Home News News Saving water and world hunger: Why it’s getting harder to eat, drink, and be merry.

Saving water and world hunger: Why it’s getting harder to eat, drink, and be merry.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

Water has been in the news a lot this year so far. In the UK, 2023 saw the ‘summer of sewage’, with popular beaches from Scarborough to Whitstable labelled dangerous for swimmers. Even the most scenic of English lakes, Cumbria’s Windermere, has been victim of both accidental but legal dumping of sewage from runoffs, and illegal pumping of sewage. All of which leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the British public, especially when asked to ‘save water’ or abide by hosepipe bans, whilst up to 3 billion litres of water is lost each day through leaky pipes. On a global scale, this grows to almost 90 billion litres – equivalent to up to half of all the water pumped around the world.

But can just one person or household really make a difference, and should we? Last week (13-17 May) was World Water Saving Week, and next week, World Hunger Day lands on 28 May. In this blog, we’ll be looking at how water saving, and efficient food and welfare programmes are making a difference to our projects across Africa and Asia, and how water wastage, industrial food production, and waste are impacting the climate negatively.

Tree planting work in Zambia, which relies on efficient water supply and usage. Image Credit: Game Rangers International.

Food for thought

For most of us in the western world, it’s become normal for us to adopt reusable bottles and bags to reduce single-use plastics. The idea of transporting water from a river in plastic bags is completely alien to most of us, but for communities working with our project partners in Guinea, it was very much the norm. David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) supported and funded several initiatives to cut down on waste and encourage a better relationship with their food and water systems.

Firstly, all participants in the education programme were provided with reusable plastic bottles. This vastly reduced their reliance on plastic bags and provided safer, cleaner transport for water.

Secondly, the project looked at helping communities reduce their reliance on the forest – vital habitat for chimpanzees, for harvesting food. Instead, gardening projects were established to provide a more sustainable source of delicious fruits and vegetables, which also resulted in a healthier, more biodiverse forest – which in turn contributes to a better climate.

And finally, for a new gardening project in the Komoya district of Guinea, a more sufficient and sustainable water source was built and installed to help cut down on waste and improve the vitality of the produce being grown.

One of the gardening projects in Guinea. Image Credit: Chimpanzee Conservation Centre.

Fighting fires instead of wildlife crime

For our project partners in Thailand, climate change is impacting the areas they protect as they experience a greater lack of water in the dry season. Even water holes that are usually viable during this period are drying up. This puts significant pressure on their own water supplies, as they can be called on to fight the increasing number of forest fires occurring due to the more arid conditions.

Exacerbating the situation are increases in harvesting and foraging from the forest (which is officially a National Park) as a lack of water impacts crops and food growing. This reduces the forest’s biodiversity and health, leaving it more vulnerable to the impact of climate change and with less vegetation to keep the water table stabilised.

To combat this, DSWF is committed to funding the construction of more robust and sustainable water sources during the rainy season, to better prepare for the next dry season. This will enable the rangers to focus more on their primary duties rather than firefighting, support local communities better, and act as a better deterrent to illegal foraging.

Image credit Painted Dog Conservation

The dread of drought

In Zambia, zero hunger is a primary national goal as the country aims to reduce poverty and vulnerability.

For our project partners working with local communities, combatting the ongoing drought affecting the region is a core part of their work. Supporting the Shachiwondwe women’s group – who provide education and empowerment opportunities for women through conservation knowledge and life skills, a water pump has been built to secure a more sustainable and reliable water supply. Fuel has also been provided to help them work uninterrupted and stay competitive with other, more industrial handicraft manufacturers in the area.

Furthermore, our partners incorporate renewable water cycles into their comprehensive education programme, introducing the wider climate conversation and best practices for water conservation to communities where these issues are rarely discussed. Our project partners also provide training in food hygiene and security to the wider community, reducing waste and the risk of food spoiling or becoming contaminated.

Currently in Zambia, six million people face acute food shortages as well as malnutrition and the threat of loss of income as crops and agriculture fails due to the ongoing drought. This has a direct impact on our work combatting the illegal wildlife trade, as the temptation to turn to wildlife crime as a means to an end becomes harder to resist for those in need.

Image credit Behzad-Larry

The wider climate issue

Across all our projects, the impact of the climate crisis is being felt harder than ever. Our partners on the ground in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, where DSWF funds and supports groundbreaking research into snow leopards, are experiencing different ends of the spectrum. Mongolia is gripped by some of the most extreme winter weather conditions it has ever seen, resulting in dramatic decreases in a vital prey species for snow leopards – the Goitered gazelle. Whereas in Kyrgyzstan, sparse rainfall, a lack of water, a decrease in glaciers, and an increase in temperature is resulting in much drier conditions.

DSWF is supporting and funding infrastructure repairs to prevent waste and counter these issues, as well as developing sustainable and more efficient water harvesting solutions.

Drought too is impacting our projects in Zimbabwe and Namibia, with key waterholes and access points drying up, affecting people and wildlife alike. Whereas severe flooding is becoming a frequent barrier to the work we fund in Vietnam and flood prevention and awareness is now being incorporated into the popular rhino and tiger goes to school programmes in India.

We’re pleased to say that through DSWF funded education and awareness campaigns, communities are coming together in a more united way in times of disaster and taking a more active role in prevention. But does water and food waste really contribute to the climate crisis?

Water supply maintenance and collection in Namibia. Image Credit: Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia.

How water and food waste impacts climate

Let’s start with food. It’s estimated that a third of all the food we grow and produce goes to waste. And a significant amount of that is never even seen by the consumer. The rest spoils during distribution, or is thrown away by us – whether being produced in surplus for hotels and restaurants, being abandoned on supermarket shelves, or those bags of watery salads, black bananas, and more in our own homes, kitchens, and fridges. It all amounts to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes a year – or, enough to feed every malnourished, in-need person on the planet.

And it’s not just the food that’s wasted – it’s also the water and energy that’s gone into production in the first place. If the food ends up in landfill – then it produces methane, one of the most potent of the greenhouse gases. Preventing food waste on this scale could cut greenhouse emissions by as much as 8%.

Wasting water is also harmful not just to the environment, but also us as a species. When you look at it from the perspective that just 1% of water on the planet is fresh and available for us to consume, we realise what a precious commodity it is. 36 countries across the world currently have a status of experiencing extremely high stress when it comes to their freshwater supply.

Whenever we waste water, we’re directly impacting our supply, as well as local ecosystems and resources. Of course, this doesn’t just happen in isolation, and can have a much wider affect on everything from the weather to global water availability.

Food waste can mount up at global levels. Image credit: Jas Min, Unsplash.

What can we do about it?

To prevent food waste, we can apply many of the principles incorporated into the education and awareness programmes found in our projects. This might include planning meals and ensuring we’re storing food properly to prevent buying more than we need and optimising how long it will keep. Or it might just mean giving imperfect fruits and vegetables a chance – they’re still perfectly edible and nutritious. Then there’s making the most of leftovers, keeping portion sizes reasonable, and even sharing surplus food with others – it doesn’t have to go in the bin! And even for stuff that does need to head to the scrapheap – do exactly that, think about making it into compost or seeing if your local authority collects food waste.

As for wasting water – even just turning off the tap when brushing our teeth or shaving can make a big difference over a year. Ensuring we run washing machines on eco cycles and with full loads helps maximise efficiency. Even mulching trees and plants in your garden can help slow down evaporation and help water retention in the soil. So, although these might seem like small things, awareness events like World Hunger Day and World Water Saving Week can remind us to do our part, which all adds up to a huge difference.

If you’d like to donate to our vital work around the world, incorporating these important issues, you can do so here.

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