Lack of water in Korea is serious issue: Report

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Lack of water in Korea is serious issue: Report

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One of the biggest environmental risks Korea is facing at the moment is water shortage.

But a report yesterday released by the government showed that despite such concern, the amount of daily water Koreans use exceeds that of other foreign countries with a larger water supply.

According to a report released by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime affairs yesterday ahead of the 20th World Water Day, which is today, the total amount of water used per person annually is 1,453 cubic meters (383,842 gallons), which ranks Korea 129th in the world.

Based on standards set by the Population Action Institute, an international nonprofit organization, Korea is categorized as a country with water shortage, as its per capita water resource is less than 1,700 cubic meters.

Adding to the alarm is a recent report released by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development called the “Environmental Outlook to 2050.”

The report named Korea a country with a serious water shortage problem among OECD nations, based on the statistic that the total demand for potable water compared to the available amount is 40 percent, which is the highest among the 34 member nations.

The amount of water being used by Koreans, however, keeps growing. As of 2010, ministry data showed that the amount of per capita water usage on a daily base was 333 liters (88 gallons) in Korea, which is higher than Japan with 320 liters and Italy with 322 liters.

Also, a report released last year by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization showed that Korea’s annual per capita water footprint - the domestic volume of water used, including the water it requires for food and other daily uses - was 1,629 cubic meters, which ranks the country 40th among 102 countries with populations over five million.

Though Korea is short on water, experts note that the reason why Koreans are not able to feel the shortage in their daily lives is because the country imports water in the form of “virtual water,” a concept referring to the amount of water used in imported goods and services, including food and the water that is needed to produce it.

As a county that imports large amounts of agricultural goods from overseas, the volume of virtual water Korea imports is 42.7 billion cubic meters per year, which is the world’s sixth-largest after Japan, Mexico, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Korea imports 60 percent of its water needed through virtual water,” said Choi Kye-woon, a city environmental engineering professor at the University of Incheon. “That is why Koreans are not able to feel the seriousness of a water shortage.”

By Kang Chan-su [angie@joongang.co.kr]
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