Saturday, March 29, 2008

2008 Stockholm Water Prize goes to ‘virtual water’ innovator

OneWorld South Asia: 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. The US$ 150,000 Stockholm Water Prize is a global award founded in 1990 and presented annually by the Stockholm Water Foundation to an individual, organisation or institution for outstanding water-related activities.

Professor Allan, 71, 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. In 1993, he introduced the ‘virtual water’ concept, which measures how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products.

For example, a cup of coffee uses 140 litres of water used to grow, produce, package and ship the beans. A hamburger needs an estimated 2,400 litres of water. Per capita, Americans consume around 6,800 litres of virtual water every day - more than thrice 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.

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, Professor Allan developed the theory of using virtual water import, via food, as an alternative water ‘source’” to reduce pressure on the scarce domestic water resources there and in other water-scarce regions.

Professor Allan also developed the idea and terminology of ‘hydro-hegemony’ and ‘problemshed’. His work has led to a better understanding of potential and real conflicts in trans-boundary regions such as the Nile basin, where water resources are shared between countries, while providing a perspective on economic and political processes that can make food and water security possible for all nations in such water basins.

Allen’s work has led to greater awareness among policymakers, scientists, water professionals and the general public, about the role of water in the production of different types of products and its impact on global trade and economy.

…Professor Allen is a leading voice for sustainable water development and expert adviser on balancing population growth and increasing food demand in developing countries, institutional reform, valuing water, conflict resolution, and on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Photo of a dew drop by Friedrich Böhringer, Wikimedia Commons

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