Published: 15 May 2015
Short URL: http://farmlandgrab.org/24905Guardian | 15 May 2015
A new report on water for food security and nutrition shows how land, food and water issues are inextricably linked. This must be reflected in policymaking.
by Lyla Mehta
Ensuring universal access to water is vital in order to address food security and improve nutrition, yet recognition of the links between water and food are too often missed.
A major report on water for food security and nutrition, launched on Friday by the high-level panel of experts on food security and nutrition (HLPE), is the first comprehensive effort to bring together access to water, food security and nutrition. This report goes far beyond the usual focus on water for agriculture.
Safe drinking water and sanitation are fundamental to human development and wellbeing. Yet inadequate access to clean water undermines people’s nutrition and health through water-borne diseases and chronic intestinal infections.
The landmark report, commissioned by the committee on world food security (CFS), not only focuses on the need for access, it also makes important links between land, water and productivity. It underlines the message that water is integral to human food security and nutrition, as well as the conservation of forests, wetlands and lakes upon which all humans depend.
Policies and governance issues on land, water and food are usually developed in isolation. Against a backdrop of future uncertainties, including climate change, changing diets and water-demand patterns, there has to be a joined-up approach to addressing these challenges.
There are competing demands over water from different sectors such as agriculture, energy and industry. With this in mind, policymakers have to prioritise the rights and interests of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on women, when it comes to water access.
There is vast inequality in access to water, which is determined by socio-economic, political, gender and power relations. Securing access can be particularly challenging for smallholders, vulnerable and marginalised populations and women.
All around the world, water reform processes as well as large-scale land acquisitions often overlook and threaten the customary and informal rights of poor and marginalised women and men.
Moreover, women’s entitlements are often recorded as belonging to the male “head of the household”. Removing this gender bias in farming and water and providing equal access to resources for both male and female farmers would have a big impact on food security and nutrition.
Smallholder farmers produce more than 70% of the world’s food but often lack recognition of their land and water rights in formal legal systems. Women and girls frequently spend several hours a day collecting water but lack decision-making power when it comes to water management. Indigenous people are often displaced from their lands and rivers as a result of large infrastructure projects, and the interests of fisherfolk and pastoralists are rarely advanced in national policies.
Mechanisms to allocate water need to give adequate priority to water for food production as well as for the basic needs of poorest populations and those pushed to the edges of society.
There is increasing corporate interest in water, and states should ensure that investments respect basic rights to water and sanitation as well as food.
Taking these complexities into account, the report proposes ways to enhance the capacity of poor farmers to manage water and land and to increase water and agricultural productivity in a range of food production systems, improve governance and invest in metrics and knowledge.
The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation as well as the right to food are globally recognised. States should ensure the full implementation of these rights and explore how they can be meaningfully joined up.
The right to water largely focuses on safe drinking water and sanitation and rarely considers the productive uses of water. In Kenya, Colombia and Senegal, 71–75% of households use domestic water supplies for productive activities such as food gardening. Water is integral for sustainable livelihoods.
There is no doubt that land, food and water issues are linked. The barriers to joined-up national and global policies do not derive from a lack of technology or resources. Rather they are rooted in the absence of human rights, and the failure to recognise that water and food are intertwined.
The HLPE report argues for coherence on these issues at all levels of policymaking and management, from local to global. We are calling for a human rights approach to water governance to enhance food security and nutrition. Only this will ensure healthy and productive lives for all.
Lyla Mehta is leader of the project team for the HLPE report, and professorial fellow at the UK’s Institute of Development Studies