There is no resource more critical to life on the planet than water – yet as a result of human activity, we find it as so many other vital reserves to be in increasingly short supply. With drought and water pollution deepening concerns, the Living Planet Report 2008 (released recently by Global Footprint Network, WWF and Zoological Society of London) adopted a new index to measure human demand on water: the water footprint, developed by University of Twente, Netherlands, Professor Arjen Hoekstra.
The water footprint measures human demand on freshwater sources much as the Ecological Footprint quantifies demand on living resources. The water footprint looks at how many liters of fresh water it takes to produce a particular product, like a cotton shirt, as well as the total amount of water it takes to produce all the food, good and services consumed by a population, such as Finland.
“The water footprint enables us to more clearly understand the role that global trade plays in addressing local water scarcity. By tracking the flow of water and living resources in our globalized economy through the water footprint and the Ecological Footprint, we are able to advocate for the effective management of these resources,” said Global Footprint Network Manager of Research and Standards Shiva Niazi.
How Nations’ Water Use Compares
The United States topped the chart both for Ecological and water footprint, but other countries showed significant differences in their use of water versus other resources, according to the Living Planet Report. Many of the countries with the largest water footprints, including Sudan, Thailand, Malaysia, Papua-New Guinea and Mali, have Ecological Footprints significantly smaller than world average, with residents consuming relatively few material resources. As with the Ecological Footprint, the water footprint includes both the resource cost of that which is produced and consumed within the country itself, and that embedded in the products the country imports from abroad.
Water Footprint Network Launched
On December 13, Hoekstra and colleague Derk Kuiper launched the Water Footprint Network, an organization aimed at promoting the transition toward sustainable, fair and efficient use of freshwater resources by advancing the science and application of the water footprint.
Global Footprint Network – along with organizations such as U.S. AID, the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, and the Nature Conservancy – is one of Water Footprint Network’s first partners. “Clearly, it is important to understand the dynamics of human pressure on water supply just as we do on resources like trees, fish, crops and grassland,” Niazi said. “Used in conjunction with the Ecological Footprint, the water footprint provides a powerful additional resource for evaluating a population’s resource consumption.”
I’m quite pleased to see a water index as a compliment to the ecological footprint development. We need to now integrate the EF, WF and “Atmospheric Footprint”. Indeed, without all aspects of the ecosystem, we do not have a true “ecological” footprint analysis. Some time in the future we need the three aspects integrated dynamically, and have the “environmental footprint.” A fine student project has been to “beat the game” of surface area by “double counting” as in integrated ecosystem processes. This is a way to get students to think critically.