‘Virtual water’ and the need for improved management of resources

A recent publication focussing on water use in production and products has been published by the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

The report states that water used for production, otherwise known as ‘virtual water’, constitutes 95 per cent of human water use. As pressure on global water supplies grows, recognising the amount of water used in each step of production could play a vital role in managing water use.

The report claims that 86 per cent of ‘virtual water’ is used in the production of food, but despite its importance, businesses are only just starting to seriously consider the risks of interruptions of water to their supply chains.

The report’s authors go on to state that the demand for water is forecast to outstrip supply by 40 per cent over the next twenty years, and this may worsen as a result of changes in hydrological cycles and precipitation patterns due to climate change.

According to the authors, the UK government’s pledge to invest in a green economy emphasises the importance of maintaining responsible production processes. Given the global dimension of water consumption, with countries exporting and importing water, it is important that countries recognise their interdependencies when drawing up national water strategies.

The report concludes that tighter management of water use in agriculture could be done through a number of measures, including greater cooperation between farmers that share the same water catchment.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank have also discussed implementing water metering and pricing as a regulatory mechanism; water pricing in the Guadalquivir basin in Spain has resulted in a 30 per cent reduction in water consumption.