Professor John Anthony Allan from King’s College in London has been named the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate by the Stockholm International Water Institute. Allan pioneered the development of key concepts in the understanding and communication of water issues and how they are linked to agriculture, climate change, economics and politics.

People do not only consume water when they drink it or take a shower. Allan, 71, strikingly demonstrated this by introducing the “virtual water” concept, which measures how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products. Behind that morning cup of coffee are 36 gallons of water used to grow, produce, package and ship the beans. The ubiquitous hamburger needs an estimated 600 gallons of water. Per capita, Americans consume around 1,750 gallons of virtual water every day, more than triple that of a Chinese person.

Virtual water has major impacts on global trade policy and research, especially in water-scarce regions, and has redefined discourse in water policy and management. By explaining how and why nations such as the United States, Argentina and Brazil export billions of gallons of water each year, while others like Japan, Egypt and Italy import billions, the virtual water concept has opened the door to more productive water use. National, regional and global water and food security, for example, can be enhanced when water-intensive commodities are traded from places where they are economically viable to produce to places where they are not. While studying water scarcity in the Middle East, Allan developed the theory of using virtual water import, via food, as an alternative water source to reduce pressure on the scarcely available domestic water resources there and in other water-short regions.

In its citation, the international nominating committee wrote: “Professor Tony Allan is awarded for the Stockholm Water Prize for his unique, pioneering and long-lasting work in education and raising the awareness internationally of interdisciplinary relationships between agricultural production, water use, economies and political processes. The improved understanding of trade and water management issues on local, regional and global scales are of the highest relevance for the successful and sustainable use of water resources.”