A report by the Water Footprint Network highlights how increasing water scarcity and drought could have on the EU’s economy.

The report: Dependencies of Europe’s Economy On Other Parts of the World in Terms of Water Resources shows that just over a third of the EU’s water demand lies outside its borders because many of the goods consumed by its citizens or businesses are produced abroad.

Water Footprint Network rep


Courtesy of Water Footprint Network

It notes that annually, approximately 668 km3 of water is used by the EU for all of the goods it produces, consumes and exports. And with up to 38% of this water originating beyond EU borders the EU economy is highly dependent on the availability of water in other parts of the world.

Two thirds of the foreign water that the EU depends upon comes from just nine countries: Brazil (20%); Argentina (11%); Indonesia (8%); Ivory Coast (8%); Ghana (4%); the United States of America (USA) (4%); Ukraine (3%); Malaysia (3%) and India (3%).

Most of this external water demand, in terms of the water embodied in imported products, is for agricultural commodities (98%), with industrial products accounting for 2%. This shows that the EU is particularly vulnerable to lack of water availability affecting supplies of agricultural commodities from these nine countries.

Europe’s global water pressure: pollution

Although the EU’s global water demand is mainly related to the import of agricultural commodities to make food and related products for domestic consumption or for export, the largest impact the EU has on global water resources is pollution, the report finds.

It notes that on average, the production of goods imported to the EU pollutes 77 km3 of water annually due mainly to industrial production in the Ukraine (46%), Russia (18%), China (10%), Kazakhstan (4%), USA (4%), Vietnam (2%) and India (2%).

As drought and water scarcity intensify, water pollution levels will increase in certain areas because there will be less water available to assimilate pollution in any particular water body, the report states.

Global water scarcity

In the near future, supplies of certain crops to Europe could be disrupted due to water scarcity in other parts of the world; a large portion of the water used in producing soybeans, rice, sugar cane, cotton, almonds, pistachios and grapes for import to the EU comes from areas with significant or severe levels of water scarcity.

Almost all the crop products imported to the EU from India and Pakistan are sourced from locations with high levels of water scarcity. Ninety-six percent of sugar cane from India and 90% from Pakistan is produced in locations that are very highly vulnerable to water scarcity. Ninety-three percent of rice from India and 91% from Pakistan is produced in locations that are very highly vulnerable to water scarcity.

Although the immediate risks to the EU economy are due to current water scarcity levels, any disruption to rainfall patterns that occurs in the future due to the effects of climate change in the countries of origin of key crops could have a far greater impact on the EU.

Lack of rainfall can lead to drought. Prolonged drought can increase demand for additional water for irrigation. This, in turn, exacerbates water scarcity and reduces the amount of water available which leads to increased competition for the resources that remain.

Currently, the majority of agricultural commodities imported to the EU originate from areas with ‘low’ or ‘moderate’ drought risk. This includes locations where soybeans, cocoa, coffee, oil palm, sunflower, maize and olives are produced for import to the EU.

The highest vulnerability is observed in olives, where 32% of the EU’s supply comes from areas under ‘moderate’ drought risk, mainly located in Tunisia.