What is VIRTUAL WATER: Definition and Examples

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The sustainable management of each of the planet's natural resources has led to the creation of different and numerous indicators that allow obtaining information on the use and consumption of these natural resources. In this context, virtual water plays a fundamental role as a strategy for the application of environmental and economic policies and measures linked to the concrete management of the planet's water resources. Linked to consumption, trade, and the ecological economy of water, this important indicator provides enough information for us to approach the problem of water management on a global scale with different perspectives.

If you want to go deeper into this interesting topic and know the amount of liters of water that are needed to manufacture many of the products that we consume in our day to day, continue reading this Green Ecologist article in which you will find detailed information about the virtual water, what is it and examples.

What is virtual water - definition

The virtual water term (AV) was coined in 1993 by Professor Allan, who defined it as the water that "contains" each product and service, that is, the physical quantity of water used to make a certain product or generate a service concrete.

Thus, virtual water is conceived as a physical indicator capable of providing information on the different water requirements of agricultural and livestock products, as well as other goods, such as industrial goods (the amount of water needed to manufacture a car, among other examples) and services (for example, the amount of water linked to tourism activity).

On the other hand, the virtual water indicator provides information about the water flows established in trade routes between countries and regions. In this way, it is possible to analyze virtual water flows exported and imported, through knowledge of the water "contained" in those products traded.

For these calculations, the virtual water indicator follows a methodology based on the specific demand for water of each product, good and service, highlighting the importance of climatic parameters, as well as the different types of soil and crop species and others. raw materials used when making these calculations.

In the next section we will see some concrete examples of virtual water that characterizes different products, to have a more detailed idea of the role that water plays within the systems of production and marketing of products, goods and services.

Virtual water: examples

How many liters of water would you say is necessary to produce an egg or 1 kilogram of rice? In this section we will discover the exact figures of the amount of water (virtual water) necessary to obtain different products that we frequently consume in our day to day life.

Examples of virtual water (product and liters of water)

  • Oranges (1 unit): 50 l
  • Apples (1 unit): 70 l
  • Bananas (1 kg): 500 l
  • Eggs (1 unit): 200 l
  • Bread (500 g): 650 l
  • Milk (1 l): 712 l
  • Cheese (1 kg): 5,280 l
  • Corn (500 g): 450 l
  • Wheat (500 g) 500 l
  • Potatoes (1 kg): 133 l
  • Rice (1 kg): 2,500 l
  • Chicken meat (1 kg): 3,700 l
  • Pork fillet (300 g): 1,440 l
  • Lamb fillet (300 g) 1,830 l
  • Veal meat (1 kg): 17,100 l
  • Beer (1 l): 5.5 l
  • Butter (1 kg): 18,000 l

As you can see, a huge amount of water is used to obtain many of the food products that we usually have at home. For this reason, we want to share with you this other article on What is responsible consumption, as it is very necessary today.

Image: Solumed

Difference between virtual water and water footprint

Now that you know the definition and the main virtual water characteristics (AV), it is convenient to clarify some concepts related to said indicator, such as the water footprint (HH), so as not to confuse the application and usefulness of both physical indicators.

Thus, the water footprint concept of a country or individual, was defined by Professor Hoekstra in 2003, as the volume of water used in the production of those goods and services that are consumed by the inhabitants of a given country.

In this way, the water footprint presents a marked utility as an indicator that relates the use of water with respect to the consumption of the populations, while virtual water does not calculate this relationship, but simply provides information on the total amount of water that is used during the production (and marketing if applicable), of the products, goods and services.

Is difference between virtual water and water footprint makes it possible to approach the responsible management of water consumption from two different perspectives, as well as the possibility of establishing environmental and economic policies linked to water producers and consumers, so that, among all populations, we can bet on sustainable use and conservation of the planet's water resources.

You can learn more about the water footprint in this other Green Ecologist post about What is water water. Likewise, we also recommend reading this other article about the Importance of water conservation and its techniques.

If you want to read more articles similar to Virtual water: what it is and examplesWe recommend that you enter our Environmental Education category.

  • Beltrán, M.J. (2016) What do Virtual Water and Water Footprint conceal? Water alternatives. Volume 9 (1), pp: 162-164.
  • Hoekstra, A. Y., Chapagain, A. K. & Zhang, G. (2015) Water Footrprint and Sustainable Water Allocation. MDPI Sustainability Journal. Volume 8, page: 20.
  • Beltrán, M. J. (2013) The Political Ecology of Virtual Water and the Water Footprint. Reflections on the need for a critical analysis of the indicators of virtual water flows in the economy. Journal of Critical Economics. Volume 20.
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