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What is meant by the terms ‘Virtual Water’ and Water Footprint and how are they determined? Assess the importance of these concepts in assisting our understanding of patterns of water use at a global scale.

What is meant by the terms ‘Virtual Water’ and Water Footprint and how are they determined? Assess the importance of these concepts in assisting our understanding of patterns of water use at a global scale.

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by John May. Originally submitted for TSM Geography at None, with lecturer Dr. David Drew in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by John May. Originally submitted for TSM Geography at None, with lecturer Dr. David Drew in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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Changing Worlds Essay: Senior Freshmen

‘Virtual Water’ & Water Foot Print

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Q. What is meant by the terms ‘Virtual Water’ and Water Footprint and how are they determined? Assess the importance of these concepts in assisting our understanding of patterns of water use at a global scale.
This essay is going to look at the concepts of „„Virtual Water‟‟ and the „Water Foot Print‟ and how these terms or concepts are determined. It will explain what the term „„Virtual Water‟‟ and “Water Foot Print” mean both in a domestic form and in an industrial form. What this study will also look at, is how much water people in the „Developed World‟ rely on to live and how much water people in the „developing world‟ or „Third World‟ rely on; and will pose the question as to why people in the developed world use so much water, and how people in the „Third World‟ can survive with so little. This essay will also discuss the recent loss of water supply to the majority of Ireland during the month of January 2010 following the heavy snow fall and how the people who had no water coped. It will specifically look at the capital of Ireland – Dublin; as many parts of Dublin still have disrupted or limited supplies of water and are forecast to be in that predicament for the next four to six weeks. Which will lead to the conclusion of why people use so much water, when it is clear they can - and in fact many people do, survive with a fraction of water used in today‟s‟ world of water guzzlers; or water wasters who are raping this planet of its most essential and purest resource as the case may be. The term „„Virtual Water‟‟ was coined in 1993 by the scientist „John Anthony Allan‟ a professor in King‟s College, London. Professor Allan was a researcher in the field of „water analysis and consumption‟; he was awarded for his work and the research carried out on the concepts of „Virtual Water‟ and in 2008 he was named the winner of the much acclaimed “Innovator Awarded 2008 Stockholm Water Prize” for his concept of „„Virtual Water‟‟ (S.I.W.I. Stolholm International Water Institute). Professor Allan started to research the concept of „Virtual Water‟ after one of his colleagues was very displeased with the amount of water dessert countries were using to grow citrus fruits for export and sale to the European Union. Professor Allen then started to question the amount of water used in various production processes. He stated that “people do not only consume water when they drink it or take a shower” This led to the concept of „„Virtual Water‟‟ being introduced - Allen states that “„Virtual Water‟ is defined Page 2 of 8

as the volume of water required to produce a commodity or service” (Allen; 1993). This thinking concept is important for understanding how much water a product actually needs to be produced or grown; for example people whom drink coffee use more „Virtual Water‟ in one spoon full of ground coffee beans than the actual hot water it takes to mix with the beans. Taking the size of an average cup to hold 300mls of water, the actual water used including „Virtual Water‟ is around 140 liters of water for that one cup; or the fact a hamburger used over 2,400 liters of „„Virtual Water‟‟. (This will be explained in greater detail in the next couple of paragraphs.) According to A.Y. Hoekstra there are two approaches for „„Virtual Water‟‟. One approach dealing with the production of commodities and services the other dealing the use point of view. The first approach “quantifies „Virtual Water‟ as the real water used for the production of the commodity” (Chapagain; 2006). This is production site specific, it depends on location, time of production and the amount of water avaible at the time of production – it is all about water usage effeciency. The second defination or approach is calculating “how munch water „would‟ have been needed to produced the good or commodity where it is being consuimed; therefore it is „use site specific‟”.(Chapagain; 2006). According to Hydro-geographer Ashok Chapagain a problem arises when looking at the second definition if “the product is used in a country where it cannot be produced itself due to climate conditions for example”. This opened up a whole host of questions and thoughts by many scientists and geographers and made the concepts of „Virtual Water‟ a whole lot more complicated, in fact so much so that in 2003 „Virtual Water‟ was considered “neither constant in space nor in time” (Renault; 2003). The concepts, however, of „„Virtual Water‟‟ are still important as it shows geographers and scientists how much water was really used in the production of a product, which can determine the environmental affect/damage of making that product on the environment. The second approach to „„Virtual Water‟‟ can help geographers and scientists how much water a country can save by importing commodities, instead of producing them domestically (Chapagain; 2006). When talking about water it is important to state that there are three main categories of water and these are put into groups of colour; Green, Blue and Grey. When calculating the formulas for „Virtual Water‟ usage it is important to take these categories into account as some of the water used is recycled naturally and some of the water used is contaminated, this is not Page 3 of 8

just for the production of goods, but for the growth of crops such as cereal and rice; and the growth and breathing of animals for human consumption - Human consumption of water can also be put into the three main categories. Green water refers to any water that has evaporated during a production process or any water that has fell or rained down on crops during growth. And has since evaporated or perspired from plans etc. This type of „„Virtual Water‟‟ is most common in agriculture. The „blue‟ „„Virtual Water‟‟ content of a product is the amount of surface water or groundwater that evaporated as a result of the production of the product or commodity (Chapagain; 2006). “In the case of crop production, the blue water content of a crop is defined as the sum of the evaporation of irrigation water from the field and the evaporation of water from irrigation canals and artificial storage reservoirs”(Falkenmark; 2003). In industrial production and domestic water supply, the blue water content of the product or service is equal to the part of the water withdrawn from ground or surface water that evaporates and thus does not return to the system where it came from (Chapagain; 2006). Finally Grey water refers to the „„Virtual Water‟‟ content of a product which has becomes polluted during its production. For example; in the production of denim the amount of chemicals used in the water to the cloth would pollute almost 100% of the water used. This grey water in real terms or in human terms would refer to swage water. This water would need to be treated in the future to reach safe levels of consumption both for humans and animals. In the book „Globalisation of Water‟ by Ashok, k. Chapagain, he gives a detailed example of the water colour break down in the production of cotton; “The production of cotton is connected to a chain of impacts on the water resources in the countries where cotton is grown and produced. [...] 42% is blue water, 39% is Green water and 19% is grey water” (Chapagain; 2006). Chapagain then goes on to explain how the impacts of production are often felt cross border. Taking Europe for example; about 84% of the Water foot print for Europe is located outside of Europe - “With major impacts within cotton producing countries such as India and Uzbekistan”.
[The formula for calculating the „„Virtual Water‟‟ needed to produce a good or commodity is straight forward enough; there is one formula for the „ production site specific approach‟, and another formula for the water which WOULD have been required if the product had of been produced in the „ site of use – „ use site specific approach‟. „Virtual Water‟ content of a product p

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(Chapagain; 2006) ]

A water foot print of a country according to the „Water Footprint Network‟ is defined as the following: “The water footprint of a nation shows the total volume of water that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of the nation. Since not all goods consumed in one particular country are produced in that country, the water footprint consists of two parts: use of domestic water resources and use of water outside the borders of the country” (water footprint network; 2009). What this means is that there are two parts of the water foot print, Water which has been directly consumed, and water which has been used for the goods and services which an individual uses ( in national terms that would refer to imports that have been grown or produced outside its borders). Anybody can calculate their own Water foot print on the „Water Footprint Network‟ and it will give an accurate estimate of what your water consumption / foot print is per annum. (My personal water footprint is 699 cubic meters per year; according to the calculator). In America typically a person has an annual water footprint of approximately 2480 m3 (Hoekstra; 2001). According to the „David Drew; of Trinity College, that‟s 1000 times more than the average person in Africa. Like „„Virtual Water‟‟ a water foot print too consists of „Colour‟ waters, Blue, Green and Grey. The breakdown of these colours is the same as in the case of the „Virtual Water‟. Where Blue is the water footprint is the volume of freshwater that evaporated from the global blue water resources, Green is the water evaporated from the ground, soils and crops or vegetation, and finally Grey water is all the polluted water which has been contaminated sue to production and human soiling. The Creator of the „Water Footprint Concept‟ Arjen, Y. Hoekstra states that: “The interest in the water footprint is rooted in the recognition that human impacts on freshwater systems can ultimately be linked to human consumption, and that issues like water shortages and pollution can be better understood and addressed by considering production and supply chains as a whole […] Water problems are often closely tied to the structure of the global economy. Many countries have significantly externalized their water footprint, importing waterintensive goods from elsewhere. This puts pressure on the water resources in the Page 5 of 8

exporting regions, where too often mechanisms for wise water governance and conservation are lacking. Not only governments, but also consumers, businesses and civil society communities can play a role in achieving a better management of water resources”(Hoekstra; 2004) The importance of understanding the concepts of the „Virtual Water‟ and the water footprint are critical in today‟s world where water has become an economic commodity, and not through direct trade as this would be fare to expensive and impractical, instead „Virtual Water‟ trade has become the norm for countries who produce high yielding crops that consume or need a lot of water for growth. They can then trade these crops to countries that have not got the facilities to grow them, like the previous example of the Middle East grown citrus fruits and exporting them to Europe. This is „Virtual Water‟ trading at its basic, beef or life stock is also another form of „„Virtual Water‟‟ Trading, as a cow consumes the grass which has been grown from the rain water or irrigation systems which have been put in place to water the organic material, (cereal crops are another example of embedded „„Virtual Water‟‟). People around the world need water to live FACT! But some people need a lot more water than others this is evident when looking at the water foot print of an American Vs. The water foot print of a person living in Africa. Do they really need to consume this much water - whether Virtual or not? Taking Ireland as an example, currently the country is experience some serious water shortages and water usage as a nation is down due to this. Currently in the capital, Dublin many homes are without water supply and they are coping, currently I myself have no water and can only appreciate the values of having water on demand where before; I would of most defiantly have taken that privilege for granted. It is no shock that the demand for water has increased on a global scale; this is due to many factors, the main one, however being that the world population has increased in many parts of the developing world. Ireland is a developed country and it cannot supply its residences with fresh water at the moment. This could and most likely will have an impact on the „Water Trade‟ when importing goods from countries that have running water at present. Although Ireland has plenty of Green water supplies, due to bad weather conditions the water treatment plans are being overcome with grey water faster than they can treat it – this paired with old and inadequate piping systems mean that many parts of the country simply do not have access to water. In conclusion when studying virtual; water and Page 6 of 8

water foot prints it is not just so one can study the environmental factors production is having in developing countries, it is about the global water supply system as a whole and the concepts are vital in the supply of water to the world‟s population. And it‟s taken a lot of snow and a lack of running water to figure that out.

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Allan, John Anthony et al. „Virtual Water‟. 26 December 2009. <http://en.googlesclr//google/Virtual_water#Virtual_water_in_various_products>. Accessed; 10 January 2010 Chapagain, A.K and A.Y Hoekstra. "„Virtual Water‟ flows between nations in relation to trade in livestock and livestock products." 2003. UNESCO-ITE. < http://www.unescoihe.org/Project-activities/Project-database/Virtual-Water-Trade-ResearchProgramme/Chapagain-A.K.-Hoekstra-A.Y.-2003-.-Virtual-water-flows-betweennations-in-relation-to-trade-in-livestock-and-livestock-products-Value-of-WaterResearch-Report-Series-No.-13-UNESCO-IHE>. Accessed; 5 January 2010 Chapgain, Ashok Kumar.(2006), “„Virtual Water‟ Trade”. London: Taylor & Francis Chapagain, A.K, “Globalisation of water Opportunities and threats of „Virtual Water‟ Trade”, New York: Taylor & Francis S.I.W.I. Stolholm International Water Institute. SIWI in Action. 19 March 2008. < http://www.siwi.org/sa/node.asp?node=25 >. Accessed; 29 December 2010 Hoekstra, A.Y., Chapagain, A.K., Aldaya, M.M. and Mekonnen, M.M. (2009) “Water footprint manual: State of the ar” (2009), Water Footprint Network, Enschede, the Netherlands Hoekstra, A.Y. and Chapagain, A.K. (2008) “Globalization of water: Sharing the planet's freshwater resources”, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.
Water footprints of all nations for the period 1997 - 2001 have been first reported Chapagain, A.K. and Hoekstra, A.Y.. "Water footprints of nations" ([dead link] – Scholar search). Value of Water Research Report Series No. 16 (UNESCO-IHE). http://www.waterfootprint.org/Reports/Report16Vol1.pdf/. Accessed; November 2009.

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