STOCKHOLM, Sweden, March 19 -- Professor John Anthony Allan from King's College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies, a pioneer of concepts key to the understanding and communication of water issues and how they are linked to agriculture, climate change, economics and politics, was named the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.
People do not only consume water when they drink it or take a shower. In 1993, Prof. Allan invented "virtual water," a controversial measurement of the water that is 'embedded' in the production of foods and consumer products. Behind that morning cup of coffee, he claimed there are 140 liters of water used to grow, produce, package, and ship the beans; roughly equal to the amount of water used by an average person in England for all their daily drinking and household needs. Further advocates extrapolated his metric out to claim that hamburger holds some 2,400 liters. An average American, using the virtual water metric, consumes over 6,000 liters of "virtual water" every day, triple the average Chinese.
Virtual water, despite its lack of quantifiable acceptance, made major impacts on global trade policy and research and has redefined discourse in water policy and management. Water intensive commodities can be traded from places where high returns to water can be achieved to economies that cannot produce as efficiently but whether or not it makes sense has been up for debate.
Virtual water has influenced national water and trade negotiations and, if implicated, would have significant implications for balancing global water resources. Application of the virtual water concept provides the potential to use trade to alleviate regional water scarcity and make water resources use more efficient - except there isn't actually enough virtual water to cover the actual water in countries with little freshwater, a pitfall of the suspect math behind the concept.
Prof. Allan, a prolific author and educator, is a leading expert on global water resources, conflict resolution, and the Middle East and North Africa region. He has been described as one of the most influential thinkers in the water sector today but he is no mathematician.
Regardless, the Stockholm Water Prize, presented annually by the Stockholm Water Foundation, is worth US $150,000 - that's real money, not virtual money - and will be presented during the World Water Week in Stockholm, on August 21 in the Stockholm City Hall. H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden is the Patron of the Stockholm Water Prize.
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