E_SDG goals_icons-individual-rgb-06

Seeing as today is World Water Day we spoke to Dr. Gerhard Rappold, a water and climate consultant and also one of our members here at Impact Hub Berlin. He wrote a piece about all the aspects of water in our lives – focusing on SDG 6, ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. 


Today is World Water Day. Water isn’t something we usually have to worry about in Germany. We turn the tap on and wash our hands, take a shower and flush the toilet. There are no limits for our direct personal water usage, which usually adds up to approximately 120 liters per day. This is not the case all over the world. Like for example in Cape Town, South Africa – Day Zero is set to happen on July 9, 2018, and this is when the public water supply in at least a million homes in the city will be shut down due to a three year long drought. A situation we can not imagine with the temperate climate in Europe.



The SDG 6 on water and sanitation shows the different aspects of the water we have to think of:

  • Access to drinking water and access to adequate sanitation and hygiene are essential for human wellbeing – and not self-evident!
  • Sustainable water management is crucial. From the 100% water of our ‘blue planet’, only 0.007% is accessible for human use. That is a tiny fraction which sustains nature and human wellbeing.

Today we want to focus on the hidden water consumption in our daily life. Every produce and service has an equivalent value of water consumption. The values are quite surprising. Arien Hoekstra, the architect behind the “Water Footprint Network” and his team calculated the values: One cup of coffee has an equivalent of 200 liters of water if you also consider the water required to grow the plants and process the beans. An average tomato (250 g) equals 50 litres, with a substantial amount going into production and growth.

However, how do we evaluate such values? That is the point where complexity starts. A tomato grown on an open field in the summer in Germany receives its water ‘for free’ from the rain. No big deal, no resource overuse, no danger. A tomato grown in Morocco to supply the German market in the winter has an entirely different setting. Irrigation is mandatory! That requires an infrastructure: Surface reservoirs or groundwater wells, pumps, pipes and distribution networks from the source to the fields where the tomato is grown. An infrastructure like the one we have for the water supply that allows us to take a shower or wash our hands. The Moroccans have to make a decision: Produce two tomatoes or use these 100 liters of water for drinking, personal hygiene and sanitation – take a shower OR feed your crops?

How would you decide – as a Moroccan farmer who wants to sell tomatoes, the Moroccan city resident who wants to have a shower and as a German consumer who wants to eat tomatoes in December? Three people who do not know each other, but their behavior and decisions are inevitably linked.

So what is the message here:

  • The amount of water used to a grow a product does not provide the full picture. The local context (water availability, climate conditions) of production is also essential to judge if a product is fair and ecologically sound.

Let’s change the perspective from an individual and local scale to a global one on which the SDGs were proposed. With a growing world population (7.6 Billion today to 8.5 Billion in 2030) and an increasing global middle class, the water demand rises by 30 to 35% until 2030. Our current global consumption patterns will not work any more – not for the Water goal of SDG 6 and not for many others. Our present life style and consumption patterns are not suitable to achieve the SDGs as a related set of goals. Therefore a (radical) transformation is needed to survive in an even more crowded world. This transformation is not only a technical one – it is also as mental one. Therefore the Club of Rome calls for a new enlightenment in its book “Come On” > reading recommended!

Other recommended readings on this topic: