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Friday, 15 October 2010

Water, Water everywhere...

...and not a drop to drink! Today is Blog Action Day 2010 organised by Change.org. This year's theme is water.

So I thought I'll loose a few words on the subject. Here a few facts and figures:
  • African women walk over 40 billion hours each year carrying cisterns weighing up to 18 kilograms to gather water, which is usually still not safe to drink.
  • Every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions.
  • It takes 24 liters of water to produce one hamburger. That means it would take over 19.9 billion liters of water to make just one hamburger for every person in Europe
  • The US, Mexico and China lead the world in bottled water consumption, with people in the US drinking an average of 200 bottles of water per person each year. Over 17 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture those water bottles, 86 percent of which will never be recycled.
  • Every day, 2 million tons of human waste are disposed of in water sources. This not only negatively impacts the environment but also harms the health of surrounding communities
  • Today, 40% of America's rivers and 46% of America's lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life

Climate change, over consumption and waste are at the heart of these problems. Even when there is, as the saying goes, water everywhere, there may not be a drop to drink, like recent floods in Pakistan after the worst monsoon rains on record showed.

(Above is not a picture of the Pakistan floods in case you were wondering, but the river Magra near us overflowing during last winter).

As usual I'm trying to relate this problem to me personally. What is my impact, and where can improve my responsible behaviour. I have always felt slightly bad about the fact that I use quite a lot of water in my garden. Although due to an unusually wet summer this year my water consumption no doubt was significantly lower. Still I'd say between middle of May to the end of August I spent about 2 hours watering every3-4 days, so 50 days of the year, 2 hours a day. In a normal summer that would be more.

I'm aware I could improve on that were I to install a more efficient irrigation system and catch more rain and dew water. I could save a considerable amount of water, however, as ever I'm short of the financial means to invest in the appropriate equipment.

I am however feeling slightly better about my own efforts since I found this website: waterfootprint.org. People have got used to talking about their carbon footprints, but this website calculates the waterfootprint of any consumer goods, foods, of countries and individuals.

Do have a look at this site, it's absolutely amazing what the water footprint for say a kg of rice is or a kg of beef. You can also work out your own water footprint and compare it to the average of your country and the world.

Any of these sort of tests are of course rough approximations, and also I found it difficult to separate my waterfootprint from Susan's. For example we don't wash dishes separately or clothes, so basically I calculated our combined footprint although sometimes no doubt I'll have got a bit muddled with that particular distinction.

Anyway the result was as follows:

Our combined water footprint: 1051 cubic metres per annum, but of that 107 for veg and 212 for fruit, which I produce myself and would therefore be included in the figure for watering my garden. Largest part cereal with 365 cubic metres per year. This comes down mostly to pasta, rice and bread flour, all of which we consume a lot of.

The average for Italy is 2332 cubic metres per head per year 51% of that falling outside the borders of the country. Global average 1243 m3/cap/yr. So in other words, we are on a third of the global average (1051 minus 319 divided by two people equals 366). This is partially due to us growing most of our own food and partially to us buying virtually no consumer goods.

The two areas where we can still improve is human waste and as I said a more efficient irrigation system. The first point we will be able to do if and when we have built ourselves a more permanent dwelling on our land from recycled materials. At this point in time I don't fancy walking the 12 km across to our land with a bucket of slosh, so for the time being we are still flushing our valuable body wastes down the bog.

The more observant amongst you will have noticed the little Blog Action Day petition on the top right of my blog. It is to support UN action to tackle the global water crisis. Do sign it. And think about water consumption, not only by turning the tap off while brushing your teeth but even more so when you buy consumer goods or unseasonal veg. I mean for goodness sake, apparently there are aspargaus on UK shelves which have been grown in the Peruvian desert, thanks to a 10 million investment resulting in water levels dropping dramatically and dangerously in that part of the world.

Let's make sure we all have clean water tomorrow, it's a human right.


Ayak said...

Great post Heiko and I have referred to it in my post today. Thanks xx

Mr. H. said...

"40% of America's rivers and 46% of America's lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life." Yep, a very sorry state of affairs. The sad part is that we would have more than enough water to go around if everything was not so polluted. How is the water in Italy as far as pollution goes?

Where I live in so called "pristine" Idaho many of our streams are have been extremely polluted because of mining, just up the road from us is a "superfund site" (hazardous waste site) that will be contaminated for at least 90 years they say.

Heiko said...

Thank you Ayak, it's an important subject.

Mr. H. All the photos above I've taken locally. The top on is the sea near here and other 3 of the river Magra, a fairly large river, which still supports salmon despite several towns along the length of it. So not too bad.

Heiko said...

In fact Mr.H if you enlarge the bottom photo you'll spot a little fish to the left of my foot. The salmon didn't come that close though.

simon carey said...

A subject close to my heart as well as I will be using water from my well(bore hole) and cleaning it to make it drinkable. The analysis shows it ought to be drinkable without treatment. Hope to use rainwater capture from the roof for the garden and pool. I will have to do my water footprint, but I am sure rebuilding a house to do a business itself will not be very efficient

Jan said...

A good post Heiko, very interesting, and I'm off to calculate our water footprint now.

Kate said...

Too many people miscalculate their water usage and feel very righteous about it. For example a friend of mine who grows none of her food and showers at the gym, boasts about her "low" water use..... I ask her where her food comes from.... and the water for the gym showers.... and for cleaning the gym and the showers and the restaurant kitchens etc etc.
Food grown at home uses many times less water than food grown commercially.... then there is the transport.... cleaning trucks, boxes, shops etc etc
Coming from the driest state in the driest continent on earth I get enraged about people NOT using water for growing their own food at home and I get VERY enraged about generalised quotes of meat production because they are not relevant to Australia, where animals still graze on pastures and travel short distances to the abattoir.... like the cows in the paddock next to me, and the abattoir 5 kms away where I also get a trailer load of blood and bone for my vegetables.....
Oh dear.... I must stop!

MikeH said...

Although we harvest rainwater for the garden (we have 4 x 1000 litre "barrels"), we rarely need to use the water because we keep the beds so heavily mulched. There's very little evaporation and the plant roots are kept cool. And the soil is constantly improved by the ongoing decomposition of the mulch.

Heiko said...

Mike, we have the logistical problem of getting sufficient mulch and organic matter onto our land. we have 18 steep terraces and the soil is almost solid clay. In an ideal world I would shove a few inches worth over the whole lot, but I'd need to hire a lorry for that, which I can't afford. Ecen if I could there'd be a lot of shovelling and clambering up and down terraces involved. No weelbarrow possible. So we are left with building up the soil bit by bit.