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Water, Food and Energy


Water, food and energy form a nexus at the heart of sustainable development. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, and water is used to produce most forms of energy.

Demand for all three is increasing rapidly. To withstand current and future pressures, governments must ensure integrated and sustainable management of water, food and energy to balance the needs of people, nature and the economy.

The issue explained

Demand for water, food and energy is increasing. Pressure on the nexus is being driven by a rising global population, rapid urbanization, changing diets and economic growth. There is a significant global move away from a mainly starch-based diet to an increasing demand for more water-intensive meat and dairy as incomes grow in many countries.

Food production and energy are highly water intensive. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is expended on food production and supply. The vast majority of energy generation is water intensive, such as its use in coal-fired power plants and in nuclear reactors, and in bio-fuel crop production.

Pressure on the water-food-energy nexus threatens the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As water becomes more scarce and stretched, its ability to support progress in several of the SDGs, particularly on poverty, hunger, sustainability and the environment, is being reduced.   

The Way Forward 

Governments must increase renewable energy sources. There needs to be much more support for the development of less water-intensive renewable energy, such as hydropower and wind. Geothermal energy has great potential as a long-term, climate independent resource that produces little or no greenhouse gases and does not consume water.

Sustainable agriculture is critical. The integrated systems of land, soil and water are being stretched to breaking point. Efficiency measures along the entire agrifood chain can help save water and energy, such as precision irrigation based on information supplied by water providers, and protection of ecosystems alongside agriculture and energy production can ensure environmental integrity.

Ecosystems must be valued for their vital services. Governments must harness the power of nature instead of allowing its destruction and degradation in the pursuit of food and energy. ‘Green infrastructure’, such as land dams to capture runoff in arable fields or planting forests to protect soil and assist groundwater recharge, are some examples of creating a more sustainable water-food-energy nexus and a ‘greener’ economy.

Integrated management of water-food-energy must be a top priority. Because of this nexus’ crucial role in many SDGs, decision-makers in all three domains must cooperate on water resource management, ecosystem protection and water supply and sanitation.

Source : https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-food-and-energy


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