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Two-Thirds of U.K. Water Supply is 'Virtual,' Shortages Loom

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Edie News, and is reprinted with permission.]

A new report from the United Kingdom's Institute of Civil Engineers finds that water shortages elsewhere in the world are not simply other countries' problems, but will come back to bite the U.K.

The Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) says that in order to get an accurate picture of water used by the U.K., you need to look at how it is effectively imported in the form of food, energy and other water-intensive goods.

Taking this into account, over two thirds of the water used by those living in Britain is "imported," says the institute, and often from countries that are already suffering from shortages.
Population growth, urbanization, changing diets, pollution of water resources and climate change, global water resources are set to put further stress on supplies.

Water is one of the most undervalued natural commodities in the world, directly affecting national security through its impact on economic growth, energy security, food supply and healthcare.

water report coverThis domino effect has been described by the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor Professor John Beddington as a "perfect storm," which could lead to global instability if each of the inter-dependent elements are not addressed.

The Chairman of ICE's working group on water, Professor Peter Guthrie said, "If the water crisis becomes critical it will pose a serious threat to the U.K.'s future development because of the impact it would have on our access to vital resources. Food prices would sky-rocket and economic growth would suffer. To prevent this we must recognize how the UK's water footprint is impacting on global water scarcity. We should ask whether it is right to import green beans -- or even roses -- from a water-stressed region like Kenya, for example."

"The burgeoning demand from developed countries is putting severe pressure on areas that are already short of water," he added. "Our virtual water footprint is critical and we need to give it far more attention."

The full report is available for download from More information is online at the Royal Academy of Engineering website.

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