The links between water and hunger are much more direct than many might realize. It is sometimes difficult for people in developed countries to imagine that the stream of readily available clean water could ever fail to flow from their kitchen sink, or that the grocery store might someday run out of meat or vegetables, so the connection between water and food security may seem abstract and remote. Yet it is a real and serious global problem that affects more than 40 percent of the world population, a problem that the Voss Foundation is working hard to mitigate. Today, 1.6 billion people live in areas with absolute water scarcity, and by 2025 as much as two-thirds of the world population could be facing water stressed conditions (UN WWD FAQs). The Voss Foundation focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa, where the need for access to clean water is greatest.
Access to water is directly related to food security. As the UN proclaims, the world is thirsty because it is hungry. One of the main causes of water scarcity is inefficient use, especially in food production, which means that poorly managed water resources can lead to famine. We need to drink an average of 2.5 liters of water a day, but the amount of water needed to produce food for one person for one day ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 liters! Drought is the number one cause of food shortages in developing countries, and has caused more deaths in the past 100 years than any other natural disaster. View this animation to better understand the links between water and food.
By 2050 the population is expected to increase by 2 billion, which, combined with shifting diets (mostly increased consumption of meat in developed countries), means that a minimum of 70 percent more food will be required. Although water is a renewable resource, the world’s available freshwater is limited, and the world’s population is growing along with its need for food, so it is necessary to not only secure sufficient clean water, but also produce more food using less water and reduce waste wherever possible (UN WWD FAQs). This video shows how we can reuse our water supply more efficiently.
The key is one of efficient and sustainable water management. Many techniques have begun to be used for this purpose, in addition to a new definition of progress in agricultural production. The focus of the Green Revolution and most agriculture in the past was on increasing “yield,” or the production from a given area of land, but that definition does not take into account water used for food production. A focus on yield alone leads to excessive and inefficient water use, resulting in waste as pesticides pollute water and limit its reuse. A better definition of yield is “in terms of sustainable production per unit of all resource inputs, including land, chemicals, and in particular water” (source). The Voss Foundation and partners on the ground evaluate each potential project to meet the water requirements of a community and ensure long-term sustainability by taking advantage of the most appropriate technology available.
Water is not the only resource that should be better managed to prevent water scarcity and famine. Women, also, are a resource! In developing countries, they provide the majority of agricultural labor, yet they often have unequal access to services and other inputs, such as water or fertilizer. If women had equal access, they could increase yields by 20-30 percent, lifting 150 million people out of hunger (source). The Voss Foundation is doing our part by increasing women’s access to water: one of the wells we built in Pel, Mali, irrigates a garden owned by a local women’s cooperative, helping them grow healthy produce and effectively double their income. And the first well we built in the Democratic Republic of the Congo provides water to the Georges Malaika School for Girls—as well as to the garden, where healthful food is grown for the girls to eat! Look the photo at the top of the page, showing students drinking clean water at school, and eating food prepared with water from the same well! Furthermore, on each one of our projects, we make sure 50 percent of the water management committee membership is female, thereby increasing women’s political power as well as economic impact.
Visit our website, Facebook, and Twitter pages often to keep yourself updated on Voss Foundation’s efforts to limit water scarcity and increase food security through our water projects in Sub-Saharan Africa!