Impact of the UK’s food and fibre consumption on global water resources

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This report tells the important but largely unknown story of the water we use and where it comes from. More importantly, it highlights the impact of the UK’s consumption patterns on water resources across the world. WWF’s intention in publishing this report is to start a debate about how UK-based organisations can help to ensure that critical, and often scarce, water resources are managed wisely. WWF has used state-of-the-art analysis to estimate the UK’s total national water footprint. This report presents both the results of this analysis and several case studies that illustrate the impacts of the UK’s water footprint in the countries where our food and cotton are grown. For readers who don’t have time to digest the technical detail, the key messages from this WWF report are as follows:

There is a mounting crisis over the world’s water:

Our food and clothing cannot be made without a great deal of water. That water is sourced from ecosystems. As well supporting agriculture to produce food, cotton and bio-fuel, freshwater ecosystems provide other services to society: they regulate water flows; purify waste water and detoxify wastes; regulate climate; provide protection from storms; mitigate erosion; and offer cultural benefits, including significant aesthetic, educational, and spiritual benefits. The withdrawal
of freshwater from ecosystems in quantities and at rates greater than nature’s ability to ‘renew’ is widely documented in many parts of the Middle East, India, Mexico, China, the United States, Africa, Spain and central Asia. The latter of course includes the Aral Sea, which, more than any other water body in the world, has come to epitomise the devastating economic and ecological effects of water mismanagement. Much of that particular disaster has been caused by withdrawal of water to irrigate cotton crops.

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