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Water-stressed developing nations are using significant amount of their water to grow food to be imported to the West
Consumption in one place can have a drastic impact on water resources in another country. Developing countries are mostly water-stressed, but ironically, they are also using significant amount of their water to grow food to be imported to developed countries. Water-intensive production is further worsening water shortages in the developing world. According to Roger Falconer, professor of Water Management at Cardiff University, UK, we must take into account how our water footprint is affecting the rest of the world. He was speaking during the River Rejuvenation Conference hosted by the Art of Living Foundation in Bengaluru earlier this month.
Explaining the need to look at the water footprint of a nation, Falconer said that the internal water footprint is the water that we use in our own country to produce food and other commodities. “If we rear cattle in the UK; it is our water we are using. The problem is the external water footprint. This is nearly 20 times bigger in the UK than the internal water footprint. People wearing cotton clothes in the UK are contributing to this external water footprint because UK does not produce cotton. The external water footprint of clothes worn by people in the UK has a huge impact on countries like Egypt and India. It should be a British problem,” affirmed Falconer.
The professor goes on to cite examples of coffee. “A cup of coffee requires 150 litres of water to produce. We don’t grow coffee in the UK. We are using Brazilian water to get our cup of coffee. Similarly, it takes 26 baths of water to produce one steak and 73 baths of water to produce a pair of jeans,” added Falconer.
Mismanagement of water to provide cotton to the people in the West is a reason why the Aral Sea has almost disappeared. The people of Kazakhstan no longer have this very large water body. “We have to ensure that the West does not become so obsessed with cotton that it damages water resources in countries that are already experiencing water crisis,” cautioned Falconer
According to him, when we talk about the cost of water, we only refer to consumptive use. “We have not included in our costs the ecosystem, the rivers and the aquifers. Someone has to pay for this,” he added. While talking to Down To Earth on the sidelines of the conference, Falconer said, “We have to include the cost of virtual water. For example, when a person in the UK buys a cotton shirt, he uses 7,500 litres of Indian water. The cleaning up of water has to be paid for by him. That additional cost will make people aware of their external water footprints.”
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