From: Reuters
Published December 18, 2008 10:57 AM

African ministers say share water to combat hunger

By Salah Sarrar

SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) - African states lack the resources to deal alone with climate change and must share water better to feed growing populations, government ministers said at a water conference in Libya on Wednesday.

The world's poorest continent has failed to feed a fast-growing population due to under-investment, bad farm management and more frequent droughts and floods, leaving it hooked on food imports.

The cost of those imports soared to $49.4 billion in 2008 from $10.5 billion in 2005 as world prices jumped, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

That has put a massive strain on state budgets in countries that subsidize imports to make them more affordable.

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Of 36 countries grappling with food crises, 21 are in Africa and the World Food Program estimates that nearly a sixth of the world's population -- almost 1 billion people -- are hungry.

African officials meeting over three days in the Libyan city of Sirte said governments should redouble a 2003 promise to commit 10 percent of national budgets to boosting farm output, according to their final declaration.

With droughts and flash flooding increasingly common, they called for more modern irrigation systems that store water and channel it where and when it is needed.

They agreed to seal more region-wide deals to share the water stored in rivers, lakes and underground.

Cooperation would be strengthened on weather forecasting and early warning systems to minimize the impact of drought, desertification, floods and pests.

"Together we must find concrete and effective measures to address the issues of water in Africa, in a spirit of shared responsibility," Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, told delegates.

The ministers also decided to establish continent-wide information systems to better coordinate farm output and make commodity trade more efficient.

The skills and the resources to make Africa self-sufficient exist if only governments would cooperate on managing their water, delegates said.

"There are countries that progressed in technology and human resources but have a deficit in natural resources, while others have abundant natural resources and lack the technology and human resources," said Wafaa Sahli, director of urban development at the Community of Sahel-Saharan states.

Sahli said that only pooling those resources would allow Africa to end persistent food crises.

Africa's population of 967 million, of whom 53 percent are under the age of 20, is forecast to reach 2 billion in 2050.

Diouf said new water control programs for African farming would cost $65 billion over the next 20 years.

(Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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