Articles | Volume 18, issue 1
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 213–226, 2014
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 213–226, 2014
Research article
16 Jan 2014
Research article | 16 Jan 2014

Water footprints of cities – indicators for sustainable consumption and production

H. Hoff1,2, P. Döll3, M. Fader1,6, D. Gerten1, S. Hauser4, and S. Siebert5 H. Hoff et al.
  • 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 2Stockholm Environment Institute, Linnégatan 87D, 10451 Stockholm, Sweden
  • 3Institute of Physical Geography, Goethe University Frankfurt, Altenhöferallee 1, 60438 Frankfurt, Germany
  • 4International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, PMB 5320, Oyo State, Nigeria
  • 5Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation, University of Bonn, Katzenburgweg 5, 53115 Bonn, Germany
  • 6Institut Méditerranéen de Biodiversité et d'Ecologie marine et continentale (IMBE), Aix-Marseille Université, CNRS, IRD, Univ. Avignon, Technopôle Arbois-Méditerranée, Bât. Villemin – BP 80, 13545 Aix-en-Provence cedex 04, France

Abstract. Water footprints have been proposed as sustainability indicators, relating the consumption of goods like food to the amount of water necessary for their production and the impacts of that water use in the source regions. We further developed the existing water footprint methodology, by globally resolving virtual water flows from production to consumption regions for major food crops at 5 arcmin spatial resolution. We distinguished domestic and international flows, and assessed local impacts of export production. Applying this method to three exemplary cities, Berlin, Delhi and Lagos, we find major differences in amounts, composition, and origin of green and blue virtual water imports, due to differences in diets, trade integration and crop water productivities in the source regions. While almost all of Delhi's and Lagos' virtual water imports are of domestic origin, Berlin on average imports from more than 4000 km distance, in particular soy (livestock feed), coffee and cocoa. While 42% of Delhi's virtual water imports are blue water based, the fractions for Berlin and Lagos are 2 and 0.5%, respectively, roughly equal to the water volumes abstracted in these two cities for domestic water use. Some of the external source regions of Berlin's virtual water imports appear to be critically water scarce and/or food insecure. However, for deriving recommendations on sustainable consumption and trade, further analysis of context-specific costs and benefits associated with export production will be required.