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Why should governments make national water footprint accounts?

Traditionally, countries formulate national water plans by looking how to supply sufficient water to all water users. Nowadays, countries consider options to reduce water demand as well, but they generally do not question the demand itself. They do not explicitly consider options to save water through import of water-intensive products. In addition, by looking only at water use in the own country, most governments have a blind spot regarding the issue of sustainability of national consumption. Many countries have significantly externalized their water footprint without looking whether the imported products are related to water depletion or pollution in the producing countries. Furthermore, few countries that have externalized their water footprint understand their resultant dependency on foreign freshwater resources.

What can governments do?

National water use statistics should be extended in order to include full national water footprint accounts. This broadens the basis for the formulation of a national water plan and river basin plans. Besides, protecting the world’s scarce freshwater resources is not a matter of water policy alone. Goals concerning water protection should be reflected in national policies with respect to the environment, agriculture, energy, trade, foreign affairs and development cooperation.

Coherent national policy towards water footprint reduction

Governments can make sure that agricultural policies are coherent with goals of water protection. In developing a strategy with respect to biofuels, governments should include considerations of global water scarcity. Agricultural and trade policies should be informed by national water scarcity. Governments can promote an international agreement on world-wide water footprint reduction. International cooperation and foreign aid of a nation can focus on hotspots in the world where water scarcity and pollution problems are most severe and where the nation contributes through its own external water footprint. Finally, national targets on water footprint reduction can be translated to specific reduction targets for products, producers and/or sectors.

Promote product transparency

Governments can and should engage with consumers and businesses to work towards sustainable consumer products. They can promote product transparency, by means of voluntary agreements per sector or through legislation.

Coherent national policy towards water footprint reduction

Since the governmental organisation can be regarded as a business in itself, another important thing for governments is to look at the possibility of reducing its own water footprint.

The national water footprint accounting framework

The water footprint of national consumption refers to the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of the nation. Since not all goods consumed in one particular country are produced in that country, the water footprint consists of two parts: use of domestic water resources and use of water outside the borders of the country. Tell me more about the accounting framework...

Your country

The water footprints of countries strongly vary, depending on the consumption of the population, but also depending on the climatic conditions and water-use practice in the regions where the consumer goods are produced. Find out the water footprint of your country...

National water footprint statistics

For most countries of the world, statistics are available on national virtual water imports and exports and on the total water footprint of national consumption. Go to the statistics...

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