As was published on Linkedin in 2017
Fresh water shortage is a big problem in South Africa at the moment (2017). The water reserves are almost dry and Day Zero is getting very close. Shortage of drinking water in the world, is caused by our choices in food consumption. In the Netherlands “86% of our water usage is related to the food we eat”. Food that is being imported from everywhere in the world. By eating less meat, you can reduce your water footprint at lot.
Yesterday I read an article in VU Magazine about our water footprint. It already starts off by saying that you use 4000 liter water a day (when living in the Netherlands)! Showing an image of a running showing: 50 liter and a hamburger: 2400 liter. The article is in Dutch, however this image really says it al.
The article was based on the research of Professor Arjen Hoekstra , initiator of the Water Footprint Network. Considering the amount of water it takes to produce your hamburger, water usage for your shower is nearly nothing. Hoekstra critiques government campaigns promoting shorter showering to safe water. In itself it’s a good thing to spend less time in the shower, but that is to safe energy. When considering our water consumption, the 50-60 liter for your shower is only a drop in your total daily water footprint. He argues that not eating meat one day a week directly saves 800 liter on average!
Today Cape Town is facing the worst drought since 1904 and the water levels continue to drop every week. Drinking water in the city comes from several dams in the area that are all nearly exhausted because there has not been sufficient rainfall in the last three years. This week’s dam levels are at 33% [capetownetc.com]. The city is preparing for a Day Zero scenario when people will be cut off from water supply and will have to collect water from centralized collection points throughout the city. Day Zero is at 13,5%, now estimated to be from May 18, 2018 onward.
Consumers have the highest impact on water consumption according to the research of the City of Cape Town. And much of the city’s campaigning is directed at consumers who are allowed to only use 87 liters water per day. Last week’s report shows an increase in consumer water usage. “At this time of year [it is now summer time in South Africa], the heat increases the evaporation rate so intensified water savings are a must. We appeal to residents to please step up their water-saving efforts as we can only get through this together. The city will also continue its roll-out of water management devices to restrict households who are still using excessive amounts of water.” [News24]
The City of Cape Town is managing this crisis and keeps pushing its citizens to cut down water usage. One thing I noticed though, while being there, was the concern people have for this crisis and the personal and collective drive and resourcefulness that comes from that. People coming up with the smartest, most inventive ways to save water in their homes. If anything this crisis is bringing people together. Sharing their water saving solutions with one another. Sharing their concerns for the future. It’s the talk of the day.
The thing is this crisis concerns everyone! Not specific areas or neighborhoods, the whole city is dealing with it. And that’s something special in South Africa. The opportunity in this crisis is the innovation and inventiveness on the one hand and the sense of community on the other. A crisis like this is bringing out the best in people. And that opportunity is tremendous.
When I came back from my latest trip to Cape Town I was very inspired by this and I wondered what I could do back home about the water crisis people are facing there right now. After reading professor Hoekstra’s articles I’ve learned that there is a huge correlation between food consumption and water usage. And do check out the beautiful infogram on TheWaterWeEat.com. Explaining in a simple way how much water you eat every day and what you can do to change that.
In the Netherlands we always assume we have water enough with all the rain we get. However by importing so much of our food, we actually consume water from elsewhere in the world. According to Hoekstra 95% of our water footprint lies outside of the Netherlands. We are creating the water scarcity in the countries that produce our food. And guess what in 2010 the Netherlands was South Africa’s largest agricultural export destination, accounting for a little over 10% of South Africa’s total such exports in 2010, worth $700-million [BrandSouthAfrica].
Also Australia is coping with fresh water shortage. But it keeps exporting a lot of its water by exporting food. Their Economic Affairs department even keeps its employees from linking the water problem to export, because of the apparent importance of export [Lindhout, 2017].
When thinking about South African culture, food is really important. And it’s safe to say South Africa is a meat eating country. On a global scale South Africa is ranked number 14th by the OECD on meat consumption in kilogram per capita. So changing this might be very difficult and could be very uncomfortable for a lot of people.
However I think the first step is to know what’s going on. To know about the amount of water that is needed to produce our food. And think about this and your own behavior. For example take beef. An average cow brings 200 kg boneless beef. To produce this amount of beef takes 3.091.000 liters of water! Meaning 1 kilo beef equals 15.400 liters of water.
If you know now that by not eating meat 1 day a week you can already save so much more water, then by not taking a shower, it might even be easier! The impact you create with this is very big. And it is very empowering to know this as a consumer. By making different choices in what you eat, you can actually make a difference.
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