Sunday, November 19, 2017 | ePaper

Non-sustainable use of surface water may threaten food security

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IF Bangladesh fails to maintain environmental flow requirements (EFRs) in river ecosystems, it will face a food production loss of up to 23 percent in the future, says an international study as reported in The New Nation yesterday. It highlights the fact that India, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Italy and Greece, among others, would face a food production decline of 15-23 percent for lack of water flow in rivers.

Safeguarding river ecosystems is a precondition to attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to water and the environment, while rigid implementation of such policies may hamper achievement of food security, says the study published recently in a peer reviewed journal - Nature Communications.

River ecosystems provide life-supporting functions that depend on maintaining environmental flow requirements. And the current food production thus heavily relies on water that would actually be needed to sustain riverine ecosystems. The study tilted, 'Reconciling irrigated food production with environmental flows for Sustainable Development Goals implementation' indicates that 41 percent of current global irrigation water use (997 km3 per year) occurs at the expense of EFRs.

This number is significant, given that irrigation water sustains only 15 percent of total global food production, illustrating that maintaining EFRs will impinge on about a third of the current overall contribution to agricultural production made by irrigation - in the absence of water management improvements, according to the study. Freshwater is a finite resource, which is over-exploited around the world, and aquatic ecosystems are rapidly degrading in many regions.

Restoration of currently compromised river ecosystems through securing environmental flow requirements (EFRs) - that is, the daily river flow needed to maintain aquatic ecosystem services and the human livelihoods that rely on them - would entail a substantial reduction in water availability for irrigated food production.

One way of securing EFRs is by improving on the surface irrigation methods which we currently use. This will ensure that flows remain constant throughout a long period of geologic time. We can combine river with rainwater harvesting to ensure that use is optimal. Non-optimal usage will reduce our food security which is of tremendous importance to us as we have a huge population which is still increasing.

Producing more food reduces our vulnerability to other nations who we would be dependent on for food production. It reduces the burden on our foreign exchange reserves and makes us more self-reliant. There is no substitute for it but to use our riverwater in a sustainable manner. We don't have any options in this regard.


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