Saving water one footprint at a time
Shift to plant based diet drastically reduces water foot-print
It is common knowledge that water is a scarce resource on our planet. Of the largely blue globe, only 2.5% is fresh water and 1.2% of this 2.5% is available to us on the surface for easy use. NASA’s satellite systems have flagged the alarming depletion of underground aquifers due to high scale use by humans in water-intensive activities. NASA has also observed that 65% of India’s reservoirs are running dry, leading us towards a situation of acute water shortage.
The prominent question arises, where is all the water going? According to research by the Water Footprint Network, around 90% of our global water consumption is related to food.
Notably, water footprint calculates not only the direct consumption of water but also the indirect consumption of water that goes into production and manufacturing of goods consumed by humans. Thus, when we look at the meat industry, the process of producing animal feed and handling of meat after slaughter involves large scale use of water. It takes 1790 litres
The United Nations has spoken on the mind-boggling amounts of water used to produce just animal feed for the meat industry. An average meat eater’s water footprint in the USA is around 1000 gallons of water per day. As per National Geographic, chicken (poultry) is the food with the biggest water footprint of 161 gallons a day. In a significant difference, the water footprint of a person consuming diet is only 400 gallons a day, which is less than half of a . This statistic is close to the estimates released by International Water Management Institute which says that meat eaters consumer
1100 gallons a day as compared to 400-200 gallons of water consumed by vegetarians in developing countries.
Research conducted by Institute for Environment and Sustainability, European Commission and University of Twente of Netherlands, studied the water footprint levels of different diets in European Union. It observes that consumption of animal products accounts for high water footprint. It further notes that a shift to vegetarian diet will reduce water footprint by 38%. Moreover, it raises alarm bells on the unhealthy levels of high animal based protein vis-à-vis plant protein intake in human diets. To this extent it recommends reduction of animal protein and fat and increased vegetables and fruits .
The effect of animal husbandry and consumption of a meat based diet on global water scarcity is not limited to water footprint. Greenpeace notes that livestock is the most significant contributor of nitrogen and phosphorus pollutions of streams and rivers worldwide. Likewise, the USA’s Environment Protection Agency has also said that animal agriculture releases large amounts of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus into the surface and groundwater. Moreover, according to the World Wildlife Fund animal agriculture is one of the primary reasons of deforestation which adversely impacts water scarcity and droughts.
With the growing human population and its consequent growth in demand for meat-based food, the amount of already scarce fresh water consumed is going to increase as well. Meanwhile, the intrinsic link between diets and global water consumption is undeniable. The Stockholm International Water Institute in its 2012 report recommends that 95% of our calories must be obtained from plant based foods by the year 2050. It identifies that maintaining 5% animal based food will be a challenge in the future.
A change in our diets is crucial not only to conserve freshwater but also a healthy lifestyle.