Sunday, March 22, 2015

Celebrating World Water Day

Today marks the 22nd annual World Water Day - a day to celebrate one of life's most basic elements: water. Every year on this day, the UN World Water Development Report is launched and starts conversations about how best to manage our world’s most abundant natural resource, especially for those members of the global population who suffer the most from water scarcity and related issues.

This year’s theme is ‘Water and Sustainable Development’. According to UN Water, “the current growth rates of agricultural demands on the world’s freshwater resources are unsustainable. Inefficient use of water for crop production depletes aquifers, reduces river flows, degrades wildlife habitats, and has caused salinization of 20% of the global irrigated land area. To increase efficiency in the use of water, agriculture can reduce water losses and, most importantly, increase crop productivity with respect to water.”

Water is essential for agriculture of any kind and always in demand. Without reliable access to water, farmers are at the mercy of the unpredictable elements and cannot depend on their crops for income or sustenance.

In celebration of World Water Day and the importance of its role in sustainable development, we’re looking back on some of the successes of one method of agricultural water management used increasingly in the Global South called drip irrigation. Also known as trickle/micro/localized irrigation, it is a water-saving technique where networks of pipes are placed directly next to the roots and then allowed to drip slowly onto the plants. This saves water as the ground is able to absorb the water without the excess washing away the valuable topsoil or fertilizer. It also helps reduce the loss of water from evaporation.

Dr. McLeod demonstrating drip irrigation.
Partners’ Farmer-to-Farmer program has successfully implemented drip irrigation techniques in agricultural communities across the Caribbean. In early 2014, F2F volunteer Dr. Paul McLeod of the University of Arkansas traveled to southern Belize. Dr. McLeod demonstrated the installation and use of drip irrigation at high schools and also to several small farmers. There had been some concern over diseased crops caused by a pathogen that was carried onto the plants when they were being watered, so Dr. McLeod recommended drip irrigation to help reduce the spread of the disease. 

In Nicaragua in 2013, professor of community development Arlen Albrecht worked with residents experiencing a drought. Many local water wells were dry, leaving community members unable to maintain their kitchen gardens. Arlen responded by helping install a gravity-fed drip irrigation system that saved both gas and river water. With more than a decade of volunteer experience in the region, Mr. Albrecht explained, "I feel that although change is happening very slowly, the plight of the rural poor in Nicaragua is improving, and that F2F volunteers are contributing to that along with the hosts."

As part of our Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in the Dominican Republic, Partners' F2F
is currently working to improve water quality and forestry in the Yaque del Norte watershed.

In 2010, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers assisted the Hauraruni Friendly Farmers Society in Guyana in reaching their goals. After overcoming the challenge of growing crops in sandy soil and experimenting with greenhouses, farmers were able to export a large portion of their crop for the first time. Over many months F2F worked together with Hauraruni to increase knowledge and make improvements in hydroponics and drip irrigation. Instead of spending a large amount of money on water and mulch to make the ground hospitable, Hauraruni members were able to use their new knowledge to control the amount of water they were using, cutting costs, and saving a valuable natural resource.

“Water is at the core of sustainable development. Water resources, and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. From food and energy security to human and environmental health, water contributes to improvements in social well-being and inclusive growth, affecting the livelihoods of billions" (UN Water). Partners F2F is proud of the work our volunteers have done for water sustainability in the past three decades, and we’re excited for all the new opportunities that 2015 will bring!

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