Thursday, 22 March 2012 9:18 PM

Water Security is Food Security: World Water Day in the Pacific

Today is World Water Day - a perfect day to reflect on how much water you use.

You could start by asking yourself, 'How much water did I have for breakfast today?' It seems a simple enough question. Many people would probably answer, 'A glass or two,' but if you had two slices of bread with butter, an egg, some fruit and a glass of milk the answer would be closer to 500 litres. Add some bacon to that and it goes up even more.

Much of the water consumed on earth goes into food production. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that it takes 135 litres of water to produce one egg, 40 litres of water to produce one slice of bread and 65 litres per 100 grams of fruit and vegetables. Chickens, wheat, fruit and vegetables need water to grow, but not as much cows as pigs. It takes 208 litres of water for one glass of milk and 2,182 litres to produce half a kilo of pork. It is this relationship of water to food security that is theme of this year's World Water Day.

World Water Day is an annual event to help focus the world's attention on water and its development and conservation. It is observed every 22 March. The global theme this year is 'Water and food security - The world is thirsty because we are hungry'. The Pacific theme for World Water Day 2012 is 'Water Security is Food Security'.

In the Pacific, the relationship between water and food security is direct. The water resources of Pacific Islands are uniquely fragile due to competing land use and the islands' small size, lack of natural storage and vulnerability to natural hazards.

In atoll countries, limited water and poor soil mean much of the fruit and vegetables people eat need to be imported, driving up costs and compromising food security. As seen in Tuvalu recently, even short periods of drought can limit water and food supply. Too much water is also bad thing. Recent floods in Fiji inundated farmland, killing crops, threatening livestock and washing away topsoil.

Increased climate variability and climate change could further threaten food security. Stronger droughts, bigger floods, salt water intrusion and more intense hurricanes can all limit the potential of island populations to feed themselves.

Across the Pacific, poor land management practices, increased erosion from destructive logging, the overuse of fertilisers and pollution from septic tanks are also killing fringing reefs, meaning less fish for people.

According to Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), while much has been achieved in recent years, much more needs to be done to improve water and sanitation management throughout the Pacific so that there is enough water for food, the environment, development and people.

'For the island members of SPC the conservation and management of watersheds and groundwater and the collection and storage of rainwater are critical to sustaining human settlement and ensuring food security, especially on the smaller islands,' Dr Rodgers said. 'Historically, however, there have been challenges, including poor supply and quality of freshwater resources, a lack of adequate sanitation, and a limited capacity to deal with these issues.

'At the national level there are often a multitude of agencies that deal with water, and the fragmented management of this resource is compounded by a lack of overarching policy, outdated laws, and poor administrative capacity,' he said. 'SPC is working towards improving this situation and we're fortunate to have experts in a vast range of fields, including water and sanitation, disaster management, fisheries, land resources, climate change and human development, that can provide the necessary support to countries.'

The Water and Sanitation Programme of SPC's Applied Geoscience and Technology Division has been working with Pacific Island governments on integrated water resources management (IWRM) planning in order to improve national water and sanitation policies. SPC is also running Global Environment Facility-funded IWRM demonstration (GEF IWRM) projects in 12 countries that show the benefits of an integrated approach to water and sanitation management.

Dave Hebblethwaite, IWRM Advisor at SPC, said that despite these serious challenges, countries are making real progress in integrating water management.

'Solid steps have been taken in places like Nauru, where all parts of government have come together to develop the policy and plans to secure their water supplies,' Mr Hebblethwaite said. 'Countries like Fiji are making real progress in linking water management and land management through initiatives like the Nadi Basin Catchment Committee and the great work they're doing to improve flood resilience.'

'We're also seeing countries cooperate and collaborate regionally. For example in Micronesia leaders are sharing lessons and experience and emphasising the importance of water and sanitation as a key development issue essential for the economic well-being of their countries.'

According to Vinesh Kumar, Project Manager for Fiji's GEF IWRM demonstration project, this year's theme could not be more relevant to the current situation in Fiji.

'Many farmers in Fiji understand the relationship between water and food. They deal with natural hazards like floods, droughts and hurricanes on an annual basis,' Mr Kumar said. 'In order to ensure that there is enough water for food, for industries like tourism, and for the environment, we have to take a ridge to reef approach and manage our water in a more integrated way.

'Water is everybody's business. This year we're doing things like planting trees to show that good land management is just one of the many ways we can protect our water resources for all users and as a way to improve food security.'

This World Water Day, people are being asked to think about how much water they consume every day, and how, at all steps along the supply chain, from producers to consumers, actions can be taken to save water and ensure food for all.