Taking steps to link water, food security and nutrition

23 October 2015

Stressing the importance of sound governance of water to achieve food security and nutrition, last week the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) came together to debate and make recommendations to country leaders and decision makers. In light of the agreement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ahead of the agreement of the indicators to measure the SDGs, the conversation on linking food security and nutrition to water, underpinned by human rights could not be timelier.

Earlier this year, a major report on water for food security and nutrition (pdf), was launched by the high-level panel of experts on food security and nutrition (HLPE). It was the first comprehensive effort to bring together access to water, food security and nutrition and went far beyond the usual focus on water for agriculture. This report has been integral to the recommendations made by the CFS to world leaders. 

The role of world leaders

They encouraged states and other key actors to address the challenges related to water’s contribution to food security and nutrition by making people, communities and the ecosystem central to efforts in achieving this.

Lyla Mehta, IDS professorial fellow and project team leader for the HLPE study on water for food security and nutrition, presented to the CFS on behalf of the HLPE. She asked the CFS not to ‘water down’ their recommendations and called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to explore how the human rights to water and sanitation and food can be meaningfully joined up. She stressed that only a human rights approach to water governance for food security and nutrition could ensure healthy and productive lives for all, for now and in the future. 

The CFS made eight recommendations based on the report to improve food security and nutrition (pdf):

  1. Promote sustainable management and conservation of ecosystems for the continued availability, quality and reliability of water 
  2. Improve coherence between water and food security and nutrition related policies, strategies and plans
  3. Achieve equal access to water for all, prioritise the most vulnerable and marginalised at all ages and empower women and youth
  4. Improve the efficiency and diversity of water use and the productivity of agricultural systems for food security and nutrition
  5. Manage risk and increase resilience to water variability for food security and nutrition 
  6. Develop and share knowledge, technologies and tools related to water for food security and nutrition
  7. Foster inclusive and effective collaboration and national and local governance on water for food security and nutrition
  8. Promote the full and meaningful implementation of international human rights obligations and instruments as they relate to water for food security and nutrition

Prioritising human rights

The report goes a long way in providing credibility for the new call to link water to food security and nutrition, and even further by providing a clear human rights framework. Yet the agreement of the CFS to take forward these eight ambitious recommendations is only the first step for change. At the heart of the human rights approach, is the need to prioritise the rights and interests of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on women. In many countries, women and girls often spend several hours a day collecting water but lack decision-making power when it comes to water management.

It is hoped that, that with human rights at the front of their mind, decision makers and advocates will hear the message that water, food security and nutrition are inextricably linked. They cannot be looked at in isolation. It is only when policymaking, at all levels, is connected and joined up that the global community can hope to achieve the SDGs by 2030.  

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