Virtual Water


Did you know how much water you actually consume?

According to Unesco estimates, a human being needs 20 to 50 liters of water daily in order to survive. Yet, the per capita water consumption in the households of Netherlands amounts to 148 liters per day (Vewin Drinking Water Statistics, 2012), 300 % of the maximum of water you need to survive. Unfortunately our actual water consumption is way higher! This surplus is explained with the concept of  Virtual Water.

Virtual Water accounts for the amount of water used in the production of everyday commodities, ranging from bread, over a microchip to a car. Processing one kilogram of beef might consume (depending on source) around 155 liters of water, yet, the virtual quantity of water amounts to roughly 15.415 liters of water (Segdhi, The Guardian, 2013). Why? Producing beef you do not only drinking water for cattle, but also enormous amounts of water for the irrigation of feed crops. One cup of coffee, which you are looking forward to in the morning requires 140 liters of virtual water, 100 sheets of printing paper devours 1000 liters.

More numbers:


Foodstuff Water consumption, litres Quantity
Chocolate 1 kg 17,196
Beef 1 kg 15,415
Sheep Meat 1 kg 10,412
Pork 1 kg 5,988
Butter 1 kg 5,553
Chicken meat 1 kg 4,325
Cheese 1 kg 3,178
Olives 1 kg 3,025
Rice 1 kg 2,497
Cotton 1 @ 250g 2,495
Pasta (dry) 1 kg 1,849
Bread 1 kg 1,608
Pizza 1 unit 1,239
Apple 1 kg 822
Banana 1 kg 790
Potatoes 1 kg 287
Milk 1 x 250ml glass 255
Cabbage 1 kg 237
Tomato 1 kg 214
Egg 1 196
Wine 1 x 250ml glass 109
Beer 1 x 250ml glass 74
Tea 1 x 250 ml cup 27

(Source: The Guardian, Segdhi, 2013 -”How much water is needed to produce food and how much do we waste?”)

Solving the problem

To solve the problem of exceedingly high water consumptions experts made the consideration to combat our high virtual water consumption by using an innovative economic approach: Countries with a lack of water should, Instead of exporting water-extensive products, such as wheat or vegetables, import such goods. Basically a simple idea, right? Unfortunately this approach splits on the laws of our economy: Since water-poor countries are mostly economically handicapped, they are not able to afford imports of such commodities. In addition to that political barriers come into play. A lack of water inevitably leads to a form of dependency, which no state wants to be in. For this reason it is mostly financial aid by industrialized countries trying to equalize this dramatic water-gradient. Fact is that, without the import of water-extensive products, the food provision in many countries would collapse. According to the UNESCO countries of the Middle East and Northern Africa imported around 40 million tons of wheat and flour since the early 1990s – An amount equal to the water transported through all of Egypt by the Nile river.