UN Photo/Lucien Rajaonina.
Ricefields in the district of Ambatondrazaka

UNESCO’s efforts toward water and food security

In any community, food security exists when everyone has the means to access safe, sufficient and nutritious food. But with 7 billion inhabitants on the planet, and another 2 billion joining us by 2050, the task of feeding us all will demand worldwide attention. The 4th UN World Water Development Report (WWDR) estimates that we’ll need approximately 70% more food, the majority of which is needed in the developing world. This in itself is not impossible. But the report also indicates that a surge in food production will lead to an increase of at least 19% in the water required for agriculture, which already accounts for 70% of freshwater use.

  This World Water Day is a call to action. We must join together today to secure clean water and food for every citizen of the world, now and in the future.     

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General on Water’s Day 2012

World Water Day is a celebration of the essential element, one which unites all living beings. In today’s changing environment, World Water Day gives us pause to take stock of previous triumphs and challenges still ahead.


The first of many challenges is awareness. For example, despite the prevalence of water scarcity, global diets are shifting to include more red meat and other water-intensive foods. The H2O footprint of livestock such as cows is already huge, not including the water used in processing the meat, milk and other dairy products. But before changing what we eat, we have to change how we eat—this effectively means reducing waste.

Approximately 30% of the food produced worldwide is wasted, either by farmers using poor cargo conditions or by consumers who simply throw away food. Effective storage, awareness campaigns and healthier diets will all help reduce the level of wasted food, thereby reducing wasted water.

The World Water Development Report also highlights the immense challenge posed by natural disasters, of which 90% are water related. Droughts, for example, strain agricultural production, leading to shortages and price increases of basic foods. For instance, the cost of wheat has nearly doubled since the summer of 2010 after droughts diminished the world production of cereals.

In a similar vein, the World Water Development Report emphasizes the growing danger of desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD). Recent calculations indicate that nearly 2 billion hectares of land worldwide—an area twice the size of China--are already degraded, often irreversibly. Nearly 1.5 billion people live in DLDD-affected areas, putting them at risk of water insecurity and malnutrition.

The WWDR underscores other widespread effects of scarcity which include, but are not limited to displacement, mass migration, disruption of livelihoods, regional conflict and health epidemics.


The proposal to celebrate World Water Day was first made during the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro. The conference was held to mobilize global resources in the name of positively affecting the environment. Since the General Assembly accepted the proposals made there, March 22nd has officially become World Water Day.

Over the years, each World Water Day has focused on a unique issue within the context of water sustainability. Sanitation, urban planning and transboundary waters have all served as yearly themes. In 2012, however, the topic in focus is water and food scarcity.

By 2015, a target date set by the Millennium Declaration, we hope to halve the proportion of people unable to afford or reach safe drinking water. As we approach that deadline, UNESCO is leading the charge to employ new strategies for water conservation at local, regional and national levels.

Share water conservation tips with your friends !

Turn off the tap while you shave to save over 1,000 litres a month

Join the celebration

  • 30% of food produced every year—about 1.3 billion tonnes—is never eaten, and water used in its production is lost! Help reduce the shocking waste by only serving what you can finish.

  • Water your plants efficiently and only when necessary—more plants die from over-watering, rather than under. Agriculture accounts for around 70% of freshwater used worldwide, often with high water losses and less than 50% efficiency.

  • Adopt water-efficient diets, reducing consumption of red meat and other water-intensive foods.

  • Help spread the word about conservation in food consumption, agriculture and waste.

  • Learn about water and food linkages and sustainable development.

  • Take short showers and save up to 600 litres a month by turning it off while you wash your hair.

  • Compost vegetable food waste.