By Umberto Bacchi
ROME, April 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new Google-powered online tool that uses satellite data to map water consumption in Africa and the Middle East aims to help farmers produce more crops with less water, the United Nations said on Thursday.
WaPOR, an open-access database developed by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) enables countries to easily monitor how efficiently farms use water, allowing for improvements in irrigation and food production, the agency said.
Climate change and a growing global population, set to reach more than 9 billion by 2050, are putting additional pressure on the world's ever scarcer water resources.
As agriculture is responsible for 70 percent of all water used on the planet, it will be critical to increase "crop per drop", experts say.
"Water use continues to surge at the same time that climate change - with increasing droughts and extreme weather - is altering and reducing water availability for agriculture," said FAO's deputy director-general Maria Helena Semedo.
"That puts a premium on making every drop count," she said in a statement.
WaPOR uses complex satellite data on weather, temperature, soil and vegetation to calculate how much crop yield is produced per cubic metre of water consumed.
The tool allows users like governments or farmers to spot areas where water is used inefficiently and take action by changing the irrigation system or switching to a more water-efficient crop, FAO said.
"You can compare with your neighbour and say: 'Look he is planting his wheat field one month ahead of me or using this kind of irrigation system or fertilizer and he is doing much better'," FAO technical officer Livia Peiser, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The project funded by the Netherlands went live with data on Africa and the Middle East. FAO said more detailed information on countries facing water scarcity, including Mali, Ethiopia, Jordan and Egypt, will be made available later this year.
Two thirds of the world's population live in areas experiencing water scarcity at least one month a year, according to the United Nations.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)