UK water footprint among the largest in the world, says WWF

The UK is the world’s sixth largest net importer of water, according to a report by WWF published on Wednesday at a conference in Stockholm to mark World Water Week

The study measures the UK’s ‘water footprint’ – all the water consumed nationally along with that used in other countries to make food and clothing which are then imported. WWF says that only Brazil, Mexico, Japan, China and Italy import more water than the UK. The NGO estimates that only 32% of the UK’s total water use comes from national sources.

Addressing experts in Stockholm on Monday, WWF director general James Leape warned that behind the world food crisis is a global freshwater crisis. He said that many of the world’s irrigation areas are highly stressed and are drawing more water than rivers and groundwater reserves can sustain.

WWF warns that increases in population, changes in consumption patterns and the effects of climate change will make this strain on global water resources more acute. If left unchecked, it will affect the cost and supply of water-intensive products. The NGO’s analysis shows cocoa beans, cotton, palm oil and soya along with coffee, maize and rice are some of the most water intensive of all imported commodities.

It is calling for the UK’s largest companies to evaluate their water footprints and promote sustainable water use in regions where water is scarce.

“The private sector has a very important role to play. It can engage with governments and communities along its supply chain to support better water management,” said Stuart Orr, WWF’s water footprint expert. “In order to reduce risk, businesses need to do their utmost to encourage more efficient and effective water use in the water stressed areas where they operate.”

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