The Feed

Water Scarcity: The Impact of Food

22nd Mar, 2021

Water covers 70% of our planet, and it is easy to think that it will always be plentiful. But in fact 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water. It is scientifically proven that if you switch to a mainly plant-based diet you will actively counter this. That’s why we are outlining the link between food systems and water scarcity in support of World Water Day 2021.

Freshwater, the stuff we drink, bathe in, and irrigate our farm fields with is incredibly rare. Only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, and two-thirds of that is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our use.

Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. More than half the world’s wetlands have disappeared. Food production consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies. At the current consumption rate, this situation will only get worse. 

“By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages and ecosystems around the world will suffer even more” - WWF

Eating a meat based diet effectively equates to consuming the water that the animal has needed to live and grow. The production of a meat-based diet typically consumes twice the amount of water as compared to a plant-based diet. National Geographic states that: On average, a vegan, a person who doesn't eat meat or dairy, indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who eats the average meat-based diet. 

“90% of our global water footprint relates to food.”- Arjen Y. Hoekstra, PhD

According to a University of Oxford study, if everybody cut meat and dairy from their diet there could be a 49% reduction in eutrophication, where nutrients from fertilisers run into lakes and rivers, damaging ecosystems and reducing biodiversity. And a 19% reduction in freshwater withdrawals weighted by local water scarcity.

“The production of a meat-based diet typically consumes twice the amount of water as compared to a plant-based diet”. -UNESCO’s Institute for Water Education

Image credits: Yana Sheptovetskaya Overview, Maxar Technologies & Kevin Krautgartner

Sources: Oxford University, Science JournalFood & Agriculture Organisation Report

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