Virtual Water Reducing Water Scarcity, Water Chemistry - WorldOfChemicals

Water and food concerns give rise to Virtual Water

Category : Personalities
Published by : Data Research Analyst, Worldofchemicals.com

Water covers 70.9 per cent of the Earth’s surface and is an essential requirement for every living organism. A large amount of water is present in oceans and in small fractions in glaciers, in the Antarctica region and greenlands. Inspite of a large presence of water on earth, all is not available for human consumption and other purposes. The availability of freshwater is now becoming a huge for countries world over.

Much of the water used in the world is for food production, starting from agriculture in the form of irrigation. This is a key component to produce the desired amount of food. Irrigation takes up to 90 per cent of water withdrawn in some developing countries and significant proportions in more economically developed countries (United States, 30 per cent of freshwater usage is for irrigation).

Considering the food processing industry, water plays a critical role. Water hardness is also a critical factor in food processing. It can dramatically affect quality of a product as well as create an impact in sanitation. For instance, 3,000 litre of water is required to produce enough food to satisfy one person’s daily dietary need, 15,000 litre of water required to produce beef and 15,000 litres of water required to produce wheat.

With the rise in world population, the need for quality food is also increasing. Here use of modern agriculture technology is beneficial as it caters to using smaller ground area with less water to produce more agriculture products. Some technologies such as drip irrigation and usage of water saving bacteria can be implemented to conserve water. Application of plant genetics will also reduce the amount of water required for crops.

University of California researchers are currently working on the plant’s natural defense mechanisms and are able to produce crops which require less water. The UC Riverside team isolated what’s called the plant’s “receptor,” which has eluded researchers across the globe for more than two decades. A receptor works in conjunction with the important hormone Abscisic acid. This hormone turns on tolerance mechanisms that react to environmental stress, such as preventing cells from dying of dehydration. It also signals roots when to grow deeper to search for moist soil.

Virtual Water

The growing water concerns and issues have led to the development of new concepts. One such idea is ‘virtual water’ concept. This is regarded as one of the water saving methodology in product production. It refers, in the context of trade, to the water used in the production of a good or service. Hoekstra and Chapagain have defined the virtual-water content of a product as “The volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced.” It refers to the sum of the water use in the various steps of the production chain.

Professor John Anthony Allan from King’s College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies have created this concept, which measures how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products.

Virtual water trade refers to the idea that when goods and services are exchanged, so is virtual water. When a country imports one tonne of wheat instead of producing it domestically, it saves about 1,300 cubic metre of real indigenous water. If this country is water-scarce, this water ‘saved’ can be used towards other ends. If the exporting country is water-scarce, however, it has exported 1,300 cubic metre of virtual water since the real water used to grow wheat will no longer be available for other purposes.

“The water is said to be virtual because once the wheat is grown, the real water used to grow it is no longer actually contained in the wheat. The concept of virtual water helps us realize how much water is needed to produce different goods and services. In semi-arid and arid areas, knowing the virtual water value of a good or service can be useful towards determining how best to use the scarce water available. - Professor John Anthony Allan (2005)

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