18 Mar 2019

FOCUS: United States has world’s biggest “water footprint;” Japan is most water-efficient developed country

The United States has the largest “water footprint” in the world, followed by Italy. Japan is the most economical among developed nations, according to the latest available figures compiled by the Barilla Foundation.  

Around 4 billion people - nearly two-thirds of the world’s population - experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year, and freshwater scarcity is increasingly perceived as a global systemic risk compounded by climate change.  This year’s World Water Day on March 22 is about tackling the water crisis by addressing the reasons why so many people are being left behind.

A country’s “water footprint” measures the volume of water it uses to produce the goods and services it consumes, both coming from domestic sources as well as imported through “virtual water” in products made outside the country. It is a useful tool to comprehend the global and often political nature of the issue of freshwater availability. Over 90% of individual “water footprints” relates to food consumption, so our food choices directly impact our water usage. 

The US has an annual “water footprint” of 820,000 million cubic meters per year, of which only 20% is imported. Each American has an individual daily footprint of 7,800 liters of water.1)

Italy also has one of the world’s largest “water footprints,” consuming 130,000 cubic meters of fresh water each year, of which 60% is imported. The “water footprint” for each Italian is 6,300 liters per day. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Japan’s “water footprint” is 170,000 million cubic meters of water, 77% of which comes from outside the country. Individual Japanese have a water footprint of 3,800 liters per day. 

A country’s water footprint is dependent on the volume and pattern of consumption, climate, and farming practices, according to Marta Antonelli, author of “The Water We Eat: Combining Virtual Water and Water Footprints” and Research Program Manager at the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation.

“The water footprint is an indicator that makes visible the overwhelming contribution of water resources in food production, as well as the role that food choices can have to release the pressure on the resource” said Antonelli. 

1 https://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Report50-NationalWaterFootprints-Vol1.pdf . 


Valentina Gasbarri, Communication and External Relations Manager, valentina.gasbarri@barillacfn.com , +39 338 7882700

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN) is a multi-disciplinary non profit research center which studies the causes and effects on food created by economic, science, society and environmental factors. It produces science-based content that can be used to inform people and help them make responsible choices on food, nutrition, health and sustainability. All BCFN work is monitored by the BCFN Advisory Board. For further information: www.barillacfn.com