ABSTRACT

The water footprint is a relatively new concept and water footprint assessment a new tool. As is often the case with new concepts and tools that are promising and speak to people’s imaginations, expectations are not always realistic. Given the fact that the world’s freshwater resources are limited, the water footprint is a very useful indicator, as it shows when, where and how consumers, producers and individual processes and products put a claim on this limited resource. Water footprint assessment is a useful tool to quantify and locate water footprints, to evaluate whether footprints are sustainable and to identify options to reduce water footprints where necessary. Having said that, the water footprint is no more than one relevant indicator in the very broad theme of sustainable, fair and efficient allocation and use of natural resources. Obviously it needs to be complemented with a wide array of other relevant indicators before integrated understanding can arise. Similarly, water footprint assessment is no more than one tool to understand the complex relations between societies and their environment. It focuses on the use of freshwater resources in the light of limited supplies. It does not address water issues that are not scarcity-related, such as flooding or lack of infrastructure for proper water supply to poor communities. It also does not address environmental issues other than freshwater scarcity.