Groundwater contributes around $230 billion to global economy per year: FAO

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The economic contribution of groundwater in agriculture is now estimated to be up to $230 billion per year globally, the United Nations’ food and agriculture agency FAO said in a statement released on Tuesday to mark World Water Day.

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With a projected increase of 50 percent in demand for food, feed and biofuels by 2050 compared to 2012 levels, the depletion of groundwater threatens global food security, basic water supplies and climate change resilience, the FAO said, adding that the poorest and most marginalized communities stand to lose the most from water depletion.

Water scarcity cause for global concern

Groundwater has helped lift millions of people out of poverty since technology and energy sources for drilling and pumping became more widely available to rural farmers towards the end of the twentieth century.

Ethiopia- photo supplied by FAO. (Supplied)
Ethiopia- photo supplied by FAO. (Supplied)

Water scarcity is a cause for global concern and the FAO is hoping to raise global awareness of the matter to mark World Water Day.

“The growing scarcity of this liquid gold is global… there is compelling evidence to suggest that numerous aquifers are being exploited at unsustainable rates across the world. What’s more, the indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides is the biggest human-made cause of pollution to underground reservoirs,” FAO said in a statement on Tuesday.

Around 70 percent of global groundwater withdrawals are being used to grow food and raise livestock, areas of crucial importance to the survival of humanity. In addition, 30 percent of all irrigated water comes from underground, which is why the agricultural sector is working to address and raise awareness on the issue.

The problem with dams

According to the FAO, the construction of water dams, a conventional solution to store water, have a major environmental impact.

Water dams cause problems for society in the long run as they can often force the relocation of entire communities.

The UN agency recommends that countries consider a broader range of nature-based solutions to better manage their water storage.

According to a recent study by researchers in Europe, published in the Journal of Aquatic Sciences, the 3,700 dams under construction or planned for construction across the world will not meet the electricity demands of the developing countries in which the dams are set to be built. Instead, they will cause more ecological problems, reduce the number of free-flowing rivers in the world by around 21 percent and may lead to conflict between countries over water.

What can be done?

“There is an urgent need to make agriculture more efficient,” the FAO stated.

“Water productivity in agriculture can be improved by reducing water losses through modernizing irrigation systems, better water management and by increasing crop productivity through the use of higher yielding, nutritious crop varieties.”

The agency, together with UN-Water and other partners, aim to raise awareness on the importance of groundwater resources for food production and security and will launch the UN’s World Water Development Report which will focus on groundwater.

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