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Virtual Water: A Step Towards Water Sustainability

Posted on March 23, 2011 in Environment


By Jodhbir Singh:

Have you ever wondered why Arab countries do not fight over water, even though it is a scarce resource in that region? On the other hand, India has many tensions going on between different states, even though; it is called country of rivers. The reason is simple; the Arab countries import virtual water.

Virtual water is the amount of water used in producing a product. So, when rice is imported by an Arab country from India, it also virtually imports the water that has gone in growing the rice. For example, 1Kg of wheat takes 1300 liters of water to grow, 1Kg of eggs takes 3300 liters of water, and 1Kg of beef takes 15500 liters of water. So, when a country imports such products it doesn’t only buy the products itself, rather it also buys the resources that has gone into producing these products. In other words, the importer country saves tones of water if it buys a product which requires huge amount of water to grow.

According to Professor John Anthony Allan from King’s College London, who proposed the concept of virtual waters, “The water is said to be virtual because once the wheat is grown, the real water used to grow it is no longer actually contained in the wheat. The concept of virtual water helps us realize how much water is needed to produce different goods and services. In semi-arid and arid areas, knowing the virtual water value of a good or service can be useful towards determining how best to use the scarce water available.” The major importer of virtual water importer countries are the U.S., Canada, Thailand, Argentina, India, Vietnam, France and Brazil, and the major exporter of virtual water countries are Sri Lanka, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, China, Spain, Egypt, Germany and Italy.

In a world of 9 billion people by 2030, it is an immediate call for us to start using our resources in a responsible way. Fresh water tops the chart of such scarce resources. We have depleting ground water in the northern regions of India, every year or so floods in Bihar, water crisis in some southern states. If India needs to be a sustainable country with its largest population in the world in near future, it needs to rethink about its scarce resources like water.

However, part of the responsibility falls at individual levels. We can also take initiatives to reduce our water footprints– direct and indirect water footprints. Direct water footprint can be saved by being conservative when it come to using water at home for various purposes. However, indirect water footprint or individual consumption of virtual water can be reduced by buying products in the supermarket which have less water footprints i.e. takes less amount of water to produce than other comparable products. An easy and way to check your water footprint is to go on , fill in required information, and see how much water you consume every year.

It is hoped that more research into virtual water will unleash a new understating in the trade of water in the world. It will also help countries to better manage their water resources. Companies will be more environmentally responsible. As individuals, we will find new ways to reduce our consumption of water. All of these factors are essential to make earth a sustainable planet to live in. Most important of which is the sustainability of the water.