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  • October 2023
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Navigating Troubled Waters

World Food Day 2023

A ship navigates through crashing waves.
In Brief

This article delves into the theme of World Food Day 2023, exploring how water can impact human health, as well as the effects of climate change and environment factors on the accessibility of clean and safe water.

Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind2

Observed on October 16 each year, World Food Day (WFD) is dedicated to promoting global awareness of hunger, and advocating for actions that support the future of food production. In 2023, WFD’s theme is water, an essential element in the production of food, animal feed, and biofuel. Led by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the annual campaign aims to highlight the critical role of water in food production, emphasizing the need to reduce water wastage and improve water resources to secure the future of food, people, and the planet.1 In this article, we briefly explore how water can impact human health and examine the impacts of climate change and the environment on the availability of safe water.

Water and Human Health 

While approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water3, only up to 2.5% of this water is useable freshwater.1 Each day, the average human body requires around two liters of water, but the production of one person’s daily food needs consumes about 3,000 liters of water.

Up to 60% of the human body consists of water, including approximately 90% of blood, 83% of the lungs, 79% of muscles and kidneys, 73% of the brain and the heart, 64% of the skin, and even 31% of bones. Dehydration, when the body lacks adequate water, causes symptoms such as headache, exhaustion, dizziness, constipation, altered blood pressure, and dark urine.

One in three people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. Many children may walk six kilometers or more every day to fetch water for their families.5 This lack of access to clean water increases the risk of diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, polio, and typhoid.1 Shockingly, around one million people die each year from diarrhea due to the consumption of contaminated water, poor sanitation, and/or lack of hand hygiene.

Water and Climate Change 

Extreme weather events, such as floods, are making useable water for human consumption scarcer. Currently, 1.2 billion people are at risk of floods, and this number is expected to rise to 1.6 billion by 2050.1  

Recent devastating floods in Derna, Libya caused by Storm Daniel in September 2023 resulted in thousands of fatalities and left thousands more in urgent need of food and drinking water. Additionally, the floods impacted an estimated 3,000 hectares of cropland, destroying the production of grains and grazing pasture for cattle, goats, and sheep.7 

Another significant consequence of climate change is ocean acidification, a reduction in ocean pH due to the uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. Over the last century, CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased due to deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels.8 These changes in the oceans directly impact sea life, including fish and shellfish, which many people rely on as a food source worldwide.

Climate change impacts the fundamentals of human existence: water, air, food and shelter. Find out more about the effects of suboptimal temperatures on mortality and estimate impacts under various climate pathways.

Water and Microplastics 

Approximately 3% of plastic waste enters the oceans annually, leading to an estimated 82-368 trillion plastic particles currently in the ocean surface layer.9,10 Human consumption of microplastics (MPs), defined by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as ”plastic particles smaller than 5mm,” can occur through drinking from plastic water bottles or consuming contaminated food, such as fish and shellfish.11 MPs can be found in both treated and untreated tap water and have been identified in various foods, including fruits, vegetables, chicken, eggs, salt, sugar, honey, milk, and soft drinks.12 Initial research suggests that MPs may negatively impact human health, as they have already been found in numerous parts of the body, including the lungs, liver, brain, kidneys, bowels, and blood vessels.13  

Learn more about the impact of microplastics on human health.

Water and Food  

Currently, around 45 million people worldwide are at risk of starvation, and an estimated 783 million people do not know where their next meal will come from. By 2050, an estimated 60% more food will be necessary to meet the needs of the world’s population.4 Agriculture accounts for the use of 72% of the world’s freshwater resources, but factors like population growth, climate change, and the production of processed foods are placing water resources under increasing pressure.1  

In the last 30 years, food production has increased by more than 100%.4 The consumption of industrially produced foods has risen dramatically during this time, leading to higher rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. Food production, particularly processed foods, requires large volumes of water for cleaning, sanitation, heating, and refrigeration. Moreover, every type of food produced leaves a ”water footprint.” For example, it takes 1,410 liters of water to produce one kilogram of pasta, 1,260 liters for a 725-gram margherita pizza, and 1,700 liters for 100 grams of chocolate.14 

What insurers need to know about the consequences of rising obesity rates and dietary trends across the globe.

The Way Forward  

Reusing waste water, harvesting rainwater, using organic matter to retain soil moisture required for growing crops, and creating natural barriers to protect farmland from floods and erosion can all help conserve water and sustain food production to meet the human population’s ever-increasing need for water.1 Simple lifestyle changes, such as reducing food waste, conserving and reusing household water, purchasing fresh produce and sustainable fish, reducing the use of single-use plastics, and saving energy, can all help protect the future of food, people, and the planet.  

From a life insurance standpoint, it is likely that rates of respiratory disease, diabetes, and other non-communicable diseases will continue to rise due to the indirect impact of climate change and the increasing consumption of processed foods globally. Contaminated water further increases the risk of bacterial and viral infections, with the resulting impact on insurance claims rates leading to potential pricing adjustments of life and health products.  

Now is the time to act by reducing the amount of food waste and conserving water. Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind.  

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Meet the Authors & Experts

Hilary Henly
Hilary Henly
Global Medical Researcher, Strategic Research 


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  12. Ying Yong, C.Q. et al (2020). Toxicity of microplastics and nanoplastics in mammalian systems. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020 Mar; 17(5): 1509. Available from: Toxicity of Microplastics and Nanoplastics in Mammalian Systems - PMC (  

  13. Ragusa, A. et al (2022). Raman microspectroscopy detection and characterization of microplastics in human breastmilk. Polymers 2022 Jun 30; 14(13): 2700. Available from: Raman Microspectroscopy Detection and Characterisation of Microplastics in Human Breastmilk - PMC ( 

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