Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Visual Virtual Water

Images and videos can enable information to be absorbed and retained better than in written form; not only that, the message can be overall clearer and more efficient.

I looked up several videos which would add layers of knowledge to the notion of virtual water and explain its cost through showing it. As expected, I encountered different sources, contrasting points of view and a variety of styles.

I started with a video from the FAO, which was very informative, but really didn't make the most it could from its potential visual communication effects, raising incredibly important points, but in a dull way, lowering its communication potential...it is in fact an infographic slideshow.


The main points raised by this moving infographic are:
  • water is a renewable BUT finite resource
  • agriculture accounts for 70% of total water use
  • the world is thirsty because it is hungry
More info: FAO land and water

Another video I found is from RAI (Radiotelevisione italiana, Italy's public broadcasting company), and / but in English.


It's very brief but to the point. This video mentions:
  • 90% of water is needed to produce our food
  • the water cost of beef: >15,000 litres for a kilo - for the cows to drink every day, to run the farm, to water the fields to grow their food...

Its description includes: "the production of meat and food products of animal origin, such as dairy products, entails water consumption with today's systems that would be entirely unsustainable if a larger share of the world population ate the same amount of meat as we eat in more developed countries."

It's easy to think of changing habits as unlikely, not worth it or simply too much of a hassle, but putting in into perspective, a global one, may well be one way of encouraging action.

I watched more videos, and the one I enjoyed the most because of its richer content, raising of many questions and touching on many topics, is this video by Robeco, who are sustainability investment engineers.

                                                    Water - our most precious resource

I like this video as it's informative, interactive, interesting, the message is clear and it focuses on many aspects related to water use.

  • 97.5% of the Earth's water is salty
  • 2.5% is freshwater
  • > ⅔ of freshwater is locked in polar ice caps and glaciers
  • 0.5% of water is from lakes, rivers and groundwater for agricultural, industrial and personal use
  • 0.007% of global water supply is safe for consumption for all and unevenly distributed 
  • 15,500 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef 

It goes on to mention water scarcity, listing several "developed" locations on Earth where this lack of water is manifested, such as Spain and Southwestern US, which is a positive feature as it can make viewers relate to this issue more. This is due to the fact that water aid ads often concentrate on far more remote regions, allowing some to think it's a "far-away" issue when, in fact, it concerns everyone.

Population has risen over the years and consequently water use has too, while this resource has remained the same.

Considering the socio-economic effect of a growing middle class and its role in emerging markets being a cause of the rise in demand for water, it directly relates an increase in disposable income with the increase of the consumption of meat: carrying on at this rate, total demand for water will exceed the world's supply by 40% by 2030.

Time to do something!

What can be done?

Technologies can alleviate water scarcity by enhancing the quality of water and its use efficiency,
recycling industrial water, improved infrastructure to reduce leaks, desalination, investing in water solutions as a way of capitalising on long-term growth opportunities as the water industry is expected to grow.

Acknowledging the source of the video, the solutions obviously shifts to sustainable investment, and I think that perhaps that is one of the most effective ways of making a solid change in the way we think of and (mis)use water.

In order to raise awareness of the use and cost of water, is it more important to focus on water as a natural resource, as a human right or as a good which will acquire far higher value in the next few years and that is worth capitalising on for maximised returns?

The way the economy drives much of the globe's dynamics, and despite my own opinion, I think the latter is more likely.

What do you think of these videos' different approaches?
Which one is most effective for you, what improvements should be made, what aspects of water scarcity and virtual water should be highlighted?

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