This week marks five years since I was given the life-changing opportunity to travel with Wateraid America to see their work on the ground in Nicaragua. I blogged about the experience extensively, but words will never quite adequately express what that trip meant to me, personally and professionally. It not only solidified my commitment to amplifying the need for clean water and sanitation globally, it also gave me some much needed time for self-reflection during a tumultuous time in my life. I am a better person because of that trip, and I remain committed to the cause. Plus I gained some pretty amazing friendships.
We hosted a Twitter chat (do they still do those in 2019?!) on World Water Day from the WaterAid America offices in Bilwi using spotty internet which generated quite a lot of conversation back then. To celebrate World Water Day in 2019, WaterAid has released a new report that “uncovers the virtual water used in daily products, such as coffee, wheat and rice.”
If you are not familiar, World Water Day – which I have also blogged extensively about – is an “international observance and an opportunity to learn more about water related issues, be inspired to tell others and take action to make a difference.” Celebrated on March 22nd, it was first recognized by the United Nations in 1992. This year’s theme is ‘Leaving no one behind,” an adaptation of the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: as sustainable development progresses, everyone must benefit.
Here are some eye-opening stats from WaterAid’s report, Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019:
- One in nine people do not have access to clean water close to home, and just under two thirds of the world’s population – 4 billion – live in areas of physical water scarcity, where for at least part of the year demand exceeds supply.
- 1 percent or 2.7 million people in the USA do not have clean water close to home.
- In many areas the amount of groundwater—water pumped out of underground aquifers for irrigation—exceeds the amount that is naturally replenished. This can cause wells and pumps to run dry. Global groundwater depletion has increased by 22% in the past decade, largely due to rising demand in India (23%), China (102%) and the US (31%).
- Wealthy nations are able to import large amounts of water-intensive goods, which can then drive economic growth in poorer exporting nations. But if this is not done in a sustainable way, in extreme cases poorer nations then see their water supplies depleted by production for export, even as their own people do not have access to enough clean water for basic daily use.
- In the US, the average consumer’s water footprint is twice the global average. To achieve an equal water footprint for people around the globe, US consumers would need to reduce their water footprint by 70%.
- Some products have a huge water footprint:
- Your morning cup of coffee contains about 200 ml of actual water, yet the ground coffee takes 35 gallons to produce. An alternative might be to have a cup of tea instead, at 9 gallons per cup.
- Avocados have an estimated water footprint of over 238 gallons per pound.
- Rice accounts for 40% of all global irrigation, and 17% of global groundwater depletion, with an average water footprint of over 1,200 gallons of water per pound.
- Cotton is a thirsty fabric: grown and produced in India it has a water footprint of 12,000 gallons per pound; in Pakistan, this is an average of 5,000 gallons and in the United States about 4,200 gallons.
Download the full report (and find some action steps to take): Beneath the Surface: The State of the World’s Water 2019
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