21 Mar 2017


Water is a basic human right now formally recognised by the UN; however, 30,000 people still die every day from a lack of water and 1,000 children die from illnesses linked to unsafe water. Of the small percentage of water that is readily available on the planet, 70% is used for agriculture. Our food choices therefore could reduce our daily water footprint to 2,000 litres per capita. The BCFN and the Thomson Reuters Foundation have launched the Food Sustainability Media Award to focus public attention on the impact our food choices have on the environment and how we can make changes for the benefit of ourselves and the planet.

Every day at least 30,000 people die globally from lack of water and 1,000 children die from illnesses linked to unsafe water, lack of sanitary facilities and poor hygiene1.  This is despite a UN resolution on July 2010 recognising the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a “human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”. Despite progress made toward resolving the problem, there are 663 million people who still do not have access to improved water sources, of whom 159 million have to depend on surface water. Globally, at least 1.8 billion people use a contaminated drinking-water source resulting in approximately 502,000 diarrhoeal deaths2.  Moreover the World Economic Forum Report 2017 named water crises as the third highest risk after weapons of mass destruction and extreme weather events, in terms of global impact3.  The picture is further compounded by the fact that globally there are 1.4 billion cubic kilometres of water but only 0.001% is available for human use. Almost two-thirds of the world’s population experience severe water scarcity at least one month of the year due to overuse of freshwater sources4.  Furthermore, the combination of population growth, global warming and changing food preferences will exert growing pressure on water sources for agricultural use in the coming decades. On average 70% of freshwater is used for agricultural irrigation, 22% is used by industry and domestic use accounts for 8%5,  crucially highlighting how our water consumption includes the water required to produce the food we eat. Our food choices therefore play an increasingly central role in the preservation and protection of the planet. This is the snapshot taken by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation for World Water Day on 22 March.  To keep public attention focussed on the impact of food choices and food production on the environment, the BCFN Foundation and the Thomson Reuters Foundation have launched the Food Sustainability Media Award (www.goodfoodmediaaward.org). The award is open to journalists, bloggers, freelancers and individuals whose work, either published or unpublished, aims to highlight the paradoxes in our food system and to propose tangible solutions. Entries are open until 31 May.


Further data analysis reveals that, in low to medium income countries, a greater percentage of water is used by agriculture (up to 95% in some cases) while in developed countries, industry takes the greater share (59% on average). But which countries use water most efficiently? According to the Food Sustainability Index (FSI)6,  a global ranking based on four macro parameters (“Environmental impact of agriculture on water”, “Sustainability of water withdrawal”, “Water Scarcity” and “Water Management”), Germany (88.38/100), Columbia (86.07/100) and the UK (85.63/100) make the best use of this natural resource. At the other end of the scale, Saudi Arabia (34.64%), Egypt (20.45%) and India (16.87%) are amongst a number countries who have complex challenges to address in order to improve their water usage.

Statistics from Eating Planet reveal that, in absolute terms, India has the highest water usage with a water footprint of 987 billion cubic metres, 13.2% of the global total. It is followed by China (883 billion, 11.8%) and the USA (696 billion, 9.3%); understandable given their population density. The data collected by the BCFN Foundation is even more surprising when analysed in terms of values per capita: in first place is America (2,843 cubic metres per annum), followed some way later by Italy (2,232) and Thailand (2,223). It is a scenario that places Italy on the “alert” list, one of a number of countries who still have a lot to do in terms of more conscious water usage, particularly since 90% of our water footprint is linked to what we eat7

And the situation looks set to become even worse in 2025 than it is at present as, according to data from WHO, half the world’s population will be living in areas with water problems by that date. Forecasts indicate that areas affected by water scarcity, characterised by elevated usage of available resources, and which currently account for over 20%8  of the world’s total surface, will increase substantially, extending into the interior of the USA, continental Europe, Southern Asia and large parts of Africa and India. It is a pressing issue and one that affects everyone. Even the Pope, in a public address, highlighted the potential risks of this situation, “I ask myself if, in this piecemeal third world war that we are living through, are we not going toward a great world war for water?9

We are facing a very complex situation globally where we have countries with plentiful water supplies who use it badly and others who are forced to resort to unsafe water. We know that much of our water consumption goes toward food production and as the world’s population is set to grow to 8.5 billion by 2030 and almost 10 billion by 2050, it is clear that feeding this number of people will necessitate a further increase in water consumption of at least 20% (in the best case scenario) and, depending on consumption, it could be +50% by 2030 and +70% by 2050. It is essential therefore to raise awareness amongst the public, media and other stakeholders on the importance of individual choices because these can make a difference to the wellbeing of the planet. Adopting a Mediterranean diet, choosing seasonal produce and maintaining a varied and balanced diet are the first steps we can all take in our daily lives to achieve more sustainable consumption of water resources. This applies across the world because when food is imported, rather than produced locally, the water it contains is also imported,” explains Marta Antonelli, Research Programme Manager at the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation.

Every day, on average, an individual drinks two litres of water but, without realising it, we use up to 5,000 litres of “virtual” water each day to feed ourselves. Although on the one hand, we are paying more attention in our daily routines, for example, turning off the tap whilst brushing our teeth, on the other hand, we are still not fully aware of how much “invisible” water is hidden in what we eat. If we adopted a vegetarian diet, consumption of virtual water would fall to 1,500/2,600 litres as opposed to the 4,000/5,400 litres in a meat-heavy diet. In practical terms, this means that, for example, eating a portion of chickpea soup with a plate of green beans and steamed potatoes with grated parmesan and a portion of fruit, also means eating, without realising, 1,446 litres of water. Meanwhile, substituting the same meal with a steak, a mixed salad with olive oil, a slice of bread and a portion of fruit increases water consumption to 3,244 litres. The volume of hidden water in a dish is significantly lower in a vegan diet: one serving of vegetable minestrone with pasta, a portion of hummus and a slice of bread contains “only” 940 litres of water10.


To encourage debate on food sustainability amongst a wider international audience, the BCFN Foundation launched the Food Sustainability Media Award (www.goodfoodmediaaward.org). The award invites journalists, bloggers, freelancers and individuals to submit work, either published or unpublished, on food safety, sustainability, agriculture and nutrition. Entries must be received by 31 May and may include articles, videos and photographs that aim to highlight and expose the paradoxes within our food system and propose solutions to combat the coexistence of hunger and obesity, food waste and the exploitation of the Earth.

The award aims to focus attention and shed light on the three paradoxes within the global food system:

Hunger v Obesity – for every malnourished person in the world, there are two who are overweight or obese.

Food v Fuel – one third of cereal harvested is used to feed animals or produce biofuels despite the issues of hunger and malnutrition.

Waste v Hunger – every day 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food is wasted: four times more than that required to feed the 795 million malnourished people across the world.

  1See BCFN Foundation, Eating Planet. Food and sustainability: building our future
  2World Health Organisation, 2016, Drinking Water, available at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs391/en/
  4Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra, Four billion people facing severe water scarcity, 
  5See BCFN Foundation, Eating Planet. Food and sustainability: building our future

  6Index calculated by the BCFN Foundation and The Economist Intelligence Unit who are revolutionising how we look at food and, for the first time, have produced an analysis of the world’s food choices based not just on “taste” but also the overall value of the food. The index ranks 25 countries representing over two-thirds of the world’s population and 87% of global GDP.
  10Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation, Double Pyramid 2016, pp 82-83


Luca Di Leo, Head of Media Relations, luca.dileo@barilla.com, +39 0521 2621
Elena Cadel, Media Relations, mediarelations@barillacfn.com , +39 340 2946263


Simone Silvi, Senior Account Media Relations, s.silvi@inc-comunicazione.it, +39 335.10.97.279
Francesca Riccardi, Media Relations Consultant, f.riccardi@inc-comunicazione.it, +39 335.72.51.741

About the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN Foundation) is a think tank born in 2009 to analyse topics relating to food and nutrition in the world. The cause and effect relationship of economic, scientific, social and environmental factors are studied in relation to food in a multidisciplinary approach. The President and Vice President of the BCFN Foundation are Guido and Paolo Barilla, while the BoD is formed, among others, of Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food and Paolo De Castro, coordinator of the Agricultural and Rural Development Commission in the European Parliament. The Advisory Board supervises the work of the BCFN Foundation. For more information please visit www.barillacfn.com and www.protocollodimilano.it