For a country facing extreme water shortages right now, India’s water consumption levels are suprising. For one thing, the nation’s water footprint is the highest in the world: as of data released in 2005, India consumes a whopping 13% of the world’s water.
What’s a water footprint anyway?
The water footprint of a country is defined as the total volume of freshwater used to produce goods and services consumed by the people of that country. A country’s water footprint is generally determined by four major factors: volume of consumption, consumption pattern, climate, and agricultural usage.
In a study called the “Water footprint of nations: Water use by people as a function of their consumption patterns,” Hoestra and Chapagain explain that a country’s water footprint has two aspects: an internal component (the domestic water resources used to produce things consumed by the people in India) and an external water component (water resources used in other countries to produce things consumed in India.)
To put things in perspective, although India’s overall water consumption is high, its per capita usage is relatively moderate (the US consumes 2480m3 of water per capita per year while India consumes about 900 m3 per capita per year.)
Image Credit: Saabira Chaudhuri
While in rich countries, people generally use more water, this isn’t always the case as it’s the composition of the consumption package that counts.
Climate also plays a significant part: countries with more evaporative climates use more water, as do agricultural practices: inefficient practices naturally amount to more water usage.
Why should a country like India care?
The water footprint concept originated from the notion of virtual water trade that attempts to explain global water flows between regions and countries through the trade of mostly agricultural commodities. These global flows lead to water dependencies between countries and are eventually related to local water scarcity situations.
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According to Derk Kuiper, executive director of the Water Footprint Network, determining a country’s water footprint can therefore “shed light through data on important issues like inefficiencies in agriculture, pollution and also be related to socio-economic issues like competition for water between different uses. If we look at the social agenda, most competition is not for drinking water though but for irrigation water.”
This is particularly relevant for a country like India, whose economy is so heavily dependant on agriculture.
Reducing your water footprint:
Hoestra and Chapagain point out that it’s essential to break the link between economic growth and higher water usage—agricultural efficient practices (like rain water harvesting) are one way.
A nation could shift to consumption patterns that require less water. While consumers are becoming more aware of energy usage, due to government’s practice of subsidizing water, they aren’t as concerned.
A table below, extracted from Hoestra and Chapagain’s paper shows the virtual water usage for (or water used in the production of) certain goods/services:
A third possible method could be to shift production from areas with low water to productivity to those with high productivity.
A case study of India argues that “the existing pattern of inter-state virtual water trade is exacerbating scarcities in already water scarce states, with virtual water flows moving from water scarce to water rich regions and running in the opposite direction to the proposed physical transfers. Rather than being dictated by water endowments, virtual water flows are influenced by many other factors such as per capita availability of arable land and more importantly by biases in food and agriculture policies of the Government of India as indicated by the Food Corporation of India’s procurement patterns… In order to have a comprehensive understanding of virtual water trade, non-water factors of production need to be taken into consideration.”
To calculate your own water footprint, click here.