Britain faces a looming water security crisis, a coalition of British engineering institutions warned on Monday, as it urged retailers and manufacturers to indicate on packaging the amount of water used in production.
The report by Engineering the Future, an alliance that includes the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, aims to highlight the amount of water used in the UK and how efficiently it is used.
Professor Peter Guthrie, who chairs the working group behind the report, said: “If the water crisis becomes critical ... food prices would sky-rocket and economic growth would suffer.”
Few Britons are likely to realise how much “virtual” water they consume. A cup of black coffee, for example, takes 140 litres of water to produce.
British citizens use around 1.7m litres of water each every year, whereas those in China use around 1m litres. US citizens use substantially more – nearly 3m litres. Less than a tenth of Chinese water is imported, compared with around two-thirds in the UK.
Water supply is a global issue, the experts said. Increasing demand for food, water and energy around the world will impact on water security in the UK as it is heavily reliant on imported commodities, such as wheat.
Prof Guthrie suggested the UK should reconsider the practice of importing food and flowers from Kenya, adding that this is “putting severe pressure on areas that are already short of water”. However, the issue is complicated by the importance of such exports for the economies of less developed countries.
The alliance suggested that the UK should take the lead in reducing overall water use, improving efficiency and ensuring sustainability of supplies. They suggest politicians take a holistic approach to water, by managing the entire water cycle. Water recycling and improving desalination processes could help to tackle the problem.