The U.K.’s Institution of Chemical Engineers is urging coordinated action to reduce the amount of hidden water used in food and drink production – estimated at up to 1.8 million liters per person every year, equivalent to an Olympic size swimming pool.

Each person consumes between 2,000 and 5,000 liters of water embedded in their food every day – or between 730,000 and 1,825,000 million liters annually, the institution says.

Currently, around 90 percent of all freshwater is used by agriculture and industry, leaving only 10 percent for domestic use. As the population grows, and more people move to a western-style diet, water extraction is estimated to increase by over 50 percent. By 2050, the overall impact will see around two thirds of the world’s population living in “water scarce” areas, compared to only seven percent currently.

Andy Furlong, the institution’s director of policy, said: “It is clear that current production methods are unsustainable and there are genuine risks of food shortages, rising food prices, droughts and social unrest for future generations unless we make more efficient use of water. There are solutions, but these will require political will, major investment and lifestyle changes.” 

He continued that a combination of regulations and incentives should be introduced to require industry to monitor their water usage, as well as be rewarded for using alternative sustainable water supplies.

“Education also has a role to ensure that consumers understand better how their food is produced to enable them to make informed choices,” he added.