By Kim Robson:
Did you know that approximately 90% of all fresh water is used by agriculture (70%) and industry (20%), leaving just 10% for domestic use? The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) is urging coordinated action to reduce the amount of “hidden water” used in food and drink production — estimated at up to 1.8 million liters per person every year — the equivalent of an Olympic size swimming pool.
Every person consumes between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of water embedded in the production of their food, every day — or between 730,000 and 1,825,000 million liters annually. However, as the world’s population grows and more people adopt a western style diet, water needs are estimated to increase by over 50%.
By 2050, we may see around 66%, two out of every three people of the world’s population, living in “water scarce” areas. Compare that to just 7% at present.
Andy Furlong, IChemE director of policy, said this: “Chemical engineers provide many of the high level skills needed to provide the water, food, medicines and energy to sustain our ever-growing population. In recent years and decades, we have seen how difficult it has been to agree and set targets to manage issues like climate change.
“Population growth will throw up similar challenges and will have a direct impact on two of the building blocks for life — food and water. Estimates suggest that we will need to produce 60% more food by 2050. Agriculture will need around 19% more water to produce that extra food.
“It is clear that current production methods are unsustainable and there are genuine risks of food shortages, rising food prices, droughts, and social unrest for future generations unless we make more efficient use of water.”
Furlong continued: “There are solutions, but these will require political will, major investment, and lifestyle changes. Chemical engineers are recommending that a global target is set to reduce the amount of water used in food production worldwide by 20%. In addition, a combination of regulations and incentives should be introduced to require industry to monitor their water usage, as well as be rewarded for using alternative and sustainable water supplies.
“Revised planning frameworks and investment will be needed for the construction of new capacity, infrastructure, and appropriate technologies to improve efficiency of water management in food and drink production. Education also has a role to ensure that consumers understand better how their food is produced to enable them to make informed choices.
“None of this will be cheap or easy, but like the mitigation of climate change, it will be necessary to guarantee our quality of life,” concluded Furlong.
A full analysis of the hidden water footprint in food and IChemE’s recommendations can be found in a new policy report produced by IChemE called “Water Management in the Food and Drink Industry.”