so went the rime of the ancient mariner, and he could have a point.  Of the estimated 35 billion trillion litres on the earth, more than 97% is sea water and nearly 2% is frozen leaving us less than 1% available for our household, agricultural and industrial needs.  We tend to take water for granted in the UK, except perhaps for the occasional summer hosepipe ban which frustrates our ability to wash the car and water the lawn. 

But how much water do we actually get through.  According to DEFRA, at home we use on average around 127 litres per day if we have a water meter and 150 litres per day if not.  Or put another way, an Olympic size swimming pool every 54 years…

Doesn’t sound too bad, but this is just the tip of the ice-berg (no pun intended).  The National Geographic Magazine last month highlights just how much water is hidden in the production of the things we take for granted every day: a cup of coffee – 140 litres, a glass of milk – 200 litres, a T-shirt – 2,900 litres, and 1lb of beef – a staggering 7,030 litres.

The Water Footprint Network calculates that when you add up the full impact of everything we consume, the average UK citizen “soaks up a staggering 4,645 litres of water every day” and furthermore over 60% of our total national footprint is imported – much of it from parts of the world already suffering water shortages.   These shortages are projected to get worse – the OECD estimate that unless new policies are introduced by 2030 almost half the world’s population will be living under severe water stress.

The World Economic Forum last year published a report in collaboration with some of the largest companies on the planet (including Coca Cola, Dow Chemical, Nestlé, PepsiCo, RioTinto, SABMiller, Syngenta) which argued “There is a structural problem in how we manage water across the web of our global economy.  Worsening water security will soon tear into various parts of the global economic system. It will start to emerge as a headline geopolitical issue.”

 So if World Water Day passed you by in March (it was the 22nd), watch out as water scarcity may well become one of the biggest drivers of business change.  And if you printed this out, your sheet of A4 just cost 10 litres!

27th May 2010