World Food Day: Act like our life – and food – depends on it

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October 16 is World Food Day – one of the most celebrated days of the United Nations calendar. This year’s theme is all about water, promoting global awareness and action that water is a driving force for people, economies, the environment and the foundation of our food.


More efficient use of water, to enhance drought resilience and preparedness, is at the core of many projects around the state by Vic Hub partners. You can find some of those projects here.


Here’s what the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) says about World Food Day 2023:


Water scarcity is one of the foremost development issues of our time. And yet, depending on where we are in the world, the fragility of our water resources may not always be evident. Perhaps because for many of us water is everywhere in our daily lives and economy, it can be hard to imagine that, today, 2.4 billion people live in countries that are stressed for water. (1, 2)

As blue as our planet is, it’s easy to forget that only 2.5 percent of water on Earth is freshwater. (3) And that supply is far from evenly distributed. It’s also dwindling fast.

The reasons are diverse but ultimately human-made. The result is less and less water for drinking, growing food and producing the goods we need – and for sustaining the ecosystems we depend upon.

As often is the case, those who feel the crunch first and hardest are those who live in water scarce areas and have the least capacity to cope. If we are committed to leaving no one behind, action on water cannot wait. With nearly three-quarters of all freshwater going to agriculture, changing the ways we produce our food, fibre, and other agricultural products has the biggest potential for impact.(3)  It is also where failure to act will become most apparent.

That means, collectively, we risk reaching a point of no return, and climate change is bound to worsen our water challenges.

We can and have to find ways to produce more with less water. We need to shield our existing freshwater resources and aquatic food systems from pollution and impacts of climate change, and we have to ensure that people have more equal access to water. In other words, we have to treat our remaining water like our life – and food– depends on it.

Understanding the challenges


WFD launch campaign post EN LROver the last two decades, roughly speaking, each of us on earth has lost one-fifth of the freshwater available to us.(3) For some people, the reality is much worse. In some regions, in fact, it runs closer to one-third.

Rapid population growth, urbanization, economic development, and climate change have all taken a toll on our water resources. Paired with water pollution, overextraction and overall poor management, this creates a complex mix of challenges.

To illustrate the scale of just one of these: more than 80 percent of the world’s wastewater today is released into the environment untreated and has never been reused. The resulting water pollution is affecting all of us, including around 600 million people who engage in fisheries for a living.(4)

Water challenges affect different people in different ways. Particularly in water-stressed areas, even the smallest change can have a major impact on people’s lives. Those hardest hit by water scarcity are oftentimes small-scale producers in lower-income countries who already struggle to meet their daily needs for water, food and basic services. This is particularly true for women and girls, Indigenous Peoples, migrants and refugees.

Poor water governance often creates conflict. Different groups may be using one water source peacefully for a long time, but as that water becomes less abundant, farmers, forest-dependent people, herders and others may find themselves at odds over who has the right to use it and to what extent. This poses challenges for local water governance systems and for national legal frameworks that don’t always recognize traditional rights over these water resources and grasp the changing needs.

On top of that, extreme weather events are increasing –and most involve water. Around 74 percent of all disasters from 2001 to 2018 were water related, causing economic damage of nearly USD 700 billion.(5)

Flood-related disasters have more than doubled since 2000, and the number and duration of droughts increased by almost a third.

The threats that too little or too much water pose to our food security, ecosystems and well-being should be clear to all of us. So should the urgency to act to ensure a water-secure future for all.


Building solutions


Managing water more wisely starts with building partnerships. That means, wherever possible, governments need to collaborate with researchers, businesses and civil society to build solutions that guarantee water security for future generations.

Governments need to design science and evidence-based policies that capitalize on data and innovation, and coordinate across sectors to plan and manage water

better. Water, energy and food are inextricably linked, and for policies to be successful, it’s important they manage often-competing interests without compromising the health of our ecosystems.

A big part of that will involve finding ways to produce more food and agricultural products with less water. But it also means preventing the degradation of water bodies and water quality, and restoring damaged land and water ecosystems. It means ensuring that people, no matter where they live and who they are, have access to enough clean water and the means to withstand weather shocks.

Since climate change increases precipitation variability water stresses and extreme weather, with more frequent and longer droughts and floods, implementing policies to limit global warming to 1.5°C will be an important part of the solution, as will programmes to protect the most vulnerable.(6)

To make these policies work, they need to be backed by increased investment, legislation, technologies, innovative approaches, and capacity development. This includes more investment and research into efficient irrigation, wastewater treatment and reuse, for example, but also circular economy approaches and integrated soil and water management. Investments in infrastructure, like irrigation and dams, are equally important.

They also need to incentivize farmers and businesses to get involved. Farmers need to become agents of water management and be equipped with the right tools to do so sustainably. Farmers, forest-dependent people, livestock producers and those working in the blue economy already manage water on a daily basis.

Supporting and encouraging them to take leadership in finding and implementing water solutions is both the obvious and the smart thing to do. This is not possible, though, without providing them with appropriate technologies, training and information and involving them in all stages of the planning and decision-making process. Managing water starts by selecting and using the right biodiversity in production systems. That includes local livestock races, crops and plants (species and varieties) that are resilient and adapted to the environment.

FAO WFDBusinesses need to become water stewards. That means making concrete commitments to improving water use efficiency and reducing pollution across the supply chain. This doesn’t just benefit nature and society but businesses too. Taking water governance seriously can boost their reputation and profits and help them avoid risks that water scarcity, floods, pollution or tighter regulations could pose to operations in the future.

We all need to stop taking water for granted. Making informed decisions about the products we buy, wasting less water and preventing pollution are easy ways for everybody to contribute to positive action for the future of food, people and the planet.

Take action


  • Prioritize water in policies and planning across sectors, keeping in mind it has social, economic and environmental impacts. This includes creating incentives for farmers and businesses to use water sustainably.
  • Know your water challenges. Use available data tools to learn about water accounting and water productivity in your country and organize tenure assessments to understand how water rights are distributed.
  • Build National Water Roadmaps and strategies that consider needs of agriculture and all other sectors, through country-led participatory dialogues.
  • Invest in water efficiency by upgrading infrastructure such as irrigation systems.
  • Manage water resources in an integrated way that takes into account all uses from fisheries to forestry, agriculture and other sectors . This includes the integrated management of water and soil.
  • Increase resilience and social protection systems
  • by expanding cash transfer programmes, in-kind assistance and subsidies, so the most vulnerable have access to water and can withstand the impacts of extreme weather events.
  • Engage in the Global Dialogue on Water Tenure to shape principles for responsible governance of water resources.

Researchers, civil society & businesses

  • Foster innovation.
  • Inform water and agriculture policies and advise decision-making processes.
  • Share knowledge, data and skills.
  • Campaign for change.
  • Advocate for accountability and inclusion in decision-making.
  • Find innovative ways to produce goods with less water.
  • Understand where your water comes from and where it goes.
  • Cut down pollution in your business. This includes reducing toxic chemicals and improving wastewater treatment and reuse


  • Use and dispose pesticides and fertilizers correctly.
  • Manage water more efficiently, starting with a water audit and using irrigation advisory services to see where you could save water. Also check for leaks regularly.
  • Adopt sustainable and climate-smart agricultural practices that get more out of the water you use.
  • Share water-gathering duties equally between men and women, boys and girls, so all have time for other activities, including school.

All of us

  • Choose fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables – they usually take less water to produce.
  • Reduce your food waste. It means less water goes to waste
  • Save water. This includes using less energy, since much of it is generated using water.
  • Shop sustainably. This includes eco-label fish but also fibres like cotton, which require less water and release fewer micro plastics into the environment than synthetic fabrics.
  • Don’t pollute water, and take part in clean ups if you can.

To read this document in full, including references, see here.

Know Your Facts LR