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By Alex Fernandez Poulussen & Erika Zarate

[English translation of the article that appeared in the iagua magazine, April 2015, http://issuu.com/iagua/docs/iagua_magazine_6/36?e=9940341/12439965]

While the concept of Water Footprint was introduced by Prof. Arjen Hoekstra[1] about 12 years ago, Good Stuff International has been supporting the application of the water footprint in different countries and contexts for over seven years now[2]. We have taken the concept from theory to practice, moving the water footprint from an academic context to the environmental, social and economic realities in different parts of the world.

 The Water Footprint Assessment[3] (WFA) is a versatile tool that can be applied for different purposes. GSI is particularly interested in exploring its potential to provide easy to understand information on the water situation at the river basin and watershed level. The WFA shows clear water accounts, and provides a comprehensive analysis of the water consumption in relation to water availability. The methodology can also be used to assess the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of water consumption.

Success cases like the application of the WFA to the Porce river basin in Colombia[4] have had such an impact that jointly with the Colombian Meteorology and Hydrology Institute (IDEAM), the application of the WFA has been extended to all 316 watersheds in the country[5]. Gradually, we are moving to the phase in which the results of the WFA are used to convene stakeholders in the basins and generate dialogue on water management. The main achievement of the Porce WFA has been to provide transparent and comprehensive information that supports decision-making on water consumption and pollution at the basin and sub-basin level.

Another valuable WFA application has been at the farm level. The case of the WFA applied to the production of bananas in Peru and Ecuador[6] put the bananas’ water footprint in the context of agricultural practices and existing water distribution patterns to farms. The WFA helped to develop strategies that not only result in decreased water footprint but also in an improvement in the quality of life of people and in getting closer to the economic and environmental sustainability of the area. In other cases, like the analysis of water availability and use in the Lower Moshi irrigation scheme in Tanzania[7], the WFA showed that small farmers require changes in cropping patterns, improved irrigation systems and better water management in order to secure long-term economic benefits. The water footprint results show the pressures in the basin in relation to the irrigation scheme and wider watershed in a quantitative way, and thus open a door to an informed discussion about the options for farmers and other water users in the watershed.

In most applications, the challenge is the lack of information at the sub-basin level. Our experience in using the WFA in data scarce environments, shows that through the use of publicly available data and geographic analysis tools, as well as locally collected data; it is possible to obtain valuable information for decision-making on water. However, the common factor in all our WFA applications is that the WFA results offer a platform to foster interaction among stakeholders and river basin actors involved, providing them with clear information and facilitating dialogue towards sustainable water management.

There are still big challenges ahead. The WFA is also applicable in European countries like Spain, with a great need to manage its water resources intelligently following an integrative approach, given its delicate hydrological reality and the high water demand from agriculture. At the European level, the WFA has an enormous potential to address future challenges in relation to the implementation of the Water Framework Directive, very much in line with the integration of sectors such as energy, food and other industrial sectors, as well as the evaluation of water outcomes for different climate change scenarios.

GSI's experience with the WFA is that it does not end with water. Water is just the starting point that helps moving towards integration, not only of sectors but also of tools such as the ecological footprint or life-cycle analysis (LCA), in search of a more sustainable and consistent economy in line with our water reality. Above all, we have learned that the WFA is a strong and powerful tool in communicating the water reality of a river basin, providing real and tangible value to all stakeholders, and supporting the possibility of improving water policy at the continental, country, or regional scale.

 

Acknowledgements: The authors sincerely thank Derk Kuiper, also from Good Stuff International, for his support and vision, which inspired this article.



[2] In 2008, GSI contributed to the creation oft he Water Footprint Network, with Arjen Hoekstra as scientific director and Derk Kuiper (director GSI) as executive director. www.waterfootprint.org

[3]For details see the Water Footprint Assessment Manual : Setting the Global Standard; http://www.waterfootprint.org/?page=files/WaterFootprintAssessmentManual