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Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
The crucial role of water in sustaining life on earth
World Food Day reminds us every year that we have a long way to go before ensuring food and water for all
Published:
October 16, 2023 03:56 AM GMT

Updated:
October 16, 2023 04:03 AM GMT

It is fair to say that most of us take food for granted. This happens because we have never been through famine, prison, or war times when there is just nothing to eat, and how to survive is our only obsessive thought.

World Food Day (WFD) reminds us that for most people in the world, sadly, this is a daily reality.

WFD is an international day celebrated every year worldwide on Oct. 16 to commemorate the date on which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was founded in 1945.

Today WFD has evolved into a global platform for raising awareness about hunger, malnutrition, sustainability, and food production. It has grown to encompass a wide range of concerns related to food systems and nutrition.

In 2021, the United Nations secretary-general convened the very first Food Systems Summit, signaling a strong commitment to addressing these complex challenges.

The FAO is connected with many other organizations concerned with hunger and food security, including the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

In fact, the WFP received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for its efforts to combat hunger, contribute to peace in conflict areas, and for its leading role in stopping the use of hunger as a weapon in war and conflict.

For food tragically has been “weaponized.” Not many know this side of many modern conflicts — from the Great Ukraine Famine of 1932-33 (Holodomor) engineered by Stalin to break the Ukraine people; to the Great Bengal Famine of 1942, caused by Churchill’s denial of grain to Bengal’s peasants; to Russia’s embargo of wheat exports during the current Ukraine war.

Food and its connections

Food plays a central role in human life and interaction. All our festive occasions are incomplete without a celebration around the dinner table. And every vicissitude, whether individual or social, starts with the inability to access food.

The themes of earlier WFDs acknowledged these connections:

In 2014, it was “Family Farming: Feeding the World, caring for the Earth"; in 2015 it was "Social Protection and Agriculture: Breaking the Cycle of Rural Poverty"; in 2016 it was “Climate Change: As Climate Changes, so must Food and Agriculture". The theme of 2020 was "Grow, nourish, sustain together. Our actions decide our future."

This year, 2023, FAO focuses on the important role of water in the production of food, living as we do when so much arable land has turned arid, and so many of our water sources become polluted. 

It serves as a poignant reminder of our collective responsibility to address the pressing issues of food security. It draws attention to the crucial role of water in our lives, not just for hydration, but also for agriculture, food production, and ultimately, our survival.

Its formulation, “Water is Life, Water is Food. Leave No One Behind,” resonates deeply with the ever-pressing issue of water's role in sustaining life and securing our food sources.

The importance of water

Water is, indeed, the lifeblood of our planet, and it's intricately connected to our ability to produce and access food.

This year's theme seeks to drive home the importance of managing this precious resource wisely, especially in the face of challenges of population growth, urbanization, and the looming threat of climate change, all of which put water accessibility at risk.

Now, let's shift our focus to the vital role of water in our own well-being. We often underestimate how crucial adequate hydration is for our overall health and quality of life.

Here are some compelling reasons why water is an absolute necessity:

  • Maintaining Hydration: To remain properly hydrated, our bodies need water. Even a minor loss of body water can lead to dehydration, while a major water loss can be fatal. Our bodies have a sophisticated system, involving the brain, kidneys, and other organs, that regulates and balances water levels. 
  • Nutrient Absorption: Water dissolves vitamins and minerals, making them transportable throughout the body. It facilitates the efficient distribution of essential nutrients to various parts of our body.
  • Temperature Regulation: Water is instrumental in keeping our body temperature within the normal range. During the heat of summer, we naturally sweat to cool down, which requires us to replenish lost fluids to maintain the body's temperature.
  • Joint and Tissue Lubrication: Adequate water intake ensures that our joints and tissues remain well-lubricated, making movement smooth and comfortable.
  • Waste Elimination: Water serves as the body's primary means of eliminating waste materials through sweat, urine, and feces, acting as the ultimate detox drink. When we are dehydrated, the body reabsorbs fluids from feces, making them hard and causing constipation.
  • Weight Management: Scientific evidence highlights the role of water in weight management. Adequate hydration can boost metabolism, increase energy levels, and enhance weight loss efficiency.

Child nutrition and global rankings

As this article was going to press, newspapers ran a report from the Global Hunger Index (GHI) listing India in the “serious category,” at 111 out of 125 countries, with a score of 28.1.

The report sought to reflect “the multi-dimensional nature of hunger,” which includes undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality. All from not having enough to eat.

The government reacted predictably. The Woman and Child Development Ministry slammed the report as being inaccurate and claimed that the GHI ignored innovations like the children’s midday meal scheme, free food grains, and the effectiveness of the Mission Poshan (Nutrition) tracking device.

Whatever the ranking received the fact remains that undernourished children are a real concern, especially when political compulsions cripple available diets, and caste prejudice affects policy decisions.

Better rankings hopefully will follow, but that is really not the issue.

WFD reminds us every year that we have a long way to go before realizing our dreams of nutritious food, and food security for all, especially for undernourished women and children.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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