In the lead-up to next year’s UN Water Conference, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) convened a special event to raise awareness of the role of water in achieving the SDGs, connect the water sector with agriculture – the largest water user accounting for 72% of global freshwater withdrawals, discuss a country-owned strategic approach to achieve global commitments and the SDGs at the national level, and develop innovative solutions and actions for the future.
The Rome Water Dialogue was held in a hybrid format in Rome, Italy, on 29 November 2022, bringing together water experts and representatives from national governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), financing institutions, research institutes, civil society, the private sector, and the media.
The Dialogue’s main message, according to an FAO press release, was that unless we find ways to sustainably manage the earth’s stressed water resources, “we will need over a third more water to produce the extra food required for the planet’s growing population by mid- century.”
Underscoring integrated water resource management as FAO’s “global priority,” FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said “[b]y 2050, global production of food, fiber and feed will need to increase by 50% compared to 2012 levels to meet growing demands. Under a business-as-usual scenario, this would mean at least 35% of additional freshwater resources.”
The Dialogue stressed the need for concerted actions to address today’s global challenges. Speakers highlighted that “climate change is putting the world’s water resources under unprecedented stress.” As per the FAO release, 2.3 billion people currently live in water-stressed countries, including more than 733 million people, or approximately 10% of the world’s population, living in countries with high and critical water stress. According to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) data, 3.6 billion people have inadequate access to water at least one month per year – a number expected to increase to more than five billion by 2050.
Among other challenges, participants noted the current global fertilizer crisis and a potential food crisis, making it imperative that special attention be paid to the food security of “poor and vulnerable people, including smallholder farmers, leaving no one behind.”
Both governments and stakeholders have also “acknowledged that water, sanitation, health, ecosystems, ocean, energy, food systems and nutrition are interlinked and that increasing losses and vulnerabilities caused by droughts, floods, cyclones, coastal surge, sea level rise, salinity intrusion , mudslides and avalanches, must be urgently addressed.”
In this context, FAO’s release underlines the role of country-owned National Water Roadmaps or strategies in helping “strengthen the inter-sectoral coordination for sustainable water resources management and accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.”
The Rome Water Dialogue is one of the key events contributing to the UN 2023 Water Conference, along with the Ninth World Water Forum held in March 2022, the June 2022 Second Dushanbe Water Action Decade Conference, and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) and the Geneva Water Dialogue in July 2022, among others. [FAO Press Release] [Rome Water Dialogue Webpage] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the Themes of UN 2023 Water Conference]