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World Food Day 2023

October 12, 2023


Every year World Food Day is celebrated worldwide on October 16 to commemorate the date of the 1945 founding of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The FAO staff notes, “Collective action across 150 countries worldwide, in up to 50 languages, is what makes World Food Day one of the most celebrated days of the UN calendar. Hundreds of events and outreach activities bring together governments, municipalities, businesses, CSOs, the media, the public, even youth. They promote worldwide awareness of hunger and promote action for the future of food, people and the planet. Together we can create a better, more sustainable food future for all. Make #WorldFoodDay YOUR day.”[1]


The theme of this year’s celebration is: “Water is life. Water is food. Leave no one behind.” It is entirely appropriate that a day commemorating the importance of food also highlights the importance of water. As I wrote in a previous article, “More than one analyst has used [Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s] poetic imagery to portray the plight of the world’s population in the years ahead. We sit on planet covered by water and yet the predictions about the availability of useful water are dire.”[2] The Coleridge poem to which I referred was “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In that poem, the bard describes the distress of mariners floating upon a windless ocean under a withering sun and running out of supplies (including water). One of the most famous stanzas from that poem is:


Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.


The FAO staff notes, “Water is essential to life on Earth. It makes up over 50% of our bodies and covers about  71% of the Earth’s surface. Only 2.5% of water is fresh, suitable for drinking, agriculture, and most industrial uses. Water is a driving force for people, economies and nature and the foundation of our food. Indeed, agriculture accounts for 72% of global freshwater withdrawals, but like all natural resources, fresh water is not infinite.” How critical is today’s water situation? The FAO staff explains:


Rapid population growth, urbanization, economic development, and climate change are putting the planet’s water resources under increasing stress. At the same time, freshwater resources per person have declined 20% in the past decades and water availability and quality are deteriorating fast due to decades of poor use and management, over extraction of groundwater, pollution and climate change. We risk stretching this precious resource to a point of no return. Today, 2.4 billion people live in water-stressed countries. Many are smallholder farmers who already struggle to meet their daily needs, particularly women, Indigenous Peoples, migrants, and refugees. Competition for this priceless resource is increasing as water scarcity becomes an ever-increasing cause of conflict. Around 600 million people who depend, at least partially, on aquatic food systems for a living are suffering the effects of pollution, ecosystem degradation, unsustainable practices and climate change.”


The FAO staff created the following video to help promote World Food Day and associated activities.



Water has always been an undervalued resource that people have too often taken for granted. As shortages begin to appear around the globe, water can no longer be a neglected resource. The FAO staff explains, “We all need to stop taking water for granted and start improving the way we use it in our daily lives. What we eat, and how that food is produced all affect water. We can make a difference by choosing local, seasonal, and fresh foods, wasting less of it — even by reducing food waste, and finding safe ways to reuse it while preventing water pollution. Together, we can take water action for the future of food, people, and the planet.”


Most people are aware that progress in global food security is being challenged by geopolitical events (like the war in Ukraine) and changing climates. The staff at Compassion.com explains, “Recent global challenges have reversed decades of progress made in the fight against poverty and hunger in low- and middle-income countries around the world. The war in Ukraine, inflation, fertilizer shortages, COVID-19, regional conflicts and extreme weather are colliding to create a global food crisis unlike any food crisis in the past. Malnutrition, starvation and chronic health issues are a serious and potentially life-threatening reality for children living in poverty, and the increased food insecurity has become an even more severe risk for the poor. With households in emerging economies spending an average of 25% of their budgets on food — up to 40% in sub-Saharan Africa and 60% in Haiti — rising inflation is placing families in a desperate situation and perpetuating the cycle of generational poverty, especially the cycle of rural poverty.”


The global food value chain relies on there being sufficient fresh water to grow crops and process food. As the FAO staff stresses, “Water is finite but it is an infinitely valuable natural resource. Without it, there would be no food and no life.”[3] They go on to note that every great civilization has learned to manage water resources. Great civilizations have effectively employed irrigation techniques and leveraged water distribution systems (e.g., aqueducts) to ensure water was available for and sensibly used by their citizens. The FAO staff explains, “The inventive nature of humankind spurred farmers to discover ways to irrigate crops, giving birth to agriculture and sedentary communities. This revolutionized how people produced food and gave rise to different civilizations around the world. It was not by chance that the first civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt flourished around this precious resource by developing on the banks of rivers and on the rich soils of floodplains. From the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that nurtured Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms, the Nile that fostered the kingdom of Egypt, to the Indus, Blue and Yellow rivers in India and China. The cradles of civilizations may be different, but their early beginnings all start with water.”


The FAO staff goes on to observe, “From antiquity to the present, communities have been directly influenced by the quality and quantity of water. In fact, to ensure an adequate supply of drinking water in the regions where they have settled, people developed innovative ways of treating and managing it.” With glaciers melting, ground water diminishing, and weather patterns changing, the world will have to be as creative today as our ancestors were in the past when it comes to water management. One source of water that coastal communities must consider is ocean water. The FAO staff reports, “In ancient Greek and Chinese records, there is evidence of another incredible technological milestone in our history: the discovery of desalination. This marked the capacity to collect drinkable water from salt water of the seas and ocean, allowing for a new source of water supply.”


The FAO staff concludes, “Water was, and still is, essential for agricultural productivity, contributing significantly to food security. Making water safe and accessible to everyone, leaving no one behind, is still an issue that concerns us today. … The availability, absence, or scarcity of water has marked the whole history of humankind, and it continues to be one of the most pressing concerns that people must confront today. … To address today’s water challenges, we must ensure effective water usage in agrifood systems, find safe ways to re-use wastewater, safeguard our waters and aquatic food systems, and provide affordable nutritious food for everyone in the face of climate change and increasing demand. Each challenge is connected, and we must face them together. New solutions to water shortage and security must be found through science and innovation while also harnessing traditional knowledge. Partnerships and cooperation are also vital to guarantee access to safe water and, by extension, food security. Everyone has a role to play. Water connects us; it is our shared history, present, and future.”


[1] Staff, “Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
[2] Stephen DeAngelis, “Water is as Important to Some Industries as Electricity,” Enterra Insights, 18 July 2023.
[3] Staff, “Water is life. Nourishing humanity from the ancient past to the future,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

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