Stockholm — The world will fail to meet international targets to eradicate poverty and hunger unless countries improve the way they use rainwater, which billions of people depend on to grow food, leading water experts said.
More than two billion of the world's poorest people live in the driest "hot spots", including Africa's Sahel region, parts of India, northern China and parts of Brazil. These regions, which also have the world's highest population growth rates, depend on unpredictable rainfall.
But these regions do receive enough rainfall overall, and could grow a lot more food if they had better ways of using rainwater, experts said at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm on Sunday.
"There is very limited fresh water (in some regions) and reduced possibility to irrigate, so you have to rely on rain," Malin Falkenmark, senior scientific advisor to the Stockholm International Water Institute and professor of applied and international hydrology at Stockholm Resilience Centre, told Thomson Reuters Foundation on Sunday.
"Managing rain is key to eradicating hunger and poverty," she added.
Scientists say that managing rainwater should include rainwater storage, efficient irrigation, and the integrated management of water, land and crops.
Without improved management of rainwater, international targets to eradicate poverty and hunger are unrealistic, experts said at the start of the conference, which runs from August 31 to September 5.
Scientists called on the United Nations to add a target on sustainable and resilient rainwater management to any hunger goal in the future Sustainable Development Goals, which will be discussed at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
The Sustainable Development Goals, a set of international development goals to be adopted by the U.N. in 2015, will replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals, which aimed at halving world poverty by 2015.
Although rainwater is "the key resource", it is not mentioned in the proposed goals, Falkenmark said.
Scientists said that unless the management of rainwater improves, by 2050 there will be two billion smallholder farmers and rainwater users living at the mercy of rainfall that is less and less reliable due to climate change.
"None of these (regions) will solve their food challenges by tapping conventional, permanent flows in rivers because those rivers don't exist," Johan Rockström, executive director of Stockholm Resilience Centre told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
(Editing by Alex Whiting)