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Water footprint promotes sustainable and fair use of water resources

Together with six global partners including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and UNESCO, the University of Twente in The Netherlands will found the Water Footprint Network on October 16, 2008.

The ‘water footprint’, developed by UT Professor Arjen Hoekstra, gives a detailed insight into the water consumption of individuals, companies and countries. The new network will promote sustainable, fair and efficient use of water on a global scale.

The ‘water footprint’ measures the amount of water that a country, company or individual uses each year. This includes the water needed to produce goods: the water withdrawn from surface as well as ground water and soil water. For a simple cup of coffee, for example, an average of 140 litres of water is needed, 2,700 litres for a cotton shirt, 16,000 for a kilo of beef. Taking all this into account on a global scale, we get a water footprint of 7,500 billion cubic metres a year. Per individual this is an average of 1,250 cubic meters a year. An American citizen uses twice that amount, a Chinese or Indian citizen far less. In The Netherlands, just 20 percent of the water footprint is Dutch water, the rest of it is foreign.

Thus, the water footprint also indicates the geographic spread: where on the planet do we use most of the water for our goods? The concept has been developed by Professor Arjen Hoekstra, who heads the Twente Water Centre at his university and is the scientific director of the new Water Footprint Network: “Many countries do not produce the typical water-intensive products themselves. This puts a huge pressure on the water resources of exporting countries, where too often wise water governance is lacking. The water footprint doesn’t just help governments in better management of water resources; companies and public organisations can take their responsibility as well.”

The Water Footprint Network helps increasing awareness by developing new standards and tools. “A unique opportunity for governments and businesses to apply the water footprint methodology and reduce the water risks to economy, society and nature,” says executive director Derk Kuiper. The Water Footprint Network will soon be open to all relevant stakeholders including academic institutions, government and non-government organisations, companies and UN organisations.

The Water Footprint Network is a joint initiative of the University of Twente, the World Wide Fund for Nature, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, the Water Neutral Foundation, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank group) and the Netherlands Water Partnership. The public launch of the network will be in December 2008.

Wiebe van der Veen | alfa
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