Visualising the slipperiness of water scarcity


Wet Footprints: it’s flooding everywhere, but we’re running out of water? Information visualisation can help us get a grip on the slipperiness of water scarcity.

“Freshwater is a scarce resource; its annual availability is limited and demand is growing. The water footprint of humanity has exceeded sustainable levels at several places and is unequally distributed among people. There are many spots in the world where serious water depletion or pollution takes place: rivers running dry, dropping lake and groundwater levels and endangered species because of contaminated water. The water footprint refers to the volumes of water consumption and pollution that are ‘behind’ your daily consumption. Your ‘indirect water footprint’ – the water consumption and pollution behind all the goods you buy – is much larger than your direct water footprint at home.”

Visualising Water Use
Visit this eye-opening site to get a quick and easy grasp on water use around the world. Info-vis FTW!

“How much water do you consume based on where you are from? How much water do you consume based on what food, beverages, and products you purchase? This data visualization reveals the hidden water content in your nationality and your consumer goods. Label your lunch, your drink, your friends, yourself, even the whole world with its water footprint.”

The takeaway message: Australia uses around 3269 litres of water per person a day – over twice the amount of water for New Zealand, 3 times the amount for Indonesia or Korea, 4 times South Africa and 5 times Colombia. Who uses more water per person? Only the United States and Canada. At a glance, we mostly seem to use it on agriculture, followed by domestic then industrial use.

And Measuring Wet Footprints
The visualization site takes some of it’s information, where using their extended water footprint calculator, and guesstimating how many kgs of food I eat per week etc, I discovered my water footprint is pretty close to the global average of 1243. Agriculturally, coffee (and fruit juice) seems to require around 10 times the amount of water to produce as tea, and per kg of food, beef takes between 10 to 50 times the amount of water needed to produce potatoes, wheat, corn, rice or soybeans. They mention plenty of caveats*, and suggest the figures are best used as a guide to help think about our water consumption.

*These kinds of data are fraught with problems and uncertainties, and users should be extremely careful about using them for other than the most simple comparisons. When we can, we like to use ranges to try to bracket many of the uncertainties, but other sources rarely mention uncertainties or provide ranges of estimates. For example, the Water Footprint reports that 15,500 kg of water are required to produce beef, but work from the Pacific Institute reports a range of 15,000 to over 70,000 depending on diet, climate, the amount of product from each cow, and other variables. ( via

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