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. For 13 years, he lived and worked in the Philippines and Peru. 

Jon is currently serving as executive producer of "Food for 9 Billion," a collaborative project of Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, American Public Media's Marketplace, PRI's The World, and PBS NewsHour. He was executive producer of Homelands' award-winning "WORKING" project profiling workers in the global economy (2007-09) and the "Worlds of Difference" series about the responses of traditional societies to rapid cultural change (2002-05).