The industry often releases pollutants into the water. Especially in countries with little control by the authorities and a lot of corruption, the wastewater from factories is often channeled unfiltered into rivers and lakes.
The pesticides and fertilizers used in agriculture make a significant contribution to water pollution.
Another problem is the lack of sanitation in many places. Wastewater and fecal matter are not drained off, but often escape unprotected, polluting the water people use to wash, cook and drink. This has devastating consequences for the health.
Why is that?
One reason is the distribution problem.
Globally (purely mathematically) there is actually enough water on earth, so that each person can satisfy his basic needs. The problem is an unfair distribution.
Even if theoretically there is enough drinking water in a region that does not mean that everyone has access to clean drinking water. Often there is a lack of the necessary infrastructure, which brings the water also to poor and marginalized parts of society. Partly, water is so expensive that only the rich can afford enough water. In regions where conflicts prevail, access to water is used as a means of power. For example, much of the West Bank’s water resources are under Israeli control, and only a small proportion of the water is granted to the Palestinian population.
By definition, water consumption means: In the commercial sense, the amount of water consumed during use that is not dissipated as cooling water or wastewater, which therefore remains in the product, evaporates or otherwise leaves the pipe system.
In a more comprehensive definition of the term, in addition to commercial or municipal consumption, the amount of surface and groundwater consumed by plants and either transpired or consumed directly to build up the plant tissue and the water evaporated by the cultivation area in volume units per unit area are taken into account.
What role does “virtual water” play in the sustainability discussion?
The term “virtual water” describes the amount of water used to make a product, whether industrial or agricultural.
Or, in short, “virtual water” is the water used to produce a product. Tony Allan – “inventor of the term virtual water” / study “Water Footprints of Nations” (2004)
An example of getting started: About 16,000 liters of water are used to produce one kilogram of beef. In addition to the water used to soak the animals, the water used to grow the feed for the cattle is also calculated, for example.
And now the water footprint comes into play.
What does balancing the virtual water of a country look like?
When determining the total water footprint of the inhabitants of a country, a total of three parameters must be distinguished:
1) Internal water footprint: Domestic production of agricultural and industrial goods, water for domestic use and application.
2) External water footprint: Imported virtual water for the production of goods in other countries claimed water resources.
3) Share of the water footprint of exported goods.
The water footprint is one thing, the water supply is the other. Water supply is the usable amount of fresh water that is available from the natural water cycle for a certain period of time.
If one compares the water supply and the water footprint for Germany, the following figures result.
Water footprint of the Germans: 126 Mrd. m³/Jahr
Water footprint of exported goods: 70 Mrd. m³/Jahr
Total water footprint : 196 Mrd. m³/Jahr
For Germany, the renewable water supply is only 188 billion m³ / year.
Now, the so-called water usage index comes into play as an indicator. This index indicates how high the water withdrawals in Germany are, measured by the renewable water resources.
If 20% or more of the water supply is used, international comparisons speak of water stress.
The result of heavy water use is environmental problems and obstruction or even blockage of economic development (Raskin et al., 1997; https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/use-of-freshwater-resources-2/raskin-et-al.-1997).
An example is that groundwater near the coast is salinated by seawater. Another example: Due to sinking groundwater levels, marshes and wetlands can dry out and get lost.
In Germany there is generally no water stress, but there are regional and seasonal differences. The precipitation in Germany very unevenly distributed. Regions such as Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt are particularly low precipitation. Other regions, for example in the Alpine foothills, are very rainy.
The fact is that in the future the water use index will be used more and more to describe climate change with additional indicator values and to change people’s behavior. However, as long as we live on the “right side” of the globe, we too often evade responsibility. So it is even more important that we talk about it and trigger our # awareness of change.
A need for action exists when the production of goods leads to the overuse of water resources. The overall objective should be sustainable water use of the renewable water supply. The problem that each of us faces is: How can I, as a consumer, independently assess my lifestyle and recognize “water-saving” products?
Our options for action, which could be followed up immediately:
- Reduced meat consumption and / or (organic) meat from the region
- Buy regional seasonal produce, preferably from organic farming
- Consider origin (for imported products), e.g. Fairtrade and eco label as decision support
- Use high-quality and durable products (for industrial goods)
Our goals with Wasser 3.0 #rethink is that we through our environmental communication
- Provide access to the subject of water and make clear dimensions and connections
- Communicate more understanding of the role of virtual water in the water circuit.
- Convey a differentiated view between “harmful” and “harmless” virtual water.
- Understand the connections between one’s own lifestyle and the use of water in other regions of the world, and
- that we finally have a motivating effect on rethinking and adapting one’s lifestyle.
Changes start in the head. Let’s admit it.