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How can multiple water use services help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19? SMART Irrigation SMART WaSH in support of food security and health

IWRA 2021 Online Conference One Water, One Health
Theme 1: How can we better manage water for food and public health in a changing world?
Author(s): Mr. Maher Salman, Ms. Eva Pek, Mr. Waqas Ahmad

Maher Salman
Senior Land and Water Officer
Rome, Italy

Ms. Eva Pek
Land and Water Technical Officer

Mr. Waqas Ahmad
Senior Irrigation Specialist

Keyword(s): SMART Irrigation, SMART WaSH, multiple water use, health, food security, Africa


Beyond the health crisis, COVID-19 affects millions of people with pre-existing vulnerability to food insecurity. Improving the productivity, efficiency and resilience of agriculture systems through irrigation development is more crucial than ever. Irrigation expansion, however, entails a considerable increase in water use, while improved access to water is fundamental to contain the spread of the virus. The SMART Irrigation SMART WaSH objective is to investigate the conditions of multiple water use services (MUS) necessary to co-develop agriculture and health sectors, without trading off their needs. It focuses on Africa due to the chronic underdevelopment of irrigation sector and poor access to improved water supply. Currently, only 5 percent of the total cultivated area is irrigated, resulting in lower yields than global average and contributing to food insecurity. To make matters worse, less than 50 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities in most of the Sub-Saharan countries. Its effect spans across all aspects of the health sector. As first step, the current status of irrigation and health sectors is investigated through composite indicator analysis to assess vulnerability, thus the development needs. The results of the assessment are compared with the reported COVID cases to evaluate the compounded health and food security risk.

Seeking similarities in the development needs and identification of country groups through hierarchical clustering further facilitate the categorization of investment approaches in MUS to address the needs. As water availability by definition limits the design and feasibility of MUS technologies, the potential of development and corresponding investment configurations are explored through the analysis of water resource availability. Considering the development need based on the risk assessment and the development potential based on the water availability, a review of MUS technologies is conducted to match them to different investment
approaches and configurations. SMART Irrigation SMART WaSH approach shows that MUS have the potential of harmonious development of irrigation and health sectors to ensure food security and mitigate the COVID-19 impacts.

However, the investment strategy must consider different factors to propose an impactful approach: (i) the focus of sector co-development whether it is skewed to irrigation or health; (ii) the availability and type of water resources; (iii) the feasibility of MUS technology in different environments. Investment in MUS can amplify the impact of water resources development through its ability to supply water for irrigation and health purposes simultaneously, thus contributing to an increased number of SDGs.

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