National water footprint accounting: moving beyond traditional statistics

Traditional national water use accounts only refer to the water withdrawal within a country. They do not distinguish between water use for making products for domestic consumption and water use for producing export products. They also exclude data on water use outside the country to support national consumption. In order to support a broader sort of analysis and better inform decision making, the national water use accounts should be extended. The scheme below is a visual representation of the national water footprint accounting scheme introduced by Hoekstra and Chapagain (2008).

The water footprint of national consumption is defined as the total amount of fresh water that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of the nation. It consists of two components:

  • the internal water footprint, i.e. the water use inside the country,
  • the external water footprint, i.e. the water use in other countries.
The water footprint within a nation is defined as the total freshwater volume consumed or polluted within the territory of the nation. It can be calculated by summing the water footprints of all water consuming or polluting processes taking place in the nation.

The virtual-water export from a nation is the total volume of freshwater consumed or polluted to produce the products for export. It consists of exported water of domestic origin and re-exported water of foreign origin. The virtual-water import into a nation will partly be consumed, thus constituting the external water footprint of national consumption and partly be re-exported. The sum of the virtual water import into a country and the water footprint within the area of the nation is equal to the sum of the virtual water export from the nation and the water footprint of national consumption. This sum is called the virtual-water budget of a nation.

National water accounting framework. Source: Hoekstra et al. (2011).

A blue, green and grey water footprint

Water use is measured in terms of water volumes consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. The water footprint splits up into three elements:

  • the blue water footprint refers to the volume of surface water and ground water consumed during production processes (i.e. evaporated or incorporated into the product),
  • the green water footprint refers to the volume of rainwater consumed (i.e. evaporated or incorporated into the product),
  • the grey water footprint refers to the volume of freshwater that is required to assimilate the load of pollutants and calculated as the volume of water that is required to maintain the water quality according to agreed water quality standards.

Water self-sufficiency vs. water dependency

The ‘water self-sufficiency’ of a nation is defined as the ratio of the internal water footprint to the total water footprint of the nation. It denotes the national capability of supplying the water needed for the production of the domestic demand for goods and services. Self-sufficiency is 100% if all the water needed is available and indeed taken from within the own territory. Water self-sufficiency approaches zero if the demand for goods and services in a country is largely met with virtual-water imports. Countries with import of virtual water depend, de facto, on the water resources available in other parts of the world. The ‘virtual-water import dependency’ of a country or region is defined as the ratio of the external water footprint of the country or region to its total water footprint.

Publications

2011 Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) National water footprint accounts: the green, blue and grey water footprint of production and consumption, Value of Water Research Report Series No.50, UNESCO-IHE.
Main Report
Volume 1
download report 50 volume I
2.1 MB
Appendices
Volume 2
download report 50 volume II
1.9 MB
2011
Hoekstra, A.Y., Chapagain, A.K., Aldaya, M.M. and Mekonnen, M.M. (2011) The water footprint assessment manual: Setting the global standard, Earthscan, London, UK.
2008
Hoekstra, A.Y. and Chapagain, A.K. (2008) Globalization of water: Sharing the planet's freshwater resources, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.
2007
Hoekstra, A.Y., Chapagain, A.K.(2007) 'Water footprints of nations: water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern, Water Resources Management 21(1): 35-48.
download
0.44 MB
2004
Chapagain, A.K. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2004) ‘Water footprints of nations’, Value of Water Research Report Series No. 16, UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands.
Main Report
Volume 1
download
2.50 MB
Appendices
Volume 2
download
1.40 MB



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