The world needs to stop taking water for granted


    Syllabus: GS2/ Government policies & interventions, GS3/ Resources

    In Context

    • The theme for World Food Day (October 16th) of 2023 — ‘Water is Life, Water is Food’ — calls for urgent action in managing water wisely. 

    Water availability & significance

    • Water availability affects every aspect of human life, especially food and nutrition security.
      • For instance, about 60% of India’s net sown area is rainfed, contributing to 40% of the total food production. 
    • However, rainfed agriculture depends directly on water availability. Rain and soil moisture variations can severely affect food and nutrition security.
    • Climate change & criticality of water resources:
      • The Government of India has assessed the impact of climate change in 2050 and 2080 using climate projections and crop simulation models.
        • Rice: Without adaptation measures, rainfed rice yields in India are projected to reduce by 20% in 2050, and by 47% in 2080 scenarios, while irrigated rice yields are projected to decline by 3.5% in 2050 and 5% in 2080 scenarios. 
        • Wheat: Wheat yields are projected to decrease by 19.3% in 2050 and 40% in 2080.
        • Maize: Kharif maize yields could decline by 18% and 23% by 2050 & 2080 respectively. 
      • In every scenario, climate change without adequate adaptation measures reduces crop yields and lowers the nutritional quality of produce. 
    • UN’s stress on management of water resources:
      • With less than seven years left to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) — the UN’s food agencies — lay stress on the need to adopt innovative and collaborative approaches for improved management, conservation and availability of scarce water resources.

    Issues & challenges

    • Overall:
      • Decades of poor water management, misuse and pollution, and the climate crisis have degraded freshwater supplies and ecosystems.
      • This has added to the vulnerability of small-scale producers to climate shocks and land degradation in some of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. 
    • Agriculture:
      • Irrigated agriculture accounts for 72% of global freshwater withdrawals.
        • This sometimes has lasting damaging effects on the sustainability of significant ecosystems, such as seasonal rivers and deep aquifers.
      • About 40% of the planet’s total land area is degraded, leaving farmers with less productive land. 
      • Small-scale farmers, who make up more than 80% of farmers globally, are especially affected.
        • They often lack access to finance, technology and irrigation to maintain a level of production that can sustain their livelihoods.
    • Variable weather events:
      • Countries have been facing severe challenges such as drought, floods, unseasonal rains and prolonged dry spells.
      • Extreme weather events and variability in water availability are severely affecting agricultural production, changing agro-ecological conditions and shifting growing seasons. 
      • Changes in rainfall and higher temperatures also affect crop productivity, reducing food availability.


    •  Adapt to climate change:
      • There is an urgent need to adapt to climate change by promoting technologies and practices that make rainfed production more resilient and sustainable
      • Sustainable water management is critical to address the impending food and nutrition security threats. 
    • Irrigation:
      • Irrigation can be an effective measure to make agriculture more resilient.
      • In most cases it enables farmers to transform their livelihoods by growing, consuming and selling high-value crops such as nutritious fruits and vegetables. 
    • Micro-irrigation:
      • Micro-irrigation (drip and sprinkler), which can save about 50 percent of water in the cultivation of different crops, should be promoted in the over-exploited blocks to reduce the exploitation of groundwater.
    • Monitoring:
      • The exploitation and sale of groundwater by large corporations should be monitored on a continuous basis.
    • Rainwater harvesting:
      • Both Central and State governments must take continuous steps to store rainwater in all possible ways to increase recharge. 
      • Rainwater harvesting system must be made mandatory in every household, particularly in big cities where groundwater has been declining alarmingly.
    • Awareness:
      • People from all walks of life must continue to be made aware of water literacy and on the hazardous effects of rapidly declining groundwater.

    United Nations’s Initiatives in India

    • Soil and water conservation:
      • The World Food Programme (WFP) supports soil and water conservation.
      • It involves building or fixing of irrigation canals, dams, ponds, and dykes, as well as flood barriers through food assistance in exchange for labour. 
    • Micro-irrigation infrastructure:
      • International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) supports Indian States in leveraging the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act scheme (MGNREGA)
      • Through safeguards during design and planning and encouraging participatory institutional development, IFAD ensures that micro-irrigation infrastructure is environmentally and socially sustainable and financially viable.
    • Climate-smart agriculture:
      • The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) supports the sustainable transformation of agrifood systems and climate-smart agriculture practices to improve water-use efficiency. 
    • Crop forecasting framework:
      • The FAO, in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, and Maharashtra, is piloting a crop forecasting framework and model incorporating climate (weather), soil characteristics and market information to aid rainfed farmers in making informed decisions contributing to food security.

    Way ahead

    • To achieve global food and nutrition security, political commitment is needed as much as concrete investment. 
    • The needed policies and investments must: 
      • Promote innovative and proven technologies that allow farmers to increase their productivity, adapt to climate change and become more resilient to shocks; 
      • Promote environmentally and socially sustainable and financially viable irrigation and water management strategies; 
      • Reduce their climate footprint of agricultural production, as well as bio-hazards and environmental pollution; 
      • Bring sanitation and drinking water supplies closer to rural households; 
      • Adopt efficient food and water recycling strategies and strengthen institutional arrangements and capacity for sustainable and equitable water regulations, management, access and ownership.
    Daily Mains Question
    [Q] Sustainable water management is critical to address impending food and nutrition security threats. Analyse.