Energy Diet

Water Water Everywhere…

Loch Cam, Isle of Islay

And plenty to drink. One of the problems we do not have on Islay is a water shortage. To cause a shortage we would need either very cold weather to freeze the supply, or a highly unlikely drought event; there have been more rainy days than dry since the start of May. The loch above is one of many on the Island – fresh water, unpolluted and available for all. As a necessity then, we do not need to moderate our use of water, but this is a moral issue as much as one of practicality.

I do know what it’s like not to have running water. My daughter’s father is from Ghana, and I spent most of 1999 living in the mostly middle class area of Teshie Nungua, to the East of central Accra. The house was the family’s and it had all that you would expect in a modern home: air conditioning, a shower room, toilet and fitted kitchen.

However, there was no running water. The reasons were many, but the fact remained that water had to be delivered at great cost to the household and stored in a large water butt. Each toilet visit involved filling the cistern with a bucket. Drinking water was bought in bottles or in plastic sleeves. In poorer areas, the per litre cost was even higher, with families having to buy water by the bucket. I would challenge anyone in the western world to use just one bucket of water in a day.

My partner’s family came from Samsam, a village that produces pineapples for export, a water intensive crop. The village was by no means poor, but the lack of any infrastructure meant that water for drinking was still being carried from a spring a half hour walk away from the village. A well had been dug, but the NGO had not checked the source; the water was brackish and undrinkable and was used only for washing clothes.

So for me, water consumption involves not only the consideration of the water used in the house, but that which goes into other products that we consume. We do not drink bottled water — this is unnecessary in a country that has perfectly good tap water — but we do consume some beef (15000 litres per kilo, or 1797 gallons per pound), wear cotton clothing (2700 liters or 713 gallons per T-shirt) and drink wine (120 liters or 31 gallons per glass).

In my mind it is this unseen water use that causes the most damage. In countries where water is a precious commodity, it is being used to create food crops for export. Salad leaves produced in Kenya use 50 liters (13 gallons) of water, which has been diverted from the use of local small scale farmers growing a subsistence crop.

It is in this area that I have started to think carefully over the past few weeks. I know that if I eat locally produced meat then I will not be consuming  vast quantities of water, if I buy fair trade products then I will probably be contributing to sustainable water use and the construction of wells in developing nations. In the future I will be looking to ensure that what I am purchasing does not have consequences for water supplies in places less lucky than my own.


  1. Christina Nunez
    June 27, 2011, 10:42 am

    Interesting post, Vanessa. I wonder if there have been any changes in those locations in Ghana since you were there.

    As you point out, the problem of embedded water — what’s used to make the things we consume every day — often gets overlooked. If anyone’s interested in more figures on how much water goes into making beef, wine, clothing and other products, check out this link:

  2. vanessa fuery
    United Kingdom
    June 27, 2011, 4:00 pm

    Christina from what I understand these has been very little improvement. The estates at Teshie Nungua still have to buy all their water, even though new pipes were put in in 1999. The private company that was in control of water provision is said to have failed with failure to complete projects, problems with the unions and increased tariffs – the world bank wants the contract extended everyone in Ghana wants it cancelled.