Rethinking WASH and Food Security: A Celebration of World Water Day and National Agriculture Day

Photo by: Amit Smotrich

According to the World Food Programme, around 795 million people all over the world are food insecure, or hungry. This staggering statistic may prompt many more questions. What is being done about this? Who is taking the most effective action? What are the consequences of this crisis, and how can we prevent this devastation in the future? On Monday, March 20, more than 60 congressional staffers and experts gathered in Washington, D.C. to explore those questions.

Panelists from the afternoon luncheon included Jeremiah Nyagah, Kenya Operations Director at World Vision, Vanessa Kummer, North Dakota Lead Farmer with the Farm Journal Foundation, Salva Dut, Founder and Senior Advisor of Water for South Sudan, and moderator Saharah Moon Chapotin, Deputy Assistant to the Administrator of the Bureau for Food Security at USAID. Brought together to celebrate World Water Day and National Agriculture Day, the panel described the current work their organizations and partners are doing all over the world to improve nutrition security, and access to safe drinking water and good sanitation practices. They also encouraged sustained funding by the U.S. government in order to continue the success of past investments. Famine conditions currently experienced in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen was one of the focuses of the afternoon discussion.

When addressing the current water crisis in those areas, Jeremiah Nyagah explained that not only can war, disease, famine, and instability lead to a water crisis, but a water crisis can also lead to war, disease, famine, and instability. Salva Dut added it is critical that women are seen as key players in increasing the capacity for development. The issues of water, food, education, and gender empowerment are all very closely tied to each other. By including women, half of the population, progress can be made more efficiently.

The current crises in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen are man-made occurrences, and in some cases brought on by ongoing civil war. In years past, our world has witnessed famine caused by droughts and disasters courtesy of Mother Nature. Today these crises have become political, as warring parties compete for natural resources.

What were the key takeaways? The bottom line is that water, agriculture, sanitation, food security, disease, and hygiene are connected. Every time we talk about one sector, we have to consider the others. Food, water, and basic resources are the primary drivers of economies. If we think about development from the ground up, and fund it as such, the international community can help prevent famine, war, and disease outbreaks before they occur.

The necessary response to famine and water shortages should involve a multi-faceted approach that allows for progress and development to happen in tandem. It involves populations getting access to self-sustaining farming practices and clean water, but also education, tools for gender empowerment, and necessary diplomatic resources. Through research and targeted assistance, these communities can be self-sustaining. As Vanessa Kummer put it bluntly, it is hard to capitalize on any other opportunities when you cannot feed your people.