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 Water scarcity now affects more than three billion people worldwide, as the amount of fresh water available to each person has dropped by a fifth in more than two decades

Nearly 1.5 billion people suffer from severe water shortages or even droughts, as a combination of climate change, rising demand, and poor management have made agriculture more difficult in some parts of the world.

The UN warned on Thursday that billions of people would face starvation and permanent food insecurity due to failure to conserve water resources and tackle the climate crisis.

A report by the State of Food and Agriculture 2020 found that 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in areas where severe drought has a negative impact on fields and pastures once every three years. More than 10 percent of the world's rain-fed vegetation is below the normal drought, accounting for about 14% of the world's grazing land.

Rain-fed agriculture represents 60% of the world's crop production, and 80% of arable land, with some benefiting from irrigation. However, irrigation is not a panacea: more than 60% of irrigated plants worldwide are severely stressed by water. Improper irrigation can waste-water, eliminate non-renewable resources such as groundwater, and poor management can lead to some farmers losing water resources - for example, in the case of subsistence farms, if rivers and waterways are dry from irrigation.

Small irrigation schemes led by smallholder farmers are often more efficient than large projects, the report said. Major government-funded schemes in Asia, for example, have relied on direct access to groundwater, putting excessive pressure on that resource. But smallholder farmers around the world face additional challenges, such as the lack of secure employment rights with water rights, and limited access to finance and credit.

A recent study has shown that the world farm is becoming increasingly concentrated in a few hands, with large companies and landowners taking in product sweets, while smallholder farmers - whose farms are often run on conservation areas - are increasingly being evicted. About 1% of the world's farms operate 70% of the world's farms.

This year's FAO report was focused on water, but much of the organization's main task this year was to try to prevent the coronavirus epidemic from causing widespread food shortages. The organization called on governments earlier this year to keep global catering options and food markets open, despite travel restrictions caused by the epidemic, and the calls seem to be gaining more attention.

This year's land harvest has generally been good, among other things, but some parts of Africa are at risk of severe food shortages.