That’s according to the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) which has produced a new policy report calling for co-ordinated action to reduce the amount of hidden water used in food and drink production – estimated to be 2,000-5,000 litres per person per day.

In the report, IChemE proposes government-enforced targets of a 20% reduction in water use in global food production.

Currently, around 90% of all freshwater is used by agriculture and industry and as the population grows and more people move to a ‘Western diet’. The report confirms that the world will need to produce 60% more food by 2050, with agriculture using around 19% more water to produce that extra food.

By 2050, the overall impact will see around two thirds of the world’s population living in ‘water-scarce’ areas, compared to just 7% at present.


IChemE director of policy Andy Furlong said: “It is clear that current production methods are unsustainable and there are genuine risks of food shortages, rising food prices, droughts and social unrest for future generations unless we make more efficient use of water.

“There are solutions, but these will require political will, major investment and lifestyle changes.”

Acheiving a 20% reduction in water use in global food production will require increased monitoring through water footprinting and increased investment in extracting water from sustainable sources such as rainfall or the sea.

Furlong added: “Education also has a role to ensure that consumers understand better how their food is produced to enable them to make informed choices.

“None of this will be cheap or easy, but like the mitigation of climate change, it will be necessary to guarantee our quality of life.”

In November, a survey from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) found that more than two thirds of the world’s largest corporations believe water scarcity could harm their business.

Brad Allen

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