The water crisis is now

03 June 2023

From water grabbing to the hidden water costs of our food production, at Slow Fish we consider various aspects of this most vital resource.

“Our choices can move the needle of the scales. At Slow Food we’ve always said about food, but we need to make it clear that this applies to water, too,” stresses Federico Varazi, vice president of Slow Food Italia in his speech at a conference regarding the water emergency at Slow Fish.

The finite nature of our freshwater resources has been discussed for decades, and access to water has been recognized as a human right by the UN since 2010.

The price to pay

“Record-breaking summer temperatures are something we’ll have to get used to, because this rise in global temperature is directly linked to our emissions of greenhouse gases. The natural world will have to adapt, but human beings and the world we’ve built for ourselves, including our food production, will pay a high price. But what, exactly? There’s the risk that people in more fragile areas of the planet are no longer able to feed themselves, as well as the risk of losing a large number of animal and plant species altogether. This biodiversity allows ecosystems to adapt to change, and this enormous natural heritage is threatened, undermining our future,” underlines Marirosa Iannelli, president of the Water Grabbing Observatory.

Water emergency

On the one hand, the FAO warns us that by the middle of the century we will need more than one-third more water than we currently use in order to feed the world’s growing population. On the other hand, when there is too much water—as when sudden heavy rains cause floods—tragedy unfolds, as it did in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna in recent weeks. Slow Food Italia is raising funds for our communities in the region, and invites visitors to Slow Fish to support the small-scale food-growing businesses in the affected area.

Donations can be made via a dedicated channel to help relief efforts in Emilia Romagna via Slow Food Italia, at this IBAN: IT 73 B 03268 46040 0529044 02311

Water grabbing

So what can we do? “Increase our appreciation of nature through direct contact with it, educate young people about food waste and how to avoid it – because we use a lot of water to grow it – and support organizations that are working to raise awareness, like Slow Food,” continues Iannelli.

“Water grabbing occurs when public or private entities misappropriate water to the detriment of ecosystems and local populations, and in some cases deplete the groundwater. It happens in Africa especially, when a multinational corporation has access to water to irrigate sugarcane plantations used to produce carbonated soft drinks. At the same time, people have to walk 40 minutes to get to the first well or river. These phenomena are not limited to Africa, of course: we find them all over the world,” Iannelli reminds the audience.

Improving our management

“We’re living through the worst drought in 200 years in the Alpine-Po Valley area, where there has been no consistent rainfall for 17 months, since the end of 2021,” Mercalli says in the video contribution recorded in early May, immediately after the first floods hit Ravenna.

“We had rain in May, and this episode led to flooding in Romagna. Water management is a complex issue for which there is no simple solution; we need a combination of strategies on the local, regional and national scale. Italy has a lot of water: it has periods of drought, but it also has periods of heavy rainfall. The important thing is to improve how we manage this water, so we can store it during the periods of abundance to get through the times of scarcity,” affirms noted Italian climatologist Luca Mercalli.

Anna Gavioli, biologist working in the Po Delta National Park, underlined how climate change affects both land and sea. “Sea levels rise, causing the salt water to extend inland, with harmful effects, such as salinization of inland soils and groundwater. Then there’s the question of coastal erosion: in the last 50 years we’ve lost 200 meters of land, land that hosted various habitats for wild species. We depend on these ecosystems too:there are two Slow Food Presidia, Cervia artisanal sea salt and the traditional marinated eel of the Comacchio valleys, which are part of this Park, and their existence is threatened both by extreme weather events and the more general, long-term change in climate and coastline.”

Slow Fish 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the Liguria Region, with the support of the City of Genoa. We’re in the Porto Antico of Genoa from June 1-4. Sign up to the Slow Food newsletter for the latest updates. #SlowFish2023

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