A Swiss citizen consumes on average 162 litres of water per day. But this amount only takes account of direct requirements: drink, cooking and household needs. To this should be added «virtual water», meaning the water required to produce all the goods and services individually consumed. The production of a kilo of rice for example swallows up 2,500 litres of water, whilst a kilo of cotton requires 10,000. Taking into account this virtual water, the total water consumption per inhabitant amounts to 4,187 litres a day.
A substantial importation of indirect water
Drafted by the SDC and the WWF, the report on Switzerland’s water footprint turns the spotlight not only on the amount, but also the origin, of the water required to satisfy the Swiss consumer. Henceforth calculations will include goods and services imported from abroad and the amount of water required for their production. Of the 11 billion litres which go into making up Switzerland’s water footprint, only 18% comes from its own sources, whereas 82% comes from abroad.
When the water footprint becomes problematic
The report’s authors specify that a high water footprint is not in itself that dramatic. What does pose a problem is the removal of water from regions with a negative water balance sheet or which suffer from a non-sustainable management of their resources. They have thus identified a list of six large water basins from which Switzerland imports produce and which suffer large water deficits, amongst which, the basins of the Ganges, the Euphrates and the Nile.
So, what can be done?
According to the researchers who participated in the study, taking measures to restrict the importation of goods and services produced in regions subject to water stress would be a mistake. The populations of these regions are invariably poorer than those in countries where water flows in abundance. Boycotting their goods would lead to a deterioration in their living conditions without contributing a sustainable answer to the water problem.
It is however necessary that local actors move towards a sustainable management of their water resources, and Switzerland, through its cooperation programmes in particular, can assist them in this. Swiss businesses importing goods from these regions also carry their share of responsibility. What is more, the most progressive amongst them are already involved in evaluating and in managing the risks and have implemented appropriate measures.
The SDC believes Switzerland must continue to pursue its commitment - be it on the level of international political dialogue or by seeking innovative solutions - to the sustainable management of our most precious planetary possession.