What is Virtual Water?

“The gravity of the impending water crisis demands innovative thinking and diverse perspectives; Tony has helped unlock those for the benefit of all.”
– Jim Leape, Director General, WWF International

The concept of virtual water was developed by Tony Allan, Professor of Geography at Kings College London, and the author of a new introduction to virtual water – Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to Our Planet’s Most Precious Resource.

“I heartily recommend the book as essential reading as is not only informative but also fun and easy to read.”
– Barbara Frost, Chief Executive of WaterAid

Virtual Water will shock you into thinking about water in new ways. Put simply, we human beings don’t understand the true value of water, and we are at a point in our relationship with nature’s vast but limited water resources where we simply cannot afford to stay ignorant. Already, our over-consumption and mismanagement of water has had a very serious impact on our water environments and the essential services they provide.

Our ignorance is immense. Most of us don’t have the slightest idea about the sheer volumes of water involved in our daily lives. With a global population pushing seven billion, water scarcity is not just a possibility. It is already a reality for many.

We think in terms of the water we can see – the water we use for drinking and washing. But there is a far greater consumption of water that is invisible to us – the water used in all the processes involved in producing goods and food. This is what is meant by Virtual Water. It is immense. We use about 150 litres of water a day for drinking and washing. If we include our virtual water consumption, this figure rises to 3,500 litres!

How much water is there in your espresso? 140 litres. It takes 140 litres to grow, package and ship the beans that make 1 cup of coffee.

Virtual water is a concept that people should able to grasp easily. And once grasped, deploy. Virtual water can help all of us understand the characteristics of water, its nature and our (mis)use of it. It will help us to get to grips with our collective impact on our national and global water security. Once we understand water truly, we will be able to use it wisely. There are 6.8 billion reasons why we need to understand water properly. 6.8 billion thirsty human being unwittingly consuming between 2 and 5 cubic metres of water each day. Understanding virtual water will allow us to manage our water use more effectively and to ensure mutual water security for our large, and continually growing global population.

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