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China has done the world a massive favor: Stockholm Water Prize Laureate
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12:05, August 22, 2008

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Stockholm Water Prize Laureate John Anthony Allan has said that in terms of virtual water consumption and its relations with population, ‘China has done the world a most massive favor'.

Professor Allan from King's College London was presented the Stockholm Water Prize for his invention of the concept of Virtual Water on Thursday at the City Hall by Swedish Princess Victoria.

In an interview with People's Daily Online, Professor Allan explained the concept in simple words.

"If you produce a ton of wheat, you need a thousand ton of water. So a ton of wheat reflects the input of a thousand ton or cubic meter of water. If you can move that ton of wheat from one place where there is surplus of water to a place where there is a shortage of water, you can solve the problem of lack of both water and food in the imported country. "

But this concept has both positive and negative effects. Positive effects are that the cheap food produced in Europe and America in the international market has benefited those who imported them. Compared with producing locally, the imported food cost only half of the real price. The negative effect is that in very poor African area where the drought or flood are devastating, when they produce some food which supposed to sell at a higher price will face a setback from the flooding in of cheaper food from the western countries. This can be part of the reason why African countries haven't developed that fast since the 1960s and 1970s.

Eating more vegetables than beef

In terms of virtual water, a kilogram of rich cost 3400 litre of water while the water price or water print of a kilogram beef will be 15500 litre of water.

Professor Allan likes to ask such a question:

"Are you a five cubic meter a day person or a 2.5 cubic meter a day person?"
If you are a vegetarian, you need 2.5 cubic meter a day of water. This water not only includes the water you drink and take shower, but also includes the food you eat in terms of water.

Although western culture is that people tend to eat more beef, professor Allan and his wife are vegetarians. He hopes this can become a fashionable living style.

Due to the habit of eating hamburger, Americans consume around 6800 litres of virtual water every day, which is three times of that of a Chinese person.

Some people worry that the Chinese people who traditionally eat rice and vegetables, now tend to eat more beef and pork and other meat. The speed is increasing by 10% every year. They fear that this trend will add more burden to the global water consumption considering its large population.

"But I told my students that in fact considering demographic and consumption pattern,
China has done the world the most massive favor, due to your population policy. It has taken 300 million people out of the world population, and that is the population of the Middle East, the population of Europe and the population of the United States. You do not need to be conscious about your role in global water. You have been extraordinarily constructive. Some rights groups have been criticizing China for family planning policy. Here I am saying ‘Thank you very much.'" Said professor Allan.

Two methods can cause population low, one is the demographic policy and the other of course is the social and economic development. China has accelerated the process dramatically by having a population policy.

"So the water print idea is quite useful for drawing attention to a favorable outcome as far as the world concerned of your demographic policy." Said the professor.

With the virtual water concept, although China is planning to divert water from South to North, it is in fact that the north exports more water to the south.

China's water usage is efficient

Commenting on the efficiency of China's water management, professor Alan said he was astonished.

"Although China faces huge challenges in water, Chinese factories are providing the whole world with so many products. Your economy is a miracle. You have brought poor people out of poverty so rapidly. I am astonished at the performance of your economy, especially in water efficiency terms."

Good governance

Virtual water concept also involves in the concept of good governance which is different from governing by government.

He said the Chinese way of governing is quite fascinating.

Before reform and opening up, China only had public sectors or everything is state-owned. But after that, China put back private sector in the Chinese way and put civil society back in the Chinese way too. It is spectacular.

"Provided you can keep control of the private sector. You need to control it because this is the capitalist, in northern European and America, people just feed with addiction, this is a lethal potential, you don't get principles out of private sector, you get principles out of government and civil society. " said professor Allan.

He said the government should cooperate with the private sector to ensure the latter do the right thing.

In its Citation, the Nominating Committee wrote:

Professor Tony Allan is awarded for the Stockholm Water Prize for his unique, pioneering and long lasting work in education and raising the awareness internationally of interdisciplinary relationships between agricultural production, water use, economies and political processes. The introduction of new important concepts like "virtual water", the use of the "problemshed" concept to emphasize that the most serious water sector problems are remedied outside the water sector, that energy is the big issue and above all that understanding the political landscape is the most important factor in the water science/policy nexus has created both innovative new research and actions from both individuals, large organisations and NGOs. The improved understanding of trade and water management issues on local, regional and global scales are of the highest relevance for the successful and sustainable use of water resources.

Virtual Water: Key to Food and Water Security

People do not only consume water when they drink it or take a shower. Water is embedded in the production of everything that we eat, use, and do. 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. By explaining how and why nations such as the US, Argentina and Brazil export' billions of litres of water each year, while others like Japan, Egypt and Italy import' billions, the virtual water concept has opened the door to more productive water use. 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 scarcely available domestic water resources there and in other water-short regions.

Professor Allan introduced the "virtual water" concept in 1993.

By Xuefei Chen People's Daily Online correspondent in Stockholm.

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