Wealthy world at risk from water woes elsewhere

Posted: 21 August 2009

A study of the water footprint of Germany emphasises how the developed world needs to care for developing world river basins supplying vast quantities of "virtual water" embedded in imported products and commodities.

While German households use 124 litres of water a day directly, individual Germans use 5288 litres of water a day when the water requirements of producing their food, clothes and other consumption items are included.

In a report to the World Water Week event in Stockholm today, WWF said that Germany's water footprint was 159.5 cubic kilometres of water annually, with only half coming from German rain and rivers.

The water embedded in coffee, soy and beef imports makes Brazil Germany's largest water trading partner, followed by the Ivory Coast (cocoa, coffee, bananas and cotton), neighbours France and the Netherlands, the US and Indonesia (oilseeds, coffee, coconuts, cotton and cocoa).

Other countries carrying a signifiant water footprint from their exports to Germany include Ghana, India, Argentina, Nigeria and the increasingly drier Mediterranean lands of Spain, Italy and Turkey.

Water rich

"Germany is a relatively water rich country but its reliance on water sourced from some of the drier areas of the world still makes it very vulnerable to the degradation of river catchments and groundwater supplies and water related impacts of climate change elsewhere," said Martin Geiger, Head of Freshwater at WWF-Germany.

"National water footprints are underlining just how dependant the developed world is on water from areas where water management is relatively poor," said Dr Stuart Orr, WWF International water policy officer.

"It therefore pays for wealthy nations to support the protection and better management of the river basins and aquifers of the developing world."

Germany is to be commended for having already taken one of the most significant steps to caring for the sources of its water in being the only G8 nation to sign up to an international treaty designed to reduce conflict and promote appropriate water management on waters forming or crossing borders.

Water convention

However, more than a decade since an overwhelming great majority of the world's nations approved the UN Watercourses Convention, it still lacks enough signatories to come into effect although three quarters of the world's countries share waters and 40 per cent of world population are in border catchments.

"Other major economies would do well to follow Germany's example in signing up to the UN Watercourses Convention to provide a global framework for minimising the risks of disruption to the water supplies they depend on," said Flavia Loures, who leads a WWF-initiated global campaign to have the convention brought into effect by 2011.

To read a full summary of Germany's water footprint click here