Water scarcity is one of the most urgent food security issues facing countries of the Near East and North Africa (NENA), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said. The UN agency said in a news dispatch from Rome Thursday that fresh water availability in the region is expected to drop by 50 percent by the year 2050.
Agriculture ministers and national officials are preparing to tackle the issue at a meeting of the organization's highest regional governing body.
Participants in the 32nd FAO Regional Conference for the Near East and North Africa (NERC-32), to be held from 24 to 28 February, are set to discuss a new Regional Water Scarcity Initiative.
The initiative was launched by FAO to support member countries in identifying strategies, policies and practices that promote sustainable solutions to water scarcity and related food security problems.
Per capita fresh water availability in countries of the Near East and North Africa has plummeted by two-thirds over the past 40 years, FAO said.
This has heightened concerns over the degradation of water quality and the impact of climate change.
Demographic trends are adding urgency to the issue: Chronic undernourishment in the region is estimated at 11.2 percent.
This is based on the 2010-2013 reporting period, while the population continues to grow at 2 percent, almost twice the global rate.
Farming and other agricultural activities consume more than 85 percent of available rainfed, irrigated and groundwater resources.
Demand for agricultural products is expected to grow amid burgeoning urban populations and increased exports.
'Agriculture must be central to our responses to the challenge of water scarcity in the Near East and North Africa Region. Agriculture is by far the largest user of water in the region,' said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa.
Agriculture is also fundamental but it is also to the survival of people in the region and long-term resilience, accounting for some US$ 95 billion in added value to regional economies.
'The region has made significant strides in two decades in developing its water usage and storage capacities, 'he said.
But there is still much work to be done to improve water efficiency in agriculture, protect water quality, and address challenges related to climate change,' Ould Ahmed added.
Conference participants are expected to offer guidance on priority areas for action, such as improving governance and institutions.
They will also give more voice to farmers and other non-state stakeholders; and boosting efficiency in water use, both within and across national borders.
More than 60 percent of the water resources used by countries in the region comes from outside of national and regional boundaries.