Last week in Stockholm, over 2600 experts from around the world met to discuss the planet’s water problems. Since we were able to cover only a few of those stories in this column, we have decided to continue coverage this week.

You can read more at Water Front, the daily digest of the proceedings.

Mayors call for more dialogue with rural areas

The key to better water management in cities is to look more broadly at areas that have previously not been taken into account, a cross panel of city leaders from four continents said during the Mayors’ Panel.

Delegates were told that by focussing more attention on the surrounding natural resources outside the city and in rural areas, cities can more effectively manage their often dwindling reserves in the face of increasing growth.

“We need to look at the countryside and rural areas,” said Dr. Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Governor of Eastern Province, Rwanda. “If we look after the rural areas we are then reducing the attractiveness of the city and also reducing further pressure on city water supplies.”

Serge Lepeltier, mayor of Bourges, France, highlighted agriculture as another external factor that needs more consideration. With one of France’s longest rivers running through his city, he stressed the importance of building relations with the agriculture sector as it shares the same water supply as Bourges and hence there is a mutual need to protect the natural water supply.

With the issue of agriculture on the table, Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT and former mayor of Barcelona, Spain, asked the panel: “Water prices for agricultural purposes are almost free, but for urban use this is very high so is this right? Not when there is increasing technology in hydroponics. The agriculture sector and cities need to go hand in hand in regards to reducing consumption, and pricing is one way to reduce this.”

Reducing consumption is one way that cities can lower the pressure on water supplies, said Mary Jane Ortega, Secretary General of Citynet and former mayor of San Fernando, Philippines. “If you don’t have enough water, perhaps you should reduce your demand?” she asked cities from the North.

With the developed world consuming far more water than the developing world, the mayors from Northern cities said that they are slowly but increasingly leading from the front in this regard.

“What grabbed my attention so far from this conference was a photograph from a developing country of a toddler in a bucket depicting his daily water use,” said Jennifer Hosterman, mayor of Pleasanton, USA. “In my city we used to use 923 litres per capita, per day. We are now actively reducing this by 20 per cent by educating the population and raising rates on what I call our liquid assets.”

New report reveals threat to food security

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has unveiled a groundbreaking report with its first global publication examining the use of water in agriculture and how we will face critical problems in food security if policy makers and governments do not act now.

The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources (SOLAW) highlights how important it is to take account of agricultural use of water in terms of population growth, water quality and food supply.

According to Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General at the FAO, agriculture is responsible for 70 per cent of withdrawal of renewable water sources yet there are still 900 million people who are going hungry. “We need to produce 70 per cent more food which is putting a huge pressure on natural resources,” said Müller. “How do we feed people in a rapidly urbanising world?”

Parviz Koohafkan, Director in the Land and Water Division at the FAO, said that while we have been very successful at producing food in the last 50 years, we now need to increase agricultural production in developing countries by 100 per cent. And this doubling of production must be done in a sustainable way. Contamination of water through pesticides, degradation and desertification of land, and the depletion of groundwater sources mean past methods cannot continue.

Additionally, a change in diet has put a greater reliance on water to produce food as people are now eating more meat. It takes 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilo of meat, 10 times the amount required for a kilo of cereal.

“We need a paradigm shift: we cannot use natural resources thinking they are abundant and degrading them,” said Koohafkan.

The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources will be published in October 2011.