• Khyati Arora

How Much Water Do We Actually Consume? The Virtual Water


A quarter of the world population faces extreme water scarcity
A quarter of the world population faces extreme water scarcity

Life without water is not possible. As a non-replenishing resource, unlike other elements of earth and energy forms, water cannot be created wherever it is needed. Growing urbanization and increasing levels of affluence over the past decade or so, has encouraged competition over water, raising vital questions of access to a plethora of issues such as world hunger, environment management, economy, and trade. This is the story of the water that goes unnoticed. Virtual water!


What is virtual water?

Alarming infographics on virtual water consumption
Alarming infographics on virtual water consumption

The volume of water used to produce consumer products is called virtual water. In simple words, it is the total volume used in producing a product.


For instance - your morning cup of coffee is about 125ml, including water. But how much water does it actually take to prepare a cup of coffee? From growing and harvesting the coffee beans, washing, processing, and grounding them to finally packaging and transporting them, 140 litres of water are consumed (This is the part where you question your water consumption practices).


Thus, it can be said that virtual water is essentially the “latent” or “hidden” water behind a product. On every product that you use, massive volumes of water have already been spent on its journey.

Virtual water trade is a globally relevant concept. Countries from all over the world are nudging and bruising elbows with the consequences of climate change. What is surprising is that the concept of virtual water has been considered in the policies of developed countries for more than 3 decades, whereas, it has only recently encroached on the books of third world countries.

In a recent study, researchers from Anna University, Chennai stated, that a total of 26,000 million litres of virtual water was exported from India between 2006-2016. This amount also includes buffalo meat consumption and cashew imports.


Why does it matter?

Picking from the previous para, in a country like India, consumers are unaware of this virtual water when they purchase imported goods leading to invigorate effective water depletion in form of crop or food demands in another region. This is described as “off-shoring environmental burdens.” When citizens are unaware of such investment of water, how is one to succeed in reducing the virtual water footprint. So, why does it matter?- because you and I continually contribute to this.


What can we do?

Following are doable steps that we as individuals can incorporate in our day to day life to reduce virtual water footprint -

1) Switch off the tap when brushing your teeth. Any leaking tap should be an alarm.

2) Take bucket baths or timed showers.

3) Do laundry in bulk. One large pile is better than multiple small ones.

4) Avoid flushing sanitary napkins down the drain.

5) Also avoid disposing of medicines, paints, or anything else hazardous into the drain.

6) Choosing less food that is processed. Local produce should be the way to go!

7) Buying quality, not quantity - adopt sustainable clothing and electronics

8) Use natural products for cosmetics. For instance, make your face pack at home instead of purchasing it.


As they say, “better late than never.” Get up, green up! It is never to late to incorporate new practices.


Sources: Food and Water Watch Research Matters NRDC Reset Taylor and Francis UNESCO

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