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Source: WWF

Global pressure on our freshwater resources is increasing, mainly through changes to population and income levels, which have increased the demand for water-intensive products such as meat, sugar and cotton.

Similarly, changes in precipitation patterns as a result of climate change are adding to the pressures on our global water resources. It is increasingly vital that we understand the link between the food and fibre products we consume and their impact on the world’s scarce water supplies.

What is a water footprint?

A water footprint is a measure of the total water used in the production of the goods and services that a particular individual, business or nation uses. 

A water footprint is comprised of two components: direct water use and indirect use. The indirect water use is measured as “virtual” water (the volume of water required to produce a certain product). It includes the use of:

  • blue water (rivers, lakes, aquifers)
  • green water (rainfall in crop growth)
  • grey water (water polluted after agricultural, industrial and household use


The water footprint tells us how much water is used, but the impact of changes to a water footprint depends entirely on where water is taken from and when. A water footprint increasing in an area where water is plentiful is unlikely to have an adverse effect on society or the environment. However, if that growth occurs in an area already experiencing water scarcity, then serious problems could result.

Such water problems might include:

  • the drying of rivers
  • the destruction of habitats and livelihoods
  • the extinction of species
  • changes to agricultural prices, supplies and local economies.