World Water Day March in Harare, Zimbabwe.  Martin Ager.

'Coping with Water Scarcity' was the theme for World Water Day 2007, which is celebrated each year on 22 March. This year's theme highlighted the increasing significance of water scarcity worldwide and the need for increased integration and cooperation to ensure sustainable, efficient and equitable management of scarce water resources, both at international and local levels.

Speaking at the World Water Day celebration at FAO Headquarters in Rome, FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf called coping with water scarcity the “challenge of the 21st century”.

The bulk of that challenge lies in finding more effective ways to conserve, use and protect the world’s water resources. Global population is expected to reach 8.1 billion by 2030. To keep pace with the growing demand for food, 14 percent more freshwater will need to be withdrawn for agricultural purposes in the next 30 years.

“As population grows and development needs call for increased allocations of water for cities, agriculture and industries, the pressure on water resources intensifies, leading to tensions, conflicts among users, and excessive strain on the environment,” said Dr Diouf.

Climate change has raised the stakes. Global warming has been blamed for more frequent droughts. Climate change has also intensified storms and flooding, which destroy crops, contaminate freshwater and damage the facilities used to store and carry that water.

Smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of the world’s rural poor, often occupy marginal lands and rely on rainfall to sustain their livelihoods, making them particularly vulnerable to climate variability.

In addition to the main World Water Day Ceremony at FAO Headquarters, hundreds of other celebrations, such as the march in Harare, Zimbabwe pictured above, took place across the globe.