Professor John Anthony Allan from King’s College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies has been named the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate. Allan pioneered the development of key concepts in the understanding and communication of water issues and how they are linked to agriculture, climate change, economics and politics.
People do not only consume water when they drink it or take a shower. In 1993, Professor Allan, 71, strikingly demonstrated this by introducing the “virtual water” concept, which measures how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products. Behind that morning cup of coffee are 140 litres of water used to grow, produce, package and ship the beans. That is roughly the same amount of water used by an average person daily in England for drinking and household needs. Per capita, Americans consume around 6,800 litres of virtual water every day, over triple that of a Chinese person.
Virtual water has major impacts on global trade policy and research, especially in water-scarce regions, and has redefined discourse in water policy and management. By explaining how and why nations such as the U.S., Argentina and Brazil export billions of litres of water each year, while others like Japan, Egypt and Italy import billions, the virtual water concept has opened the door to more productive water use. National, regional and global water and food security, for example, can be enhanced when water intensive commodities are traded from places where they are economically viable to produce to places where they are not. While studying water scarcity in the Middle East, Allan developed the theory of using virtual water import, via food, as an alternative water “source” to reduce pressure on the scarcely available domestic water resources there and in other water-short regions.