Agriculture is by far the largest consumer of the earth‘s available freshwater. Irrigation accounts for the greatest agricultural water usage. Nowadays, agriculture already competes with environmental needs and peoples’ everyday use, particularly in the areas where irrigation is essential.
In some regions of the world, water scarcity has already become an acute problem. The situation will deteriorate dramatically in years to come, if we continue to overuse, waste and contaminate the resources available at local and regional levels.
The IAASTD report shows that the global water supply is sufficient to produce food for a growing and more demanding world population. However, if today’s water management practices continue, they could result in acute water crises in several parts of the world. It is therefore necessary to integrate our water usage into the natural hydrological cycle. Moreover, we need water management systems which take all users of a watershed into account. >>more

Green and blue water

The water in rivers and lakes, groundwater and glacial water reserves are called "blue water". This blue water only makes up one part of the earth’s freshwater supply.
The majority of rainfall on the earth's surface evaporates. It either evaporates directly as "non-beneficial evaporation" or, after aiding plant growth, as "productive transpiration". This type of rainwater is termed "green water".
Around 1,800 cubic kilometres of the water used in agriculture worldwide stems from blue water resources. 5,000 cubic kilometres are made up of "green water". The proportion of "green water“ varies between 55% and 80%, depending on the region of the world, as well as the local wood density.
The biggest opportunity and challenge for future water management is to maximise the huge potential of "green water". Methods of storing "green water" in soil and plants, as well as storing it as "blue water", have to be improved. For this purpose, there are several methods of "water harvesting”: One approach is to avoid water evaporation directly from the soil and increase the water storage capacity of soil and vegetation (Global, p. 39).

Facts & Figures

70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals are committed to irrigated agriculture.

Agriculture is a significant water user in Europe, accounting for around 33% of total water use. This share varies markedly, however, and can reach up to 80% in parts of southern Europe, where irrigation of crops accounts for virtually all agricultural water use.

According to the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050, global water demand will increase by 55% due to growing demand from manufacturing (+400%), thermal power plants (+140%) and domestic use (+130%). These competing demands will put water use by farmers at risk. 2.3 billion more people than today - 40% of the global population - will be living in river basins under severe water stress.

Irrigation provides approximately 40% of the world’s food, from an estimated 20% of agricultural land, or about 300 million hectares globally. Almost half of the total area being irrigated worldwide is located in Pakistan, China and India, and covers 80, 35 and 34% of the cultivated area respectively.

According to researchers from the University of Twente, Water Footprint Network, The Nature Conservancy and WWF, water scarcity affects at least 2.7 billion people, in 201 river basins, for at least one month a year . The study examined river flows in 405 river basins between 1996 and 2005.

Between 1990 and 2012, over 2,3 billion people gained access to improved water sources and 2 billion to improved sanitation facilities. However, by the end of 2012, over 748 million people - 90% living in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia - were still without access to improved sources of drinking water, 82% of them in rural areas. 2.5 billion people still use unimproved sanitation facilities.


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Videos: Water

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Why is water so important to our food security?
Why is water so important to our food security?


  • UNEP Access Drinking WaterUNEP Access Drinking Water
  • UNEP Irrigated Cropland by RegionUNEP Irrigated Cropland by Region
  • UNEP Water for Food Production 1960-2050UNEP Water for Food Production 1960-2050
  • UNEP Water Scarcity IndexUNEP Water Scarcity Index
  • UNEP Declining WaterUNEP Declining Water
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Unterstützer von www.weltagrarbericht.de biovision Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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