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Wetskills’ CaseBooster and WFI team up to gain insight into Central & Eastern Europe virtual water flows

Water Footprint Implementation (WFI) joined the latest Wetskills event, CaseBooster – Europe as one of the three case owners. WFI Project Officer Luc Albers (The Netherlands) teamed up with three other participants from Romania, Dubai, and Syria. The team’s assignment was to investigate the virtual water flows between Romania and Hungary. The team considered the top 5 traded products from Romania to Hungary and vice versa produced at a regional level within the countries. The results indicated that Hungary applies water more efficiently in terms of yield, resulting in more crop per drop, but also in financial terms, resulting in more cash per drop. Luc pitched the results at the online Ökoindustria Conference in Budapest, Hungary. See the pitch here:

What is a virtual water flow?

A virtual water flow is the water being virtually transported from location A to location B in the form of water that is embedded in a product. Products that are grown/produced in location A require water in location A. Later, when these products are transported/traded to location B water virtually flows from location A to location B, hence a virtual water flow is formed. The concept of virtual, or embedded, water was first developed as a way of understanding how water scarce countries could provide food, clothing and other water intensive goods to their inhabitants.

The coupling of virtual water and trade value per crop results in an estimation of economic water productivity.


Most intriguing in the first phase of the project was the finding that 4 out of the top 5 products being traded between Romania and Hungary are the same for both countries, namely wheat, rapeseed, corn and sunflower seeds.

The results further show that Romania has a higher water footprint, using more water to achieve the same yield for the 4 overlapping top crops. Correspondingly, Hungary earns more money for every cubic meter applied to grow the same crop.

In other words, Hungary uses less water to produce a tonne of corn and sells it at a higher price to Romania, who then exports its own crop using more water and at a lower price back to Hungary.

Water Footprint Implementation - wfiimg1

The tables show the difference between water use efficiency of Romania and Hungary for the four overlapping crops in term of yield as required water to produce a ton of crop (m3/tonne) and in terms of monetary benefit as either dollar earned per m3 applied or amount of water required in m3 to earn a dollar. For example, to grow a tonne of wheat in Romania 1816 m3 of water is required, whereas it Hungary only uses 1270 m3. The tables also show that for wheat 0.11$ or $0.17 is earned for every m3 applied, and 9.09 m3 or 5.88 m3 is required to earn one dollar, for Romania and Hungary respectively.


Virtual water flows help us see how water resources in one country are used to support consumption in another country. To determine how virtual water flows affect the water resources in the exporting country, the water footprint is overlaid with water availability data in the respective catchments. The aim is to identify if trade induced water scarcity is taking place and subsequently inform a smart & green trade and development policy at national or regional level.

In 2020, WFI did a similar study into virtual water flows and economic impact in the five Central Asian countries; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

For more information contact Luc Albers at