A youthful vision for a water and food secure world

The ‘world of water’ met last month at the World Water Week in Stockholm. This is an annual event organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), a think tank which aims to bridge the gap between science and policy on water-related issues.

At its 22nd meeting, the conference theme was on ‘water for food’, an intriguing and crucial topic for global sustainability. About 2,500 experts, academic and stakeholders, coming from more than 90 countries, were involved in seminars, discussions and panels debating upon challenges, strategies and solutions to address water and food security issues, which are currently affecting billions of people, particularly in the developing world.

Amongst the many important issues and solutions discussed during the conference, the following themes captured most of the attention:

- the need to reduce food waste. Today we lose between 30-50% of the food produced (and along with it the water used).

- the need to shift to more resource-efficient diets: Given that meat production requires between 50-100 times more water than cereals and there will be 9 billion people in 2050, there may be not enough water and food for everyone if we keep our diets at high level of animal protein(s)

-  links between sanitation and agricultural markets: basically, how we can safely reuse sewage.

For the first time, the floor was given to young professionals, through the presence of a Young Scientific Programme Committee, Young Rapporteurs and Young Vision Leaders. This is because the SIWI recognises the importance of involving young professionals in the debate, as this generation will be in charge of solving water and food issues by 2050.

As a young professional in the sector, I was very lucky to coordinate the Young Vision Leaders (YVLs), a group of five professionals coming from different backgrounds and geographical areas with the objective of developing a vision with a set of solutions for a water and food secure world by 2050.

During the whole week, we (the YVLs) engaged with many other young professionals through informal chats, video interviews and social media (Twitter, blog, Instagram and Youtube). Drawing from the many inputs and ideas from our contemporaries, we developed a vision for a water and food security, and, together with another YVL . I had the honour to present at the closing ceremony of the World Water Week. For more details about the vision, go to youtube (wwweekyvl), http://www.watermedia.org or click here.

We called ourselves the generation of the ‘adaptive idealists’ because we want an ideal world (we cannot accept otherwise), where universal and equal access to improved sanitation, safe water and food is ensured. At the same time, we recognise that the only way to achieve our ‘ideal world’ is by being ‘adaptive’ (developing solutions, strategies and approaches which are continuously checked and modified to respond to changing conditions). This is because we see that the only certain thing about the future as being uncertainty.

It was an incredible experience that enriched me both professionally and personally. Now it is time to start implementing some of these solutions…

*Luca Di Mario [2009] is a Gates Cambridge Scholar and a PhD candidate at the Centre for Sustainable Development. He is currently focusing on how to scale up the safe reuse of sanitation waste in agriculture in the developing world. Picture credit: smokedsalmon and www.freedigitalphotos.net.

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