STOCKHOLM - The world's growing
food crisis -- which triggered riots and demonstrations in over 30
developing nations early this year -- is being aggravated primarily by
wastage and overconsumption.
"Obesity is a much bigger
problem than undernourishment," said Professor Jan Lundqvist of the
Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).
He pointed out that there are 850 million people worldwide who
suffer from hunger and starvation daily compared with over 1.2 billion
people who are overweight and obese, which can lead to a vast range of
health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Stockholm International Water
Conference, Lundqvist told reporters Thursday that "improving water
productivity and reducing the quantity of food wasted can enable us to
provide a better diet for the poor and enough food for growing
A study titled "Saving Water" released here argues that while
the risk of under-nourishment is reduced with an increasing supply of
food -- provided access is ensured -- the risk of over-eating and
wastage is also likely to increase when food becomes more abundant in
In the United States, as much as 30 percent of food products,
worth some 48.3 billion dollars, is thrown away annually just by
"That's like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion
litres of water into the garbage can -- enough water to meet the
household needs of 500 million people," says the report co-authored by
SIWI, along with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome
and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Sri Lanka.
The study also says that wasted food is wasted water because of the
large quantum of water that goes into the cultivation and processing of
Professor John Anthony Allan of King's College, London, the
winner of the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize, is the author of a concept
called "virtual water" where he argues that people consume water not
only when they drink it or take a shower but also when they consume
The virtual water concept measures water embedded in the
production and trade of food and consumer products-- from the field and
the factory to the dinner table.
A cup of coffee, for example, accounts for about 140 litres of
water that is used in growing, producing, packaging and shipping the
One single hamburger accounts for an estimated 2,400 litres of
water; one kilogramme of beef consumes 15,000 litres of water; a slice
of white bread takes in 40 litres of water; and one kilogramme of
cheese absorbs 5,000 litres of water.
"I was very surprised with the high numbers. But it catches
everybody's attention," Allan told IPS. The figures, he said, were
worked out scientifically by researchers in the Netherlands.
Asked whether there was a direct link between water and food
scarcities, he said while there is a shortage of food in some parts of
the world, there is also a need for twice as much food in other parts
of the world.
"So, there is a distribution problem. But this also reflects the maldistribution of water," he said.
Charlotte de Fraiture, a researcher at IWMI, says that as much
as half of the water used to grow food globally may be lost or wasted.
"Curbing these losses and improving water productivity
provides win-win opportunities for farmers, business, ecosystems, and
the global hungry," she said.
And an effective water-saving strategy requires that
minimising food wastage is firmly placed on the political agenda, she
SIWI says a 50 percent reduction of losses and wastage in the
production and consumption chain is a necessary and achievable goal.
Meanwhile, a report released by the World Wide Fund for Nature
(WWF) says that while each person in Britain drinks, hoses, flushes and
washes their way through around 150 litres of water a day, they consume
about 30 times as much in "virtual water" embedded in food, clothes and
other items -- the equivalent of about 58 bathtubs full of water every
Titled "UK Water Footprint: The impact of the UK's food and
fibre consumption on global water resources", the study released here
points out that Britain is the world's sixth largest importer of water.
"Only 38 percent of UK's total water use comes from its own rivers,
lakes and groundwater reserves," Stuart Orr, WWF-UK's water footprint
The rest, he said, is taken from water bodies in many
countries across the world to irrigate and process food and fibre crops
that people in Britain subsequently consume.
He said that WWF is encouraging some of the largest companies
in Britain to evaluate their water footprints, which assesses the
amount of water a business uses both directly and indirectly through
its supply chain.
According to WWF, a single tomato from Morocco takes 13 litres
of water to grow, while a shirt made from cotton grown in Pakistan or
Uzbekistan soaks up 2,700 litres of water.
Orr said most consumers aren't even aware that it takes
massive amounts of water to grow the food and fibres consumed -- on top
of what is used for drinking, washing and watering the lawn.
"Therefore, it is essential that business and government
identify the areas that could potentially suffer water crises and
develop solutions so the environment is not over-exploited to the point
that people and wildlife lose out," Orr added.