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The Hidden Cost of Consumer Consumption and Water Scarcity

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Did you know that avocados have an estimated water footprint of almost 2,000 litres per kilogram. In Chile’s arid Petorca region, every cultivated hectare of avocados requires 100,000 litres a day of irrigation. Villagers nearby now depend on trucked-in water supplies, after underground aquifers and rivers dried up. That is the reality of the hidden cost of consumer consumption and water scarcity. 

Today, March 22 is World Water Day, a day designated by the United Nations to bring attention to the importance and need of safe water around the world. Water is life and access to safe water is a basic human right. However, 2.1 billion people around the world live without safe drinking water affecting their health, wellbeing, education and livelihoods. Water is so critical to life and wellbeing that it was added by the UN as a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) which commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes measures to protect the natural environment and reduce pollution.

Unfortunately we are falling well short of achieving this goal and billions of people are still living without safe water in their homes, schools, workplaces and businesses making it difficult to survive and to thrive. The impact of water poverty hits even harder on marginalized groups such as women, children, refugees and other disadvantaged people who have an even harder time getting access to safe water spending hours a day making a long, treacherous journey to remote water sources.

In my work, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and write about safe water and have witnessed firsthand the impact of bringing safe water to communities during a trip to Western Kenya last year with LifeStraw.  I have also been fortunate to have seen the work of WaterAid -the world’s leading nonprofit providing safe water and sanitation around the world – on the ground in both India and Ethiopia. The more I’ve seen, the more passionate I’ve become about spreading awareness about water poverty and injustice and what we can personally do to make a difference.

In honor of World Water Day, WaterAid has published a new report, Beneath the Surface, that uncovers why and how water poverty exists and identifies the massive amounts of water used in daily products, such as coffee, wheat, rice, cotton and more. The results of the reports are surprising and a bit scary. However, the upside is that the report suggests what we as consumers can do about it and how we can personally make a difference.

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