United Nations
Commission on Sustainable Development

Background Paper

                       EXPERT GROUP MEETING



                       27 - 30 January 1998

                         Harare, Zimbabwe

                      WATER AND FOOD SECURITY
                     Prof.  M. S.  Swaminathan

                           Paper No. 9 

                         Prepared for the 
             Department of Economic and Social Affairs
                          United Nations 

                      Water and Food Security
                       Prof. M S Swaminathan
     Director, Centre for Research on Sustainable Agricultural
                       and Rural Development
                           Madras, India


      The concept of food security has been undergoing refinement
during the last 50 years.  Immediately after World War II, food
security meant  building emergency grain reserves and ensuring
the physical availability of food in the market.  After the onset
of the green revolution in the late sixties, it became obvious
that economic access to food is equally important for ensuring
food security at the household level.  During the eighties, it
became evident that the gender dimension of food security should
receive attention, in view of the growing feminisation of poverty
and agriculture.  This was highlighted at the World
Conference on Women held at Beijing in 1995.  The
principle of social access, with reference to women
and marginalised communities was hence added to the
concept of food security.  Finally, after the UN
Conference on Environment and Development held at
Rio-de-Janeiro in 1992, there has been an increasing
understanding of the role of environmental factors in food
security. The ecological foundations essential for sustained
agricultural progress are increasingly under stress due to human
activities.  Agenda 21 of UNCED addresses these concerns. 
Without safe drinking water and environmental hygiene, the
biological absorption and retention of food will be poor.  Thus,
environmental access to food becomes important.

      Based on the above considerations, the Science Academies
Summit held in July 1996 at the M S Swaminathan Research
Foundation, Madras, India, in preparation for the World Food
Summit convened by FAO in Rome in November 1996, proposed the
following comprehensive definition of food security.

      Policies and technologies for Sustainable Food Security
should ensure:

      * that every individual has the physical, economic, social
      and environmental access to a balanced diet that includes
      the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients, safe drinking
      water, sanitation, environmental hygiene, primary health
      care and education so as to lead a healthy and productive

      * that food originates from efficient and environmentally
      benign production technologies that conserve and enhance the
      natural resource base of crops, animal husbandry, forestry,
      inland and marine fisheries.

                    II. WATER AND FOOD SECURITY

                        A. Physical Access

      Humanity now uses over one-half of the total accessible
freshwater runoff.  Projected growth rates in irrigated area are
significantly lower than in the recent past.  For the world as a
whole, irrigated area is projected to grow at 0.6 percent per
year, as compared to 1.5% during 1982-93.  Current global water
use is around 4500 cubic kilometres. However, freshwater is
distributed unevenly across the globe.  Countries with freshwater
resources in the range of 1000-1500 cubic metres per capita per
year face water stress, particularly in drought years.
Agriculture is by far the biggest user of water, accounting for
more than 70 per cent of water withdrawals worldwide and more
than 90 per cent water withdrawals in several low income
developing countries. Population rich and land hungry countries
like India and China, have no option except to produce more food
and other farm commodities from less per capita arable land and
irrigation water availability in the coming millennium.  The
largest increases in irrigated area during the coming decades are
expected in India and China.  However, even in India, the
projected 1995 to 2020 rate of growth in irrigated area of 1.2
per cent per year is well below the rate of 2.0 per cent per year
achieved during 1982 to 1993.  Much of the additional
irrigation water comes from groundwater and this
source is being increasingly exploited in an
unsustainable manner.  Major irrigation projects are
running into serious environmental and social problems.

      The adequate availability and equitable and efficient use of
irrigation water are essential for converting the green
revolution into an evergreen revolution.  A study in eight Asian
countries revealed that of the additional 117 million tons of
rice produced between 1965 and 1988, 34 million tons can be
directly attributed to irrigation.  Even the remaining attributed
to new varieties and fertilizer would not have been possible
without water.  Irrigation water has helped to increase not only
crop productivity but cropping intensity, thereby leading to an
increase in yield per day.  In the tropics and sub-tropics, where
there is abundant sunshine during most of the year, multiple
cropping techniques have spread fast, both because of irrigation
projects and the availability of photo-intensitive crop
varieties.  This has facilitated crop-livestock integration,
through the introduction of fodder crops in the rotation.

      Some of the urgent steps needed in the area of irrigation
water conservation and sustainable use are:

      * Harvest and conserve rain water;

      * Promote conjunctive water use of river, rain, ground, sea
      and sewage water, in appropriate combinations;

      * Prevent unsustainable exploitation of the aquifer;

      * Ensure efficiency, economy and equity in water use through
      cooperative management of watersheds and command areas;

      * Regulate the expansion of water markets and water lords;

      * Introduce proactive measures to avoid water conflicts.

                        B. Economic Access

      Government pricing policy, particularly with reference to
electricity for pumping ground water, often results in
inefficient and unsustainable exploitation of precious water
resources.  On the other hand, private ownership of ground water
resources leads to the emergence of water lords and water
markets.  A national policy relating to access to water for all
should be designed in such a manner that first, irrigation does
not result in long term harm to soil health and secondly, gender
and social equity in sharing the available water is ensured. 
Participatory management of irrigation water resources, including
systems of rotational distribution of water, will help to foster
the equitable and efficient use of water.  Pricing policies
should signal the inter-generational equity aspects of water use.

      Irrigation has been an important factor in poverty
alleviation in several developing countries.  When water is
available, there is not only crop security but also opportunities
for multiple cropping, mixed cropping and agro-forestry systems
of land use.  Irrigation has a multiplier effect on employment
both at the production and post-harvest phases of agriculture. 
It makes Integrated Intensive Farming Systems (IIFS) possible. 
Irrigation water thus enhances purchasing power.

                      C. Environmental Access

      This again is a multi-faceted issue.  Sewage and industrial
water recycling, including their incorporation in conjunctive
water use systems will confer both public health and economic
benefits.  Ecological problems associated with unscientific water
use such as water logging, salinisation and soil erosion are well
known.  Serious nutritional problems such as arsenic poisoning,
due to the tapping of the deeper layers of the aquifer, have been
reported in Bangladesh and the State of West Bengal in India.

      Environmental and social problems are also serious in
several major multi-purpose irrigation projects.  For example,
China's Three Gorges Dam over the Yangtze river will help to halt
floods in the South of China and bring irrigation water to the
northern part of the country. However, environmentalists have
several concerns.  Similarly, the Narmada project in India,
designed to provide drinking water to 40 million people and
irrigate 1.8 million ha. will lead to the displacement of nearly
250,000 people and to inundation of 117,000 hectares of land.  It
is obvious that every nation will have to weigh carefully the
pros and cons of large multipurpose water projects and choose the
ones which confer maximum social benefit with the least
ecological harm. There is need for large numbers of professionals
trained in Green Audit procedures with reference to irrigation
projects.  Opposing unsustainable development alone is not
enough; there must be equal emphasis on proposing sustainable
options.  This is going to be a major challenge in the next
century with reference to irrigation projects.

                         D. Social Access

      This again has several dimensions.  Gender inequity is most
serious in the case of drinking water, since women are invariably
entrusted with the responsibility of fetching water for domestic
use.  Destruction of forests leading to the disruption of
hydrologic cycles has affected adversely the nutrition and
livelihood security of women.

      Social cohesion and cooperation in the harvesting, storage
and use of water will help enormously to strengthen irrigation
water security.  In a recent study, published under the title
"Dying Wisdom", Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain (1997)* ,
illustrate the power of social action, characteristic of the past
but fast vanishing now, with the following examples.

      i. Jaisalmer

      A district in the Thar desert of Rajasthan, India.  Annual
rainfall is 100 mm.  During the drought year of 1987, the
Government's piped water supply ran dry.  But there was enough
water for the people who stuck to their rainwater harvesting
structures called kunds (small water conservation structures).

      ii. Cherrapunji, Meghalaya

      A village in the northeast with annual rainfall of 15,000 mm.  
Yet this village suffers from water storage during summer

      Thus, peoples' participation in water harvesting,
conservation and efficient use will foster both sustainable food
and drinking water security.  However, there will be no
cooperation in water saving unless there is equity in water
sharing.  Irrigation Water delivery systems and on-farm
management of water can be made more efficient, if
community-centred systems of water management are promoted. 
Globally, more than 50% of the cultivated area will continue to
depend on rainfall and hence, rainwater management is vital for
sustainable food security. In the past, famines were invariably
associated with the failure of rainfall.  Irrigation systems have
helped to reduce variability in production from year to year and
have provided insulation against total crop failure in years of


      Currently, water use goes to four major sectors - domestic
needs including drinking water, agriculture, industry and
ecosystem conservation.  In most calculations, the need for water
to maintain ecosystems, particularly those rich in biodiversity,
is not taken into consideration.  For example, many mangrove
forest ecosystems, which occur in the estuaries of major rivers,
are adversely affected when the flow of fresh water goes down. 
Salinity then goes up and not all Mangrove species can withstand
a high degree of salinity. Indiscriminate deforestation disrupts
hydrologic cycles and increases the frequency of floods and
drought.  Hence, water allocation policies should include
adequate provision for safeguarding the integrity of critical
ecosystems.  Disruption of hydrologic cycles hastens the process
of desertification, as is evident from the ravines of the
sub-Himalayan zone.  There is need to standardise methods for
calculating the water requirements for the conservation and
sustainable management of forests and natural ecosystems, so that
this need can get integrated in sectoral assessments.

      The need for policy making and implementation structures to
deal with water allocation and use issues in a holistic manner is
becoming urgent in many countries.  This will be clear from the
recent decision of the International Irrigation Management
Institute (IIMI) in Sri Lanka to change its name to 
"International Water Management Institute (IMI)" in order to
enable it to look at water problems in its totality.  River
basins are highly integrated hydrological systems with the same
water flowing and recycling through the agricultural, domestic,
industrial and environmental sectors.

      The following aspects will need integrated attention while
developing a holistic approach to water management:

      * Demand: While global demand projections are useful, what
      matters to individuals is the local availability of water. 
      The need for water for household use and for agriculture,
      industry and ecosystem conservation will have to be assessed
      both locally and nationally.  The qualitative aspects of
      water should receive equal attention.

      * Supplies: Different methods of enhancing water
      availability will have to be promoted at the local and
      regional level.  An appropriate mix of major, medium and
      mini-irrigation projects will have to be fostered.
      Conjunctive use of different sources of water such as rain,
      river, ground, sea and waste water will have to be promoted,
      as is being done effectively in countries like Israel. 
      Computerised systems of water management and delivery need
      popularisation.  Water Information Shops can be started in
      areas characterised by severe water scarcity.

      * Management: Efficient systems of water management,
      including equity in distribution and the control of
      pollution will have to receive attention.  Seasonal
      fluctuations in demand will have to be addressed through
      suitable management protocols.

      * Conflict resolution: Conflicts are likely to grow at the
      national and regional levels on sharing water.  At the local
      level, conflicting inter-sectoral demands, of the kind
      described later, will have to be resolved.  Suitable
      institutional structures will have to be developed for a
      proactive resolution of emerging conflicts.  The Water Court
      operating in the city of Valencia in Spain since many
      centuries is a good example of a local initiative in
      resolving conflicts amicably. In the new millennium,
      conflicts are likely to arise between the need of water for
      human use and that needed for irrigation.  There are also
      possibilities of conflicts between countries, if changes in
      precipitation and temperature occur as a result of climate
      change induced by green house gas emissions.  The Framework
      Convention on Climate provides a mechanism for cooperation
      among countries in preventing adverse changes in rainfall,
      temperature and sea level.

      * Technology development and dissemination:  This has to
      receive high priority, since technologies are now available
      to harvest every drop of water and use it economically and
      efficiently.  Local level water users' associations can help
      to save and share water based on the principles of equity
      and efficiency.

      * Public awareness, social mobilisation and information
      empowerment: This is an area of great importance,
      particularly in countries where a majority of farmers
      operate small holdings.  In India and China, for example,
      the average size of holding is less than one hectare.  Group
      cooperation will be essential under conditions of small and
      fragmented holdings for both water harvesting and efficient
      use.  Without equity in water sharing, cooperation in water
      saving will not be forthcoming.

      * Resources: The requisite managerial, institutional and
      financial resources will have to be mobilised for achieving
      the above objectives. Institutional structures will be
      needed for demand forecasting and management and for advice
      on efficient water use.

      * New Partnerships: Coalitions of all concerned - scientists
      and engineers, political leaders, mass media, civil society,
      farm families, private sector industry, women■s
      organizations and bilateral and multilateral donors - will
      have to be formed to tackle water problems on an end to end

      * Population: With every increase in population, there is a
      decline in per capita availability of water, a situation
      which can be altered only by new technologies such as solar
      desalination of sea water.  For example, water availability
      per capita in India was over 5000 cubic metres (m3) per
      annum in 1950.  It now stands at hardly more than 2000 cubic
      metres per capita.  By year 2025, per capita availability is
      projected at only 1500 cubic metres (Fig.1).  Such
      quantitative data alone are not adequate to get a real
      picture of the water availability status.  Pollution affects
      water quality both in rivers and ground water.  Also, there
      are gross inequalities between basins and geographic
      regions.  Water markets, if they are organised in a
      non-exploitative manner, can help to meet the minimum
      household and agricultural needs.


      Sandra Postel (World Watch Paper 132, September 1996) has
described the problems faced in dividing waters for different
uses.  In a more recent paper (December 1997), Mark W Rosegrant
of the International Food Policy Research Institute and Claudia
Ringler of the International Irrigation Management Institute,
have dealt with the global impacts of water reallocation from
agriculture on food production.  Their calculations indicate that
the projected reductions in agricultural water availability will
be substantial by 2020.  The reduction can be as much as 24
percent in China and 21 percent in India.  Their model also
suggests that reallocation of water out of agriculture can have a
dramatic impact on global food markets.  In developing countries,
yield growth for all cereals will slow from 1.20 percent annually
to 1.07 percent per year during the period 1993 to 2020.  The
area decline during the same period will be from 0.29 to 0.23
percent.  Rice will suffer most, since it needs larger quantities
of irrigation water.  Consequently, the average price of rice is
projected to increase by 68 percent between 1993 and 2020.

      In addition to direct impacts on agricultural production,
water transfers can negatively affect business activities,
fishing and hydropower generation.  Under conditions of scarcity,
water markets grow.  They can be of benefit to those who do not
own a well or other source of water, if they function in a
regulated environment, where making profit out of water scarcity
becomes unethical.  Rosegrant and Ringler recommend policy
reforms such as the establishment of secure water rights to
users, the decentralization and privatization of water management
functions to appropriate levels, pricing reform, markets in
tradable property rights, and the introduction of appropriate
water saving technologies.  While developing public policies for
specific agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions, the
trade-offs among various policy options will have to be carefully

      Often, local solutions will have to be found to manage water
scarcity. Contingency plans and alternate cropping strategies
will have to be developed for different water availability
situations.  Crop life saving irrigation methods will help to
optimise yield under conditions of water scarcity.  Most of these
methods will require the active cooperation of all the families
residing in a watershed. Management procedures relating to
inter-sectoral availability of water should keep in view the
needs of women.  It is women who are mostly in charge of fetching
and managing water at the household level.  Hence, the gender
dimension should be internalised in all technological and policy
issues relating to water.

                     V. MEETING THE CHALLENGE

      Trends in water consumption indicate that demand for water
for household and industrial uses in developing countries could
double as a proportion of total water demand in the next 25 
years.  Scope for water supply expansion will at the same time be
limited because development of irrigation and urban water
supplies is becoming increasingly expensive, and often involve
high costs in terms of environmental degradation and human
resettlement.  Without fundamental reform of water management,
the rapid growth in urban water demand will require large
transfers of water from irrigated agriculture, thereby
threatening food security. Hence, water supply and demand should
be managed in an integrated fashion, considering simultaneously
all uses and sources.

      How can we accomplish this objective?  At the global level
several initiatives like organisation of a Global Water
Partnership and a World Water Council have been taken in recent
years.  At a meeting held at Valencia in Spain in December 97,
the participants recommended the establishment of an
International Water Centre for undertaking research, analysis,
appraisal, information dissemination, training and consultancy
activities.  Such a Centre could also specialise in water laws
and help in resolving water disputes through analysis and
information.  It was felt that we urgently need a new age
instrument for promoting sustainable water security in the world.

      Charity begins at home - while global mechanisms and
institutions are important, it is essential that every country
sets up institutional structures to deal with national and local
level problems. International Conflicts over water are often
precipitated by a failure to meet local, provincial, national and
regional water demands for household, agriculture and industrial
uses as well as for environmental / ecosystem services.  The
various sources of water and sectoral needs are indicated in 
Fig. 2.

      An institutional structure for dealing with the multiple
dimensions of water management at the country level is proposed
in Fig 3.  I have suggested the title "National Water Trust"
instead of the commonly used term National Water Authority, to
emphasise that water management should be carried out in the
trusteeship mode.  We must consider ourselves as trustees of
water sources and not as owners.  This will help to instill the
feeling that management of water should not only be in the
interests of the present generation but also of the generations
yet to be born. Thus, the guiding principle for the work of the
National Water Trust will be intra- and inter-generated equity.

      Provincial and local level units of the National Water Trust
can be organised, according to needs.  The National Water Trust
will serve as the hub of a grid of institutions including policy
making bodies.  It will thus serve as the flagship of a national
system for sustainable water security.


      1998 marks the bi-centenary of Thomas Malthus's essay on
population.  In 1798, Malthus warned "the period when the number
of men surpass the means of subsistence has long since arrived". 
When Malthus wrote his essay, the global population was less than
the current population of India alone, namely 970 million.  There
is adequate food in the world today at current levels of
purchasing power.  Hunger is presently more related to economic
access than physical access.  Irrigation water availability and
management have played a pivotal role in keeping Malthusian
predictions at bay.  Our ability to maintain a satisfactory
balance between population and food production will depend both
upon population policies and food production strategies.  Every
nation will have to develop an appropriate mix of water supply
augmentation and demand management through socially and
ecologically constructed policies and technologies.  
Comprehensive policy reform that promotes efficient use of
existing water supplies will be needed in most countries.  The
National Water Trust proposed in this paper would be of help in
integrated planning and decision making.

      Above all, cooperation between countries sharing the same
river or water source will become increasingly important.  This
is also true for States within a country having a federal
constitution.  Differing perceptions on the value of artificial
rainmaking is a case in point.  National and international
mechanisms for proactive action on potential water conflicts will
have to be put in place.  International cooperation is also
essential for avoiding adverse changes in climate, particularly
precipitation and sea levels, arising from the accumulation of
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  A major step in this
direction has been taken at the Conference of Parties to the
Framework Convention on Climate Change held at Kyoto in December,
97.  Meanwhile, it will be prudent for all countries to be
prepared for different weather probabilities based on computer
simulation models.  Both avoidance and mitigation strategies
should be developed.  It will be appropriate in this context to
recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi. "Nature provides for
everybody's need but not for everybody's greed".

       Figure 1 - Population Growth and Water Availability
                  Index in India (in cubic meters)

                        [ not available ]

       Figure 2 - Water Sources and Sectoral Characteristics

                        [ not available ]

       Figure 3 - National System for the Conservation and
                  Sustainable and Equitable Use of Water

                         [ not available ]


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Date last posted: 8 December 1999 15:15:30
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