Water – a real and present danger!

I’m no rabid environmentalist, have no green agenda, but in researching Still Water I knew there was a world water crisis but I had not realised quite how serious it was. Yet there is no furore or much debate on this subject.

This is just a glimpse of the facts about water and water footprints:

Globe Water supply -is a finite supply, we are not making any more than we already have locked in our water cycle.When you consider the vast oceans of the world that encompass two-thirds of our globe then it seems crazy to imagine that there could be any shortage. But useable water is another matter, less than a fortieth of the earth’s water is not salty, and two-thirds of that drinkable water is permanently locked away, frozen within glaciers and at the poles.Far too much of the remaining third of this useful water lies or falls in the wrong places. It may come in too much of a rush as monsoons or floods, it may fall upon remote areas where it cannot be ‘harvested’ or it may be held deep within underground aquifers.
WorldPopulation Consumption – Agriculture currently consumes 70% of our water, industry 22% and domestic use is just 8%.The World Water Council reported that by 2020, just to meet the global agricultural requirements, we will need 17% more water than there is in fact available.Over the last five decades world population has risen from 2.5 billion to almost 7 billion – and just this fact means that the renewable water supply has effectively been reduced by a third per head of world population! And this population growth continues, estimated to reach 9 billion by 2040 which can only further complicate the situation.
Biofuels Agriculture – And just to round off this crisis – along come bio-fuels! As oil runs out, we strive to find alternative power sources and large tracts of our agricultural land are being redeployed to grow new bio-fuels.To run a single average US car for a year on this fuel requires the output of 11 acres of farmland!The UK has targets to convert to 10% bio-fuel use by 2020. Yet, according to the Stockholm International Water Institute, growing corn and then converting it into a litre of ethanol consumes almost twice the energy that the ethanol will generate. Indian sugar cane uses 3,500 litres of water to produce a litre of ethanol, Chinese maize uses 2,400 litres – yet China plans to quadruple its bio-fuel production by 2020!
WaterTap Domestic – We humans can last without shelter as long as we choose, some have managed without food for as long as a month, but we can last only three to five days without water!A fifth of the world’s population currently lack a safe water supply. A further two-fifths live without secure sanitation – five million die each year from water-related diseases including a shocking 2.2 million children under the age of five.The UN Human Development Report of 2008 shows that in the USA the average consumer uses 575 litres every day, the UK is more modest at 150. That compares with China at just 100 and India at 140 litres per day per capita. Given the huge populations of China and India and their current incredible rates of growth, just what would happen if all of their populations demanded the same water consumption as an American?
WaterWars Water Wars – A UN publication back in 2006 stated “…with world demand for water increasing six-fold over the 20th century, there was no let-up in disputes over trans-boundary water issues, prompting some experts to predict that the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water”.Past UN Secretaries General also issued warnings – Kofi Annan: “Fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict.” Boutros Boutros Ghali: “Competition for water resources could provoke wars in Africa and the Middle East”

Water footprints? – the amount of water consumed in the production of a product.

wheat It takes 25 litres of water to grow a humble potato. Another staple like wheat takes a massive 1,200 litres of water to create just a single kilo, rice needs more than twice that volume/kilo.
Cattle It takes sixteen times the water to produce a kilo of meat than it does a kilo of wheat – – 13,000 to 15,000 litres of water to produce one kilo of grain-fed beef.
McDonaldsBurger A McDonald’s hamburger, or anyone else’s for that matter, uses up a stunning 2,400 litres of water.
RedMeat As Asia develops a burgeoning middle class that espouses Western culture, just imagine the impact if they all decided to consume red meat?
A4paper A single sheet of A4 paper uses up 10 litres of water if you factor in the tree’s growth and the paper’s manufacture.
LeatherShoes A smart pair of leather shoes, in its rearing of cattle and production of the leater, swallows up a massive 8,000 litres of water.
SoftDrinks So you’ll drink something else? Well you should understand that it takes:

  •     5 litres of water to produce the container for bottled water
  •   35 litres of water to produce a cup of tea
  •   75 litres of water for a glass of beer
  • 120 litres of water for a glass of wine
  • 140 litres for a small cup of coffee, to grow the beans etc
  • 170 litres of water to produce a glass of orange juice
  • 200 litres of water for a glass of milk.

So whatever you choose to drink you are consuming water!


From Still Water by Bob Denton

The Professor pondered this and sat down to flick through some papers. ‘Global warming and the Kyoto thing prompted lots of column-inches about our ‘carbon footprints’ but no one is talking about water footprints. We all have them. Carbon footprints are a measure of wasted energy and pollution, but it’s your water footprint that will creep up behind you and kill you!”

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