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2010 Conference

The following pages contain archive material from the 2010 McGill Conference on Global Food Security.

Food Security, Water Scarcity, and Nutrition

One-fifth of the world’s population, more than 1.6 billion, live in areas of water scarcity, and where human capacity and financial resources are insufficient to develop adequate water resources.

Water scarcity and drought, particularly in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa will severely impact food availability, and contribute to further hunger and malnutrition among some one 800 million of the world’s poorest inhabitants. These populations have little access to clean water or to water delivery infrastructure for irrigated food production. The lack of productivity further contributes to increased poverty and poor health.  The situation is likely to get worse in the coming decades, based on climate predictions, where a greater variability of rainfall is expected.

Through irrigation, many countries have been able to achieve food security, or at least meet a significant portion of their food requirements.  Irrigated agriculture on about 17% of the world’s cropland produces about 40% of the global food supplies. However, the irrigation sector is facing several challenges. While irrigation accounts for about 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals, it is facing enormous competition from other economic water users. Water supplies are dwindling and groundwater levels are dropping, as groundwater is being abstracted to augment irrigation requirements. Water and land degradation due to intensive irrigation is further restricting food production. Water scarcity, conflicts over water withdrawals, water quality degradation, and low water use efficiencies are some of the challenges requiring immediate attention in the current food security debate.

As the world’s population is expected to increase from the present 6.5 billion to some 10 billion by the year 2050, food production will have to double in the coming 50 years, to achieve food security objectives. Without improved water management and irrigation development in agriculture, specifically in regions of water scarcity, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for poverty, hunger, and sustainable environment will not be met.

Sound nutrition interventions are critical to achieving food security, and this factor has so far been largely ignored in the food security debate. In trying to cope with the burden of consecutive food and economic crises, the poor are forced to reduce their dietary diversity, and spending on essential items such as education and health care. Insufficient calorie intake often goes hand-in-hand with micronutrient malnutrition, often called “hidden hunger” because it is not readily apparent from clinical signs of a wasted body.  Malnutrition has consequences for each successive stage of the lifecycle.  Mothers who suffer chronic caloric or micronutrient deficiencies are more likely to have low birthweight babies and in effect, they pass their malnutrition on to the next generation. Iron deficiency is responsible for roughly half of the global prevalence of anaemia, which affects about half of all pregnant women worldwide, and over three-quarters of pregnant women and preschool children in South and Southeast Asia. Deficiencies in iodine, vitamin A and zinc also impair pregnancy and child development.