Rome - Arab states must continue to seek innovations to overcome water scarcity in the face of climate change, said UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva at an event co-hosted by the Arab League on the sidelines of FAO's biennial Conference.

In the Near East and North Africa region, the per capita renewable water availability is around 600 cubic metres per person per year - only 10 percent of the world average - and drops to just 100 cubic metres in some countries.

The Director-General praised Near East and North African countries' progress, despite the challenges, in areas such as desalination, water harvesting, drip irrigation and treating wastewater.

"It is fundamental to promote ways for agriculture, and food production in general, to use less water, and use it more efficiently," he said. "Population growth and the impacts of climate change will put more pressure on water availability in the near future. Climate change, in particular, poses very serious risks."

Farmers and rural households should be at the center of strategies to address water scarcity, Graziano da Silva said. "Not only to encourage them to adopt more efficient farming technologies, but also to secure access to drinking water for poor rural households. This is vital for food security and improved nutrition."

Agriculture accounts for more than 80 percent of all freshwater withdrawals in the region, reaching peaks above 90 percent in some countries including Yemen and Syria. Sustainable and efficient water management practices in agriculture are therefore key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger.

"The future of the Arab region is tightly linked to the problem of water scarcity," said the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheith. "There is a major gap between supply and demand when it comes not only to water but also food in the Arab region. This gap leads to dire political, economic and security consequences."

He also urged better collaboration with countries that are home to rivers that flow into the region, and noted that water levels in the Euphrates and Nile Rivers are decreasing steadily.

Climate change to compound water scarcity

Unrestrained demand for water for agriculture in the region has led to groundwater over-drafting, declines in water quality and land degradation including salinization. Climate change is expected to compound these trends and agriculture will be one of the hardest hit sectors.

More frequent and intense heat waves and reduced rainfall will curb growing seasons. With less rain, there will be a reduction in soil moisture, river runoff and aquifer recharge. Increased uncertainty will affect productivity, and make agricultural planning more difficult.

FAO in Action

In collaboration with the Arab League, FAO launched a Regional Initiative on Water Scarcity in the Near East in 2013 which supports the coordination of a Regional Collaborative Strategy.

Building on this, FAO launched a Global Framework, Coping with water scarcity in agriculture, at COP 22 in Marrakesh last year. It encourages cooperation among stakeholders and will help develop technology and governance based on good science.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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