Environmental Isuues

What is Virtual Water, use, trade and example


What is virtual water?

Virtual water is an important factor to be considered. Because water scarcity in the world is increasing. To save the water in areas of water problem virtual water concept should be known by us. In this discussion, we are going to try to understand the concept of virtual water, why we should know about it, how this concept has evolved?

Virtual water is the amount of water embodied in the production of various foods and fibre and non-food items, including energy. The idea of virtual water is significant because it supports us to realize why we need to think about water and food security as we have solid evidence that the available water resources are inadequate to sustain our national economies. Virtual water also termed “indirect water” or “embedded water,” or the water which is “hidden” in our day-to-day products, services we use, and processes that people purchase and use in everyday life. Although we cannot see the virtual water by the end-user of the products or services, that water has been spent throughout the entire value chain.

Virtual Water in daily life:

To meet the Water Footprint Calculator requirements, ‘virtual water’ is always used interchangeably with the indirect water usage. The concept of both means the water which is consumed at every phase in the value chain of the given goods, services, or processes. For example, it needs near 1300 cubic meters of water to grow a ton of wheat and 16000 cubic meters of water to grow a ton of beef. Therefore, someone who eats too much beef can consume about five cubic meters of embodied water every day. On the contrary, a vegetarian consumes only 2.5 cubic meters of water every day. The manufacture of a cotton T-shirt considering about 250 grams requires nearly 2.7 cubic meters of water.  Ten liters of orange juice requires 220 liters of water for irrigation purposes and cleaning the fruit. Besides that morning cup of coffee needs around 140 liters of water to produce, package and transport the beans. That is approximately the similar amount of water used by a typical person every day in England for drinking purposes and household needs. A typical hamburger needs about 2,400 liters of water. An American consumes about 6,800 liters of virtual water daily which is over triple of Chinese.

On the contrary, direct water use can be termed as the visible water, felt and used in a particular time and location to grow an item or service such as tap water. People need water for various direct and indirect purposes. Direct purposes contain drinking, bathing, and cooking. In maximum developed countries, municipal water users are linked to water by their municipal water distribution system and their home-based plumbing system. People turn on the water tap, water releases and they use it for their purpose. Another way to visualize direct water usage is that it is the water essential to carry out an activity or operation. In another word, at any particular point in time in the formation of a service or product, water which is used in a specific activity that comes from a pipe or tap. For example, a microchip producer who needs distilled water for his process, or an industry that needs a huge amount of water for cleaning, are both directly spending water in their operations. If we take together, all the phases in which they use direct water add up to the total water needed to get a final product to consumers. That sum can be measured by the content of virtual water.

Virtual water (also called “indirect water”) refers to the water used to grow different goods and services. For instance, we can think about the water required to eat a box of cereal so that you can enjoy a full bowl of tasty corn flakes? The flakes are dry and crispy. So we may surprise how can water is involved in the process. To manufacture and package the food products like corn flakes take a massive quantity of water. The corn was definitely irrigated while it was being produced. The factory that manufactures the corn flakes used an amount of water in almost every phase. They use water from washing the corn before the production process started to cleaning away what was left behind at the end. Even the box of paper that holds the corn flakes needed a large amount of water to manufacture.

How the concept of virtual water come?

Virtual water is a topic that has been discussed repeatedly in various international conferences and meetings. For example, this topic was discussed at the World Water Forum arranged by the World Water Council. It was also a topic at the Stockholm World Water Week organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute. Various publications on this issue have been increasing quickly in different international journals. Debates are going on the benefit and feasibility of the idea to import virtual water to lessen local water scarcity. “Virtual water” was first developed in the situation of water scarcity at North African and Middle Eastern countries. These countries depended on imports for the big percentage of their food. By doing that, they lessen the significant demand for water in local food production plus compensate for the lack of water. Importing food is nearly equivalent to treading water for these countries. Previously virtual water was termed as the water embodied in food import. Over the years, both the scope and terminology of virtual water have been stretched beyond the original purpose. Presently, the best-accepted definition of virtual water is the water needed for the production of different commodities. Virtual water has great impacts on worldwide trade policy and research. Especially in the regions which suffering from water scarcity, virtual water is an important factor.

Why virtual water is now a global issue?

By clarifying how and why many nations such as Argentina, Brazil, and the US ‘export’ billions of litres of water per year and other countries like Egypt, Italy, and Japan ‘import’ billions of litres of water, the concept of virtual water has unlocked the entry for more productive use of precious water. Regional, national, and global water safety, for example, can be enhanced when water-intensive goods are traded from the areas where they are more economically sustainable to produce to places where they are not. At the time of studying water scarcity at the Middle East, Prof. Dr. Allan established the concept of virtual water importing, via food, as a substitute water “source” to lessen pressure on the low available domestic water resources there and in the other regions where water is less available. Virtual water trade allows the water-scarce countries to buy high water-consuming goods and export products that are low water consumption to make water available for other purposes.

Hopefully, the readers have understood the basic idea about virtual water. If you have any further questions feel free to comment below.


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