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Water is a valuable resource that we use in nearly every facet of our lives. However, only a small part of the earth’s total water is accessible and usable. Additionally, climate change is a known fact that contributes to a global water crisis, calling for better water conservation strategies among humans.

Only 11% of total usable water consumption among humans comes from domestic use. That is the water we drink and use to wash dishes, do laundry, prepare food, take showers, etc. The rest of the freshwater we use comes from different industries.

We call this water for production “virtual water.” Virtual water is the invisible water we as humans use in the various steps of the production chain. Everything we use and consume from goods, services, and even electricity uses water.

Virtual Water Examples

Industries use 19% of our total freshwater consumption to manufacture products and create energy. These companies use water energy to generate electricity or harvest fossil fuels.

The agricultural sector uses most freshwater to make produce. This sector consumes 70% of our freshwater to raise farm animals and food. Water consumption in agricultural food production varies per type of food. Here are a few examples:

  • Tomatoes = 214 liters of water per kilo

  • Potatoes = 287 liters of water per kilo

  • Apples = 822 liters of water per kilo

  • Milk = 1,020 liters of water per liter

  • Eggs = 3,300 liters of water per kilo

  • Beef = 15,415 liters of water per kilo

Why Is It Important to Know About Virtual Water?

Understanding virtual water is the first step to sustainability. As humans, we may unknowingly be enjoying our access to water and food, which we now know requires water to produce. Upon further analysis of the real situation of our water resources, we can tell that food and water security is only an illusion, and our water resources are inadequate to sustain our economies.

How Knowing About Virtual Water Changes Customers’ Perspectives

Western countries consume about 300 liters of water per day, while developing countries only have access to 15 liters of water per day (on average). This should give us more perspective on our water usage habits.

In addition, once we consider how much water it takes to raise certain farm animals, we may use that knowledge to dictate our food choices. For instance, beef requires over 15 thousand liters of water to produce one kilo, so a 300-gram steak may need about 4,600 liters of water. This amount of water is enough to grow 16 kilograms of potatoes.

If we adopt more plant-based diets, we may limit the water consumption it requires to produce the more costly (in terms of virtual water) products. So, instead of using water on livestock, we can increase water availability by channeling the usable water to items and food products we as humans can directly consume.

Virtual water is the concept of invisible water or the water we as humans use to produce the different items and products we eventually consume. The agriculture sector uses the most virtual water by growing fruits and vegetables and raising livestock.

Meat and dairy products require more water consumption than plants. It stands to reason that adopting more plant-based diets may contribute to greater water availability since our water resources would go directly to the food resources humans can readily consume.

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Next: What Are Sustainable Development Goals?

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