Food and fashion draining water from poor: WaterAid

  • World Water Day: Friday 22 March
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  • Food and clothing imported by wealthy Western countries are making it harder for many poor and marginalised communities to get a daily clean water supply, a new report from WaterAid warns.

    As high-income countries buy products with considerable ‘water footprints’ – the amount of water used in production – from water-scarce countries, WaterAid is calling on this World Water Day (Friday 22 March) for the production of these goods to be made more sustainable and for consumers to be more thoughtful in their purchasing habits.

    Some products have a huge water footprint:

    • Your morning cup of coffee contains about 200 ml of actual water, yet the ground coffee takes 140 litres to produce. An alternative might be to have a cup of tea instead, at 34 litres per cup.
    • Avocados have an estimated water footprint of almost 2,000 litres per kilogram.
    • Rice accounts for 40% of all global irrigation, and 17% of global groundwater depletion, with an average water footprint of 2,500 litres of water per kilogram.
    • Cotton is a thirsty fabric: grown and produced in India it has a water footprint of 22,500 litres per kilogram; in Pakistan, this is an average of 9,800 litres and in the United States about 8,100 litres.

    The high water footprint of these products is contributing to global issues of water scarcity; close to 4 billion people live in water-scarce areas, where for at least part of the year water demand exceeds supply. This number is expected to go up to 5 billion by 2050, while Australia is on track to face high water stress by 2040.

    “Industrial and agricultural use of water should not be prioritised over people’s ability to get water daily for their basic needs – particularly with climate change making things worse,” WaterAid Chief Executive Rosie Wheen says.

    The pervasive nature of water issues has been recently felt close to home, with water shortages having affected New South Wales and other areas across the country. Wheen explains that such issues are representative of a global water security crisis. “It’s the same crisis in a different location. We need to resolve the crisis everywhere.”

    “When you consider our experiences with droughts and water restrictions, Australians have a unique and personal insight into issues of water shortages and that helps us empathise with those most vulnerable to water scarcity.”

    WaterAid’s “Beneath the Surface” report also reveals the countries with the lowest level of basic access to clean drinking water at a household level. In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia’s close geographic neighbours Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste are among the worst ranked countries.

    Asia-Pacific countries, ranked by lowest access to at least basic drinking water

    1. Papua New Guinea (37%)
    2. Solomon Islands (64%)
    3. Kiribati (64%)
    4. Myanmar (68%)
    5. Timor-Leste (70%)
    6. Marshall Islands (78%)
    7. Lao People’s Democratic Republic (80%)
    8. India (88%)
    9. Micronesia (88%)
    10. Indonesia (89%)

    WaterAid Australia Chief Executive Rosie Wheen said:

    “This World Water Day, we are more determined than ever to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone everywhere, by 2030. The global consequences of unequal access to water and rapidly growing water scarcity, fuelled by a growing demand on water resources and the impact of climate and population changes, underline the need for co-ordinated international action on water security.

    “An urgent understanding is needed to ensure that the push for economic development through exports of food and clothing, do not imperil current and future generations’ access to water. There can be no sustainable economic development without sustainable and equitable access to water.

    /Public Release.