Traditionally, water has often played a forgotten role as an input to the commodities we consume. However, our food and clothing cannot be made without a great deal of water. Fundamental to this is an assessment of the way that food, bio-fuel and cotton production can drive the over-abstraction and pollution of freshwater ecosystems. UK lifestyles are dependent on water from many nations, making British lives inextricably linked with what happens elsewhere.

While average household water use in the UK is around 150 litres per person per day, UK consumption of products from other countries means that each English citizen effectively soaks up a staggering 4,645 litres of the world’s water every day. Even if this massive amount seems important in itself, the critical issue is where this virtual water comes from. In the case of the UK, about 62% of the total national water footprint is accounted for by water from other nations, whereas only 38% is used from domestic water resources. In other words, UK consumption of food and clothing has an impact on rivers and aquifers both globally and in the UK and is inextricably linked to the continuing security and good management of water resources in other parts of the world. It also has an impact on local communities who rely on the water and other services that are provided by such ecosystems. In order to address this, it is important to realise that, while reducing UK total water footprint might help, the best solutions will involve promoting good management of water in river basins. This includes more efficient farming practices and improved allocation of water between different water users.

The UK’s external agricultural water footprint


Chapagain, A. K. and S. Orr (2008) UK Water Footprint: The impact of the UK's food and fibre consumption on global water resources, Volume 1, WWF-UK, Godalming, UK.
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