Posted by: Gareth Dinnage | Oct 16, 2013
Water consumption, a critical issue which has been and is being overlooked in the World's focus on fossil fuels, waste management and climate change. The reality is that this problem is a ticking time-bomb which just hasn't had the airing in a world where there are so many other environmental issues jostling for prominence. And it's all a lot more complex than most people would believe because it is not just about saving the water we individually consume on a daily basis, but that which is consumed in the production of goods, including food.
"the problem is a ticking time-bomb"
So what exactly is "embedded water". The term “embedded carbon” ie the carbon emissions during the lifetime of a product, is fairly familiar. So the term “embedded water” should not prove to be too difficult to understand, ie the water consumption at all stages within the life-cycle of the product.
It is currently estimated that already in only 20 years’ time water availability will be 40 per cent below where it needs to be to support a growing global population. The report, Charting our Water Future from the 2030 Water Resources Group (a group of industry experts, academics and NGOS) gives stark warnings that demand is likely to reach beyond the capacity of existing reliable supplies. This means that not only will huge investment be required in new water infrastructure but businesses and consumers will also have to start using water far more efficiently than they do currently.
"It is currently estimated that already in only 20 years’ time water availability will be 40 per cent below where it needs to be to support a growing global population."
Reducing our usage is the easy part. What is far more difficult is the notion of “embedded water” within our products. For instance,
Product Water Usage
Cup of tea 30 litres
One Apple 70 litres
Cup of Coffee 140 litres
Loaf of bread 440 litres
Bag of sugar 1500 litres
500g chunk of cheese 2500 litres
Packet of rice 3400 litres
Beef Steak 3875 litres
Pair of Jeans 10,850 litres
(Source: University of Twente / Unesco)
As is evident, the problem of "hidden" water embedded in the production of food and other products is a critical issue and needs addressing in the same way as climate change and other environmental issues. Water consumption requires not just reduction from individuals and organisations, but world focus and impetus on new technology and innovation to be able to produce products more water efficiently.
Our most precious resource on this earth is water. Its availability is and always has been finite. Up to 97% of the world's water is salt water, therefore only 3% is freshwater, and 2% is tied up in glaciers (for now). Water is a vital need, the scarcity of which could be immediately more harmful than either Climate Change or Peak Oil.