__  As often happens in nowadays world, most of us are unaware of the so-called real cost of what we consume, where real cost stands for the amount of energy, non-renewable resources and environmental impact linked to the production of a specific product. When we make ourselves a modestly sized cup of tea and we sip it, looking or not through the window where it might or not be raining at that moment, it is safe to say that hardly any of us would position that mundane act on the chessboard of a globalized web of socio-political relations.
An installation created by Shaakira Jassat, a recent graduate of the Design Academy of Eindhoven, strives to help us in this realization by illustrating the socio-economical repercussions of water trades.

ThirTEA exposes simply and effectively the fact that 30 liters of clean freshwater is needed to achieve the final product, a 150 ml cup of tea. What ThirTEA reveals is the virtual water that is needed to produce that seemingly small cup of tea. The tower of stacked teacups, as a reversed iceberg, points out to us the magnitude of that part of the process which we ignore.

Every time a piece of technology is produced, a cow is farmed or an orange tree is cultivated a precise amount of water goes into these production processes. Let’s take the case of the orange, this crop is one that requires great quantities of water to be cultivated. More than 50 liters of water is spent to produce one single orange. When a single orange is imported from one country to another, then, the country that produced the fruit loses 50 liters of water with the orange that is given away, on the other side, the country that imports the orange gains 50 liters of, so-called, virtual water. This is water that has been saved and that can be put to use in other productions. Thus, exporting or importing one orange can have unexpected strategic implications, especially for those countries where water scarcity is an everyday problem. One way for water-scarce countries to save up on water is to avoid exporting water-intensive crops.

This concept is known as the virtual water trade measure and it was introduced by Arjen Y. Hoekstra during his work for UNESCO-IHE (Institute for Water Education). The concept is very similar to one of embodied energy and it helps to highlight how in a globalized world our water is also a globalized element, that can and is traded from one country to another.
A second concept introduced by Hoekstra is one of the water footprint, which is comparable to the ecological footprint. The water footprint is a consumption and pollution indicator that can tell how much water an individual, a community or a region consume directly or indirectly. The water footprint measures the water used to produce every single element from food to products present in our lives.

To make a larger public aware of these issues, Professor Hoekstra founded in 2008 The Water Footprint Network. The association’s mission statement reads: “To use the water footprint concept to promote the transition toward sustainable, fair and efficient use of freshwater resources worldwide.” We encourage you to read more about this crucial issue. At this link, you can listen to the late prof. Hoekstra giving some insights into the concept of his creation; at this link, instead, you can discover more about Miss. Jassat’s practice.


Written by Stephanie Busuito