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Helping virtual water flows

by Geraldine Hinter

Rice farmerResearchers from UniSA’s Centre for Comparative Water Policies and Laws believe developing countries with scarce water resources could benefit significantly by trading virtual water.

Centre Director, Professor Jennifer McKay is proposing that the World Trade Organisation sets up a virtual water trading council to help manage water resources for the world’s booming population.

Virtual water is the amount of water that is embedded in food or other products needed for production. According to World Water Council (WWC) figures, about 1000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram of wheat. In other words, the virtual water of this kilogram of wheat is 1000 litres.

When international trade of food crops or other commodities takes place, there is a flow of virtual water from producing and exporting countries to those that consume and import those commodities.

The WWC would like to see countries with scarce water resources import those products that require a lot of water for production, rather than produce them locally.

"This would allow real water savings. It would reduce the impact on actual water reserves and make water available for other purposes," Prof McKay said.

"The virtual water trading council would aim to ensure that water replaced when food, electricity or industrial goods are imported is used to achieve sanitation outcomes in the importing country, and that the exporting country does not endanger the health of its citizens by exporting."