The water footprint of Switzerland

Ertug Ercin, Mesfin Mekonnen, Arjen Ysbert Hoekstra

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional

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Usually, countries do not consider the external water footprint of national consumption, which is related to imported water-intensive commodities, in their national water policies. In order to support a broader sort of analysis and better inform decision-making, the traditional production perspective in national water policy should be supplemented with a consumption perspective. Because many consumer goods are imported, a responsible and fair national water policy should include an international dimension.

This report focusses on Switzerland. The background of the study is the recognition that there is a relation between the import of water-intensive goods to Switzerland and their impacts on water systems elsewhere in the world. Many of the goods consumed in Switzerland are not produced domestically, but abroad. Some goods, most in particular agriculture-based products, require a lot of water during production. These water-intensive production processes are often accompanied by impacts on the water systems at the various locations where the production processes take place. The impacts vary from reduced river water flows, declined lake levels and groundwater tables and increased salt intrusion in coastal areas to pollution of freshwater bodies.

The objective of this study is to carry out a water footprint assessment for Switzerland from a consumption perspective. The assessment focuses on the analysis of the external water footprint of Swiss consumption, to get a complete picture of how national consumption translates to water use, not only in Switzerland, but also abroad, and to assess Swiss dependency on external water resources and the sustainability of imports. The study quantifies and maps the external water footprint of Switzerland, differentiating between agricultural and industrial commodities, and shows how the blue water footprint of Swiss consumption contributes to blue water scarcity in specific river basins and which products are responsible herein.

The total water footprint of national consumption of Switzerland is an average 11 billion m3 per year for the period 1996-2005, which is 1528 m3 per year or approximately 4120 litre per day per Swiss citizen. About 68% of this total is ‘green’, 25% ‘grey’ and 7% ‘blue’. Consumption of agricultural commodities makes up the bulk of Switzerland’s water footprint, accounting for 81% of the total. Industrial commodities account for 17%; the remaining 2% relates to domestic water supply. Most of the water footprint of Swiss consumption (82%) lies outside Switzerland.

About 34% of the blue water footprint of Swiss consumption is in river basins that experience moderate to severe water scarcity during at least one month in a year. The priority basins are located in France (Garonne, Loire, Escaut and Seine), Italy (Po), Central Asia (Aral Sea basin), the USA (Mississippi), India (Ganges, Krishna, Godavari, Tapti, Mahi, Cauvery and Penner), Pakistan (Indus), Spain (Guadalquivir, Guadiana, and Tejo), Middle East (Tigris and Euphrates), China (Huang He, Yongding He, Mekong, Huai He and Tarim), West Africa (Nile, Tana) and Côte d'Ivoire (Sassandra). Cotton, rice, sugar cane, grape, sorghum, maize, soybean, sunflower, citrus and coffee are identified as priority products, giving significant contributions to the blue water scarcity in the selected priority basins. Especially cotton, rice and sugar cane give an important contribution to the blue water footprint in many of these basins.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDelft, the Netherlands
PublisherUnesco-IHE Institute for Water Education
Number of pages42
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Publication series

NameValue of Water Research Report
PublisherUnesco-IHE Institute for Water Education
ISSN (Print)1812-2108


  • IR-84813
  • METIS-290556


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