Image via BBC widget
According to a new report released by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Engineering the Future working group, the bulk of water consumed by UK citizens is imported, mainly in the form of other items that have a hefty amount of embedded water - the amount of water required to create the item. So while the country isn't directly feeling the pinch of the water crisis, it soon will be not just in terms of how much water is available at taps, but in the food and goods that can no longer be produced for lack of water elsewhere in the world. The report warns that these current practices aren't sustainable and there's "a perfect storm" abrewin' that could make UK citizens feel the squeeze as climate change and population growth affect the areas from which they're importing goods. According to the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) over two thirds of the water used by those living in Britain is 'imported', often from countries already suffering from shortages. Conditions in these countries, including population growth, urbanization and pollution will impact exports to other countries, not to mention everything else from the economy to health care in those countries. The report is a major wake-up call on how dependent we are as living creatures on a clean and plentiful water supply, and how the systems we've created in our social structures will be dramatically impacted as supplies tighten. And that is causing the UK to have to question how its import practices are affecting the rest of the globe.
Chairman ICE's working group on water Professor Peter Guthrie said, "If the water crisis becomes critical it will pose a serious threat to the UK's future development because of the impact it would have on our access to vital resources. Food prices would sky-rocket and economic growth would suffer. To prevent this we must recognise how the UK's water footprint is impacting on global water scarcity. We should ask whether it is right to import green beans - or even roses - from a water-stressed region like Kenya, for example."
The BBC has an interactive widget of embedded water within various products, so you can see how much "virtual water" different imports have, like beer or cheese. Knowing how much embedded water is in different products, and the water situations in the places where those products come from, will be vital for deciding which imports have to go.
According to the report, when the world's population surpasses 8 billion in about 20 years time, the global demand for food and energy will rise 50%, and demand for fresh water will rise by 30%.
Because the average UK citizen only sees about 3% of the water they consume, with the rest embedded in goods, the rising water crisis could mean a move toward labeling products with their water footprint, similar to the move towards carbon footprint labels on goods. This isn't unique to the UK, either. Most developed countries - including the United States - also need to rethink their imports and consider the water footprint of goods, and the real impact those imports are having on other parts of the world.
More on water footprints
What the Water Crisis Really Means for You and the Planet
We Use How Much Water? Scary Water Footprints, Country by Country
Companies Should Conserve Water and Disclose Water Use Says New Report by Pacific Institute