Water scarcity and our water footprint

Most life forms on our planet cannot survive without water. Our civilisations have depended on water ever since humans walked the earth over 3 million years ago. Major cities including Rotterdam, London, Montreal, Paris, New York City, Buenos Aires, Shanghai, Tokyo, Chicago, and Hong Kong  have become what they are today thanks to the easy accessibility of water which  boosted their trade. Water is essential in agriculture as irrigation is a key component to produce enough food. Moreover, the use of water for transportation of materials through rivers and canals as well as the international shipping lanes is an important part of the world economy. (Wiki; 2014)  Finally water is indispensable in our homes for our heating, showers, washing, toilets and drinking.

Although we know that water essential is to our everyday lives, most of us take it for granted. In the past where man had to travel long distances in search of freshwater for their survival, most of us today are connected to the local water network which supplies us daily with freshwater we enjoy in our homes. In many parts of the world including Africa, Asia and South America experience severe water scarcity. Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region. (Wiki; 2014)

water scarcity

Source: World Water Development Report 4. World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), March 2012

Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people live in areas of physical scarcity and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).

Although water scarcity has multiple causes including climate change, pollution, increased human demand and overuse of water, there is enough for everyone on the planet. The problem is that freshwater is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed. Sources: Human Development Report 2006. UNDP, 2006 Coping with water scarcity. Challenge of the twenty-first century. UN-Water, FAO, 2007

Below is a clear illustration of the average global water footprint of the products we consume daily.

global footrpint

Source: info@one-europe.info http://oneeurope.info/user/files/Briefs/waterfootpriint.jpeg

It may be a surprise to most people that it takes a large amount of water to produce a basic, but unmissable product like bread. Therefore, to get a better idea of the amount of water required to fulfil a person’s average daily consumption, there will be a table provided below.

Water used in products consumed by a person on a daily basis

Food & drinks morning Grams Litres Calories
1 boiled egg 60 200 77
1 Glass of orange  juice (200 ml) N/A 200 112
1 cup of pure black coffee N/A 130 2
Food & drinks afternoon      
2 cheese sandwiches (4 slices of bread and   2 slices of cheese) 160 274.4 73.2    cheese slices308     bread slices
1 glass of milk (non-fat, 250 ml)   248 83
1 apple (mid-afternoon) 150 125 78
Food & drinks early   evening      
Pizza Margherita 725 1260 1,928.5
1 glass of milk (non-fat, 250 ml) N/A 248 83
Food & drinks late in   the evening      
Milk Chocolate bar (half) 50 850 267.5
1 cup of tea N/A 250 2
Average water use Dutch person N/A 1,8 N/A
Total including average water use  N/A  3,787.20 3014,2
Total excluding average water use N/A 3,785.40 3014,2

 Obviously, the example provided above only gives a very general picture of an individuals’ daily consumption. Indeed, there are people who have different diets or eating habits, but still, it is very useful to get an idea of the amount of water used in basic products that we consume on a daily basis.

Going a step further, it is also interesting to see the average amount of water used in our households. (For this study the water consumption of Dutch households will be assessed)

Average water consumption of Dutch household

The average water consumption has significantly reduced from 190 litres per person per day in 1969 to 120 litres per person per day in 2010. That is thanks to the household appliances such as a dishwasher and washing machine that have improved technically and are therefore more efficient and use less water. However, as always, there is still room for improvement.

Activity Average   use per person per time Average   use per person per day
Bath 114.3 litre 2.8 litre
Shower 64.8 litre 48.5 litre
Washstand sink 4 litre 5.0 litre
Toilet flush 5.7 litre 33.7
Washing machine/dishwasher 55,6 / 18.2 litre 15.4
Washing by hand 9.1 litre 6.1
Food preparation   1.4
Drinking tap water   1.8
Kitchen tap   5.3


Of all the activities mentioned above, the shower is the one that uses the most water a day. (48.5 litres)

By now, it is clear that we in the Western world consume large amounts of water in our daily lives. Therefore, it is our responsibility to do whatever we can to reduce our water footprint. There are several ways in which we do this:

  • Installing water saving toilets
  • Applying a water-saving showerhead
  • Closing the tap during teeth brushing,
  • Using less water in the garden
  • Not disposing medicines, paints or other pollutants through the sink.

Going the extra mile – showing the difference

For those who are eager to do more than only reducing water use at home, can also apply water-saving methods when buying items in the supermarket.

  • Substitute a consumer product that has a large water footprint by a different type of product that has a smaller footprint.
  • For example, eat less meat or become vegetarian, drink tea instead of coffee, or even better drink plain water. Source: (© 2014 Water Footprint Network. All rights reserved.)

It is understandable that purchasing products that require less water is a challenge. Especially because many people find it difficult to change their consumer pattern. However, as Tesco’s slogan says: ‘Every Little Helps’ which arguably should be used and applied in our everyday lives.


It is all too clear that water is a vital and precious resource which supports our ecosystems and agricultural lands. The world wouldn’t be rich of biodiversity, grasslands and forests without water. Human civilisation has depended on water for the cultivation of land, growing of crops to produce food and water used to power steam-based engines for electricity generation and transportation. With a global population of more than 7 billion people of which over 1 billion people lack access to safe, adequate and clean freshwater is one of the biggest concerns the world faces today. Climate change, pollution, waste and mismanagement of water are several of the causes of water scarcity in regions around the world. Yet, there is enough water to sustain every one the planet. Indeed, there are many conservation organisations, treaties and multinational companies such as: Nestlé, Philips, Unilever and BMW that focus on sustainability and thus reduce their water footprint. However, we as individuals should do whatever we can to reduce our water footprint at home by making small, but effective changes in the way we live and consume our products. It may take effort, dedication and courage to change our consumer patterns and lifestyle. However, humanity has always adapted to changes throughout world history and today’s society faces greater challenges than ever before. Therefore it can be seen as golden opportunity for everyone of use to play our part and do what we can to make the difference. Making the difference starts by taking small steps in our personal lives, at home and by engaging as many people as possible to make life better for everyone.


Biodiversity: the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat, a high level of which is usually considered to be important and desirable
Ecosystem: a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.
Treaty: a formally concluded and ratified agreement between states.
Water footprint:  the amount of fresh water utilized in the production or supply of the goods and services used by a particular person or group.
Water scarcity: the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_scarcity World Water Development Report 4. World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP), March 2012 Human Development Report 2006. UNDP, 2006 Coping with water scarcity. Challenge of the twenty-first century. UN-Water, FAO, 2007 info@one-europe.info http://one-europe.info/user/files/Briefs/waterfootpriint.jpeg http://www.waterfootprint.org/?page=files/productgallery © 2014 FatSecret. All rights reserved. http://www.fatsecret.com/ (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2010, 2011, 2012)https://www.vitens.nl/vragen/Paginas/Wetenswaardigheden-Hoeveel-water-verbruiken-we-per-dag.aspx

Over jasonclarke93

Dear reader, welcome to my blog. My name is Jason Clarke I'm 21 years old and I live near Eindhoven (Netherlands). I am an International Business and Management student at Fontys Hogescholen in Eindhoven. I have always been interested in the world and how it is rapidly changing. That's the reason why I am blogging about the issues that affect us globally. I hope that you enjoy reading my blogs and please feel free to contact me!
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