Delft, The Netherlands, 09 Sep 2015

New SDGs: UNESCO-IHE in action part 1

On 25 to 27 September, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be adopted by world leaders at the Sustainable Development Summit in New York. UNESCO-IHE has undertaken action to support the inclusion and achievement of water-related SDGs, in particular Goal 6 on ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. Much of the Institute's work contributes to Goal 6 or related environmental, notably by educating water professionals, undertaking research and developing innovative solutions to sanitation, environment and food security challenges.

Wetlands for Food Security

Wetlands play an important role in several of the SDGs, including those on food security and poverty eradication, ecosystems and biodiversity, water and climate change adaptation. If disconnected, actions taken to achieve one goal can easily conflict with other legitimate priorities. A good example of this is the increasing attention to food security is driving wetland conversion across Africa. At the same time, intensification of wetlands agriculture for food production, undermines local livelihoods and diminishes important ecosystem services. Ken Irvine, Professor of Aquatic Ecosystems at UNESCO-IHE moderated a seminar on this topic at World Water Week in Stockholm on 23 August 2015. The aim was to build bridges between often disconnected communities, for human development in wetlands, ecosystem protection, and agricultural investments and promote a fruitful dialogue to improve policies for sustainable wetland use.

Lecture series in Water

Prof. Margreet Zwarteveen and Prof. Dr. Joyeeta Gupta are involved in a 'special lecture series' at the University of Amsterdam (UVA) which will be held in the first semester of 2015-2016. The theme of this year is Water: Avoiding water wars. Governing water resources in the south. The Lecture Series will highlight problems and opportunities associated with ‘water’ (fresh and salt) in developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Fresh water is an essential resource for human life, used for drinking, washing, farm irrigation and many other purposes. With the growth of the human population and its economic development however, demands on fresh water resources often exceed supply. Moreover, their distribution is skewed between regions, countries, localities and social groups. Noting these realities, various scholars have warned about the possibility of future water wars. Interestingly, however, full-blown wars about water have not yet taken place (although many conflicts about water do occur).

The United Nations has formulated several international targets with regard to the resolution of water-related problems in the world. The Netherlands development policy links to this international effort, emphasizing the value of Dutch expertise in water management. The international contributions will be critically examined with respect to the resolution of fresh water problems in developing countries. 

The objective of the course is to learn about water issues in the context of the historical emergence of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and their predecessors, the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), along with the range of actors, the patterns of implementation, and their successes and failures.

Produce more “crop per drop” of water

The development of technology tools for achieving food security, especially under conditions of water scarcity, is thriving. One of these new tools is the use of near real-time available data on crop production and water productivity, obtained from satellite images. A database with information on water productivity in the African continent will be launched by the end of this year. The next challenge is how food producers and policy makers are going to tackle and employ this database. At World Water Week in Stockholm, the benefits of this new water productivity database were discussed.

Achieving food security in the future, while using water resources in a sustainable manner, will be a major challenge for us and future generations. We will need to produce more "crop per drop" of water. The Sustainable Development Goal on water (SDG 6) will include a focus on increasing water-use efficiencies in all sectors. Considering that the agricultural sector is a key water user - in certain Near East & North African countries up to 95% of the exploitable water resources - and water availability and use will also impact SDG 2 on food security, careful monitoring of crop and water productivity and exploring possible opportunities to increase it, will be required.

With support from the government of the Netherlands, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is developing a publicly accessible near real time database, using satellite data that will allow crop and water productivity to be monitored. This database can be used to propose solutions to reduce water productivity gaps, while taking into account ecosystems services and the equitable use of water resources. Eventually, the proposed solutions should lead to an overall reduction of water stress. The discussion focused on the approach followed and, to what extent the data generated can be used in practice by policy makers, water managers and farmers.

Furthermore, in order to develop a core-sub indicator for SDG 6.4, ‘increase water use efficiency’, special satellite measurement techniques make it feasible nowadays to determine key data on agricultural production. The advantage of water productivity, rather than speaking in terms of water use efficiency, is that it can be converted into multiple benefits and services, such as economic value, nutrition, employment etc. With the help of international investment parties and private sector initiatives, the water productivity values can be transferred into accessible information for farmers, agribusinesses and policymakers to increase yields and to decrease water use.

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