Saturday, December 9

One hundred tubs of water to get a kilo of chocolate

What water footprint does food have? / Alex Sanchez

From food to clothing, both make use of water in their production. Spain is the second European country with the largest water footprint, but what is it?

Drink a glass of water, wash clothes, cook, take a shower. These are all daily activities that have an impact on water consumption. A brand that is reflected in the household bill and also on the planet.

By 2050, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people are predicted to live in areas with water stress for at least one month of the year, up from 3.6 billion today. Going to the tap and seeing the water fall is something common in many cities, but not in all.

Water is an increasingly scarce resource and it is present much more than you might think. It is estimated that 70% of the global water footprint is related to food, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

China, India and the United States are the countries with the largest water footprint in the world, accounting for 38% of water consumption

A kilo of chocolate needs 17,196 liters of water and a hamburger 2,400 liters. This includes not only the water incorporated into the product itself, but also the water that has been contaminated, returned to the sea or evaporated in all processes.

China, India and the United States are the countries with the largest water footprint in the world, accounting for 38% of water consumption. However, Spain is not far behind according to the Water footprint network, which calculates these figures.

In fact, the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal are the two countries of the European Union with the largest water footprint, with a consumption of almost 13,000 liters (6,900, Portugal; 6,700, Spain).

change in production

With water reserves well below average, the concept of “water stress” is increasingly present on the agendas of governments. Despite the rains of recent weeks, the national reservoirs are at 48% of their capacity, 20 percentage points below the average of the last ten years.

Restrictions on its use have already appeared in some areas in the south of the country and concern is growing. Last 2018, are the latest data available in the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the consumption in Spain of this resource was 118 liters per day.

However, households are not the main cause of this ‘exhaustion’. Agriculture occupies 70% of the water that is withdrawn in the world, and agricultural activities represent an even greater proportion due to evapotranspiration from crops.

Globally, more than 330 million hectares have irrigation facilities. Irrigated agriculture represents 20% of the total cultivated area and contributes 40% of the total food production worldwide. Among vegetables, pumpkins and cucumbers are among the most sustainable crops.

In this context of limitations, the world of agriculture works to find strategies to reduce the use of water in food production. Drip irrigation is the most widespread in Spanish fields, but it is not the only technology adapted to these lands.

Big data or data analysis is one of the new tools available to workers in this sector to, among other things, monitor and calculate the amount of water that food needs. “The farms have to be sustainable and that is what we study,” highlights Ieltxu Gómez, director of the Las Palmerillas de Cajamar Experimental Station.

The work carried out in its centers with the technological help of IBM shows that up to 13% of water can be saved in tomato cultivation. “This field of broad beans, in our experience, is irrigated for five minutes a week,” he explains as he picks a bean from the plant. “That’s a glass of water.”

“Water is the vital element of ecosystems (including forests, lakes and wetlands), on which our present and future food and nutritional security depends,” warns the FAO, which was already alarming a few years ago about the water future to which face the planet.

It is expected that within 30 years the world population will reach 9,000 million people, according to the United Nations, while the demand for water will grow by 55%, mainly in the industrial sector.

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