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World Food Day today, The Dawn, By Dr Abid Hasnain, 16/10/2002


The World Food Day is celebrated every year on Oct 16 to memorize the founding of FAO by the UN during the year 1945. Every year a new theme is announced by FAO and symposia, conference, seminars, lectures and other programmes on that theme are arranged in all member countries. For this year, the theme is "Water: Source of Food Security". This theme may be considered a call for the governments, civilians and all those who are concerned and realize the importance of water.

In this world, which has a population of about 800 million under-fed people, the theme reflects the importance of water in relation with food productivity. Fresh-water plays an essential role in feeding the global population and ensuring food security. Although water covers three quarters of the Earth, only a small quantity is available as fresh water. About 70 per cent of fresh-water is used for the agriculture and only 30 per cent is available for other purposes, including potable water for drinking, municipal uses, industries etc. Considering the increasing need of food production for this rapidly growing population, an ample supply of fresh-water is essential. The agricultural productivity not only depends on water supply but it also needs efficient use of available water.

There are regions where enough water or sometimes excessive water is available but its use is not efficient. On the other hand, there are many fertile pieces of land where water is not enough for irrigation. This situation is creating two major problems i.e. water-logging and salinity in areas where abundant supply of water is available but proper and efficient use is lacking.

It is observed that flood and sprinkler irrigation system gives more than the needed water to crops. An efficient method known as drip irrigation system that provides only the required amount of water for a particular crop as it drops water only where it is needed has shown significant reduction in water quantity and it saves the loss of agricultural land due to excessive water. The technique that was initially developed for saving water may also help in saving the land.

Another area, which accounts for 20 per cent consumption of fresh-water, is the industrial sector. There are many industries, which are not using water in efficient and economical way as they are getting it cheaply. Those industries must be checked and audited for the water they are using. It is needed that policies and strategies must be made on national level to educate both the agricultural users and the industrial users of water. There must be legislations to regulate and observe the efficient use of water and persons or organizations may be fined with penalties on its inefficient usage.

In a country like Pakistan, the situation becomes more intensified when we see our water resources. The agriculture in different areas depends on either river-water, rainwater stored in lakes or only the rains. The improvement in water management thus becomes most important and has to be given prime importance so that our water resources could be efficiently utilized.

Pakistan needs reforms in irrigation system as it is evident that the areas that were very fertile and rich in water resources have turned into areas with water-logging and salinity problem. This is due to lack of attention given to proper drainage of excess water. As a result, it has now become an environmental problem in those areas. Use of better seeds, fertilizers and other modern agricultural techniques may also help use the available water resources in an efficient way as it would result in more yield per hectare.

The author is an associate professor at the department of food science and technology, University of Karachi.