International Symposium on
Drylands Ecology and Human Security

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The Challenge of Water Scarcity for Agriculture in the Dry Areas

Mohan C. Saxena

Arid Land Research Center, Tottori University, 1390 Hamasaka, 680-0001, Tottori, Japan and International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
P. O. Box 5466,  Aleppo, Syria


“Water is the abject necessity for any kind of life to exist,” stated the ancient Vedic book Atharva Veda. In today’s world, water continues to be central to food security, environmental health, recreation, energy production, transportation, etc., and thus to the overall well being of the people. Although most of the surface of planet earth is covered with water, only about 2.5 % of it is fresh water and less than 1% is available for human use. The unholy alliance of  ever increasing population, rising per capita use, and expanding water pollution has already rendered nearly 450 million people in some 29 countries in the grip of water shortage and by 2025 it is projected that about 1/3 of the population would be living in regions facing severe water scarcity. Many countries of the West Asia and North Africa region are already facing severe water poverty and the situation here is likely to worsen in the years to come because of the demographic pressures and climatic change.

Agriculture currently accounts for nearly 70-80% of water consumption in the developing world. Competing demands for fresh water from other sectors would put increasing pressure on water available for agriculture. As agriculture would continue to be the main source of livelihood and a major factor in food security in the dry areas of the developing world, meeting agriculture’s needs for fresh water under decreasing availability would be a great challenge. Thanks to the application of science and technology to this problem, an optimistic scenario is emerging. The challenge can be met through a multi-pronged approach of enhancing capture and use of ‘green water’, use of marginal quality water, and reducing the waste and enhancing use efficiency of all kinds of water in agricultural production in the dry areas. These strategies are elaborated in this paper.