Faced with summer restrictions, this is how France uses its water

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France extracts approximately 31 billion cubic metres of fresh water from its natural sources each year. Faced with an ongoing winter drought that could lead to water restrictions this summer, FRANCE 24 looks at the different ways the country consumes water.

France experienced a historic drought in the summer of 2022, followed by an equally dry winter. Alarm bells are still ringing this year as the country braces itself for yet another arid summer. On Wednesday March 1, 2023, four French departments were already subject to restrictions: Ain, Isère, Bouches-du-Rhône and the Pyrénées-Orientales. Inhabitants of these areas are forbidden to water their lawns, fill their swimming pools, and farmers are prohibited from irrigating their crops.

“And the number [of departments facing restrictions] will inevitably grow,” warned Ecological Transition Minister Christophe Béchu on Monday evening, as he called on authorities of France’s seven major river basins to issue restriction orders “as of now” to anticipate a summer drought.

Whether in agriculture, industry or domestic use, “sobriety” and “saving water” are the current watchwords being used by the French government. FRANCE 24 decided to take stock of how water is used and consumed across the country.

>> France’s unprecedented drought shows climate change is ‘spiralling out of control’ 

Around 31 billion cubic metres of fresh water extracted yearly 

Every year, France extracts around 31 billion cubic metres of fresh water from its rivers and groundwater sources, according to the Ministry of Ecological Transition. Next to the 208 billion cubic metres of water available on average, this may not seem like much. But in order to maintain a balanced ecosystem, it’s essential for most water to stay in nature.

Add to this the fact that the renewal of water supplies can vary greatly from one year to the next, depending on the amount of rainfall. In 2019 for example, it was estimated that only 142 billion mof water were available, far from the average 208 billion. And that’s exactly what’s worrying scientists and meteorologists for the summer of 2023. According to French national meteorological service Météo-France, 15 of the past 18 months have seen rainfall deficits.

Another issue is that most water extraction takes place in the summer, when groundwater and river levels are already at their lowest. The French Ministry of Ecology estimates that 60% of all water consumption takes place between June and August.

So where does all this fresh water go? While some of it is used domestically, flowing through our taps and showerheads, the rest is used for economic purposes, primarily to cool (mostly nuclear) power plants.

How is water used in France? © Studio graphique FMM

It’s important to note that water used to cool power plants and supply water wheels comes from surface water like rivers or reservoirs, while water used for drinking, agriculture or industry comes from both surface water and groundwater.

Agriculture, main consumer of water 

It’s also important to consider that water extracted for consumption is water that will not be returned to its natural source after being used. Water sent to nuclear power plants, however, is used in an open circuit and therefore returned to nature after it is used. As for agriculture, water used for livestock is never sent back.

Between 2008 and 2019, the average amount of water extracted for consumption reached 5.3 billion cubic metres per year in France. And this time, agriculture took the lead as the main consumer of water, far ahead of power plant cooling, industry and drinking water.

Agriculture is France's main water consumer
Agriculture is France’s main water consumer © Studio graphique FMM

“In agriculture, water is mostly used to irrigate crops,” explains Sami Bouarfa, a researcher at the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE) and deputy director of the AQUA department. “Even if the share of crops that need irrigation represent only 6% of all cultivated land.”

>> Will France’s record-breaking summer of 2022 boost efforts to fight climate change? 

And the type of water use varies greatly from department to department. According to the 2021 environmental report by the Ministry of Ecology, the Adour-Garonne basin in southwest France is where most extractions for agriculture take place. The Rhône-Méditerranée basin, on the other hand, uses water in power plants and is the most water-hungry area. As for the Seine-Normandy and Picardy basins, water extracted is mainly used to produce drinking water.

A French person consumes 149 litres of drinking water daily 

In 2020, 5.5 billion cubic metres of water were pumped from natural sources and transformed into drinking water. But by the end of the year, only 3.7 billion had been consumed, according to the latest report from France’s Observatory of Public Water and Sanitation Services (SISPEA). The discrepancy is entirely due to leakages that occur in the pipes carrying our drinking water from source to tap. SISPEA estimates that 20% of all drinking water in France, or one in every five litres, is lost to leakages.

Drinking water
Drinking water © Studio graphique FMM

Asides what is wasted, a French person will consume 149 litres of drinking water per day on average, close to the European average of 200 litres, but far behind the daily consumption of a person from the US, who consumes 600 litres on average. In countries with insufficient water resources, daily consumption can drop to less than 20 litres per person.

According to the Water Information Centre, around 93% of water used in French households is dedicated to hygiene – showering, flushing the toilet or using the washing machine. The remaining 7% goes on food. Car washing uses an average of 200 litres of water, showering about 50 litres and washing clothes around 60 litres.

Main domestic uses of drinking water
Main domestic uses of drinking water © Studio graphique FMM

In addition to domestic use, there is also the collective use of drinking water in schools and hospitals.

This article was translated from the original in French. 

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No silver bullet: Ensuring the right packaging solutions for Europe

When most people think of McDonald’s they likely think of quality food, good value and consistently reliable convenient service. But I hope they also think about our values.

At McDonald’s, we care deeply about our impact on the world. Our purpose is to feed and foster local communities. We are always striving to use our influence and scale to make a positive impact on the planet and in the communities we serve across Europe and globally. We are on a journey to help implement and accelerate solutions to keep waste out of nature and valuable materials in use.

Our purpose is to feed and foster local communities.

During my trip to Europe, I’ve seen some of these solutions in action. While in Brussels I had the opportunity to visit one of our restaurants at the forefront of advancing our circularity goals. McDonald’s is the first major partner of a pioneering initiative ‘The Cup Collective’. It is a great project by Stora Enso and Huhtamaki to collect cardboard beverage and ice cream cups in and around our restaurants and recycle them on an industrial scale into paper fiber. At our busy  restaurant in Brussels-North station, I saw the initiative firsthand. This is a fantastic example of several stakeholders working together to solve a problem through their expertise and innovation.

I know policymakers across the EU are trying to solve many of the greatest challenges we face today, including Europe’s growing packaging waste problem, and we at McDonald’s fully support this, as the example above demonstrates. The problem is, history itself is littered with examples of the unintended consequences of well-meaning policies and laws. I believe the current Packaging and Packaging Waste proposal by the EU is one such regulation. By focusing solely on reusable packaging, we at McDonald’s and many of our partners and competitors in the informal dining out sector believe that Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) will actually be counterproductive to the overall goals of the Green Deal. And we support the goals of the Green Deal, which is why this concerns us.

The informal eating-out sector is particularly complex and is not well understood. We feel the impact study the EU commissioned ahead of the PPWR proposal did not necessarily reflect that as much as it could have. We want such important decisions to be based on science, facts, and evidence, which is why we commissioned a report with the global management consultancy Kearney to assess environmental, economic, hygiene and affordability impacts of various packaging solutions. As a result of this, we firmly believe the proposal will be damaging not only for the environment, but also for the economy, food safety and for consumers.

Of course, the idea of reusing something over and over again as opposed to only once seems like the obvious solution — but it’s more complicated than that. For reuse models to have a positive impact on the environment, consumers need to return the reusables. A reusable cup needs to be returned and reused 50 to 100 times — whether for takeaway or dine-in — to make it environmentally preferable to a single-use paper cup.

Reusables by their very nature also need to be washed every time they’re used. For an industry like ours, serving millions of customers every day, that requires significant energy and water. Europe’s water infrastructure is already under stress, and the Kearney study shows reusable packaging requirements for dine-in restaurants would increase water use — and could require up to 4 billion liters of additional water each year. Washing also requires more energy resulting in increased greenhouse emissions. The study shows that a shift to 100 percent reusable packaging by 2030 would increase greenhouse emissions by up to 50 percent for dine-in and up to 260 percent for takeaway. They also require specialist washing to ensure they meet hygiene standards.

The study shows that a shift to 100 percent reusable packaging by 2030 would increase greenhouse emissions.

When it comes to plastics we are particularly concerned. McDonald’s has made huge progress when it comes to reducing plastic in our supply chain and restaurants. In the European Union, more than 90 percent of our packaging is locally sourced, primarily from European paper packaging suppliers. We are shifting packaging materials to more sustainable alternatives to ensure easier recovery and recycling. 92.8 percent (by weight) of McDonald’s food packaging in Europe is wood fiber and 99.4 percent of that fiber packaging comes from recycled or certified sources.

Worryingly though, the study we commissioned says that reuse models will lead to a sharp increase in plastic materials in Europe.Reuse targets proposed in the PPWR will create four times the amount of plastic packaging waste for dine-in, and 16 times for takeaway. That’s a lot more plastic instead of recyclable paper and cardboard and is the opposite of what the EU wants to achieve.

So, what should be done? Given that Kearney’s data shows recyclable, fiber-based packaging has the greater potential to benefit the environment, economy, food safety and consumers, we believe the EU should pause and conduct a full impact study before moving ahead. The European Commission’s current impact assessment lacks depth and does not consider economic and food safety aspects. Member countries should not unilaterally introduce legislation before this has been assessed to avoid fragmentation of the single market.

We believe the EU should pause and conduct a full impact study before moving ahead.

In dine in and takeaway, we are looking for equivalence of treatment between recycled and recyclable (paper based) single use packaging and reusable tableware. Any legislation should take into account the specific needs of complex business sectors, and the right packaging solutions.

A rush to a solution for a complicated situation will only make the problem worse. I hope that the report McDonald’s commissioned and launched with Kearney will stimulate the policy debate about the mix of solutions needed. Europe has a proud history of collaboration and pragmatism when it comes to solving important problems and challenges, and I am confident we can draw on that when it comes to this particular issue — because there really is no silver bullet when it comes to solving Europe’s packaging problem.


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West must move faster to prevent a catastrophe in northern Syria

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

On the “treacherous night” of the deadly earthquake that shook northern Syria, Idris Nassan, a Kurdish official living in Raqqa, was startled awake as his apartment swayed.

“My body was trembling, noise filled the place; the building turned into a swing, leaning left and right,” he said.

With his wife and mother in tow, Nassan scrambled down three flights of stairs, joining neighbors who, “like birds fleeing snakes of prey,” made their chaotic exit. The stairwell echoed with the cries and screams of terrified children.

The scenes outside were “beyond endurance,” Nassan said — telling, coming from a man who witnessed the siege of Kobani and the vicious battles between Kurds and the Islamic State militants there. But, he added, the “pain of the earthquake has been “deepened by the failure of others to help.”

Of all the places to be tested by the grinding of tectonic plates, this is one that just didn’t need to suffer more pain and grief.

The Syrians of Idlib and northern Aleppo, many displaced from elsewhere in the war-ravaged country, have endured barbaric conflict, a gruesome descent into hell, for over a decade. They’ve suffered barrel bombs; their hospitals and markets have been targeted; they’ve been starved; and they’ve been preyed upon by the jihadists of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Idlib was turned into a large “kill zone” by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers, as rebels and their families were funneled into the area, corralled like cattle awaiting slaughter.

Adding insult to injury, since 2018, Turkish authorities have been deterring Syrian asylum seekers from crossing the border and declining to register them. Turkey has also mounted unlawful deportations and coerced some to return to northern Syria, while the European Union — fearful of another migration surge — has raised few objections to this breach of the Geneva Convention.

Along the arc of northern Syria, the widespread complaint by Arabs and Kurds alike is that since the defeat of the Islamic State, they’ve been abandoned by the international community. That sense of desertion is now being compounded as they dig mass graves and grapple with the effects of a devastating earthquake.

Since the deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake flattened towns, destroyed homes and crushed thousands of lives on February 6, the world’s focus has mainly been on Turkey — that’s where Western media and international rescue crews, aid and equipment have been heading.

But across the border, there’s been scant assistance.

Sent into rebel-held Idlib, a member of Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization, said, “What sticks in my mind is that some people were standing above the rubble and hearing the voices of their families and relatives a few meters away, but they could not do anything to rescue them due to the lack of equipment and the absence of an international response to help.”

Predictably, Moscow and Beijing haven’t been lagging in their efforts to try to spin the events in Syria. “The sanctions imposed by the US and its allies are hampering relief and rescue work . . . such a humanitarian disaster is not enough to melt the cold-blooded heart of the US,” goaded the Global Times, the English-language mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused the “collective West” of ignoring what’s taking place in northern Syria, blaming the economic sanctions against the Assad government for prolonging suffering.

Of course, these are crocodile tears coming from a Chinese Communist government that’s incarcerated over a million Uyghurs since 2015. It’s also strikingly indecent of Russia to claim sympathy for the north of Syria, where it shunned the laws of war and rehearsed the bombing campaigns and egregious tactics it’s now using in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, one doesn’t have to be a Russian or Chinese propagandist to question the West’s sluggishness in anticipating the scale of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in northern Syria, or in developing an action plan to ease the suffering in Idlib and northern Aleppo.

Last week, EU officials slammed the complaints of neglect coming from northern Syria. “I categorically reject the accusations that EU sanctions may have any impact on humanitarian aid. These sanctions were imposed since 2011 in response to the violent repression of the Syrian regime against its own civilian population, including the use of chemical weapons,” European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič told reporters. “There is nothing there that would hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid and emergency assistance, especially not in the situation in which Syrian people find themselves after this terrible earthquake,” he added.

The EU says it’ll provide additional emergency support to both Turkey and Syria, and emergency humanitarian assistance worth €6.5 million. But officials say the bloc will also require safeguards to ensure aid effectively reaches those in need and isn’t misused by the Assad government — something that’s plagued humanitarian assistance in the past.

Indeed, funneling aid into northern Syria is fraught with logistical and political nightmares. Idlib is controlled by a variety of feuding rebel groups, with a large part held by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an Islamist militant group that’s been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and, much like the Assad government, has been accused of manipulating international aid.

Additionally, of the five border crossings from Turkey into northern Syria, only one has been authorized by Turkish authorities to handle humanitarian aid — although Ankara has now said it’s considering reopening more crossings to allow aid into both opposition-held and Assad-controlled areas.

But time is of the essence, and the scale of the crisis unfolding requires a momentous step change.

Mercy Corps reports that there aren’t enough structural engineers in northern Syria to inspect buildings, and even small aftershocks risk further collapse. There’s also very little coordination on the ground, with extremely limited information available on shelter options for survivors.

Fuel for heating and cooking is becoming a major challenge as well. “There is limited availability, and what is available is of poor quality and very expensive. People are burning trash to stay warm, and aid deliveries will be dependent on consistent access to fuel for trucks,” said Mercy Corps. Meanwhile, food is hard to procure, prices are skyrocketing, and access to clean drinking water is becoming a critical problem, with assessment teams worried about pollutants leaking into water sources.

On Friday, the United Nations warned that over 5 million Syrians may be left homeless after the earthquake. “That is a huge number and comes to a population already suffering mass displacement,” said Sivanka Dhanapala, the Syria representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Thankfully, in the past few days, 20 U.N. aid trucks have crossed into rebel-held areas, but most were carrying pre-planned provisions that had been delayed due to the earthquake. And on Friday, the U.N. announced it was releasing an additional $25 million in emergency funding for Syria, bringing the total to $50 million so far.

However, NGO assessment workers say this is far short of what’s needed — and they argue that Western powers will have to rethink the sanctions regime.

While humanitarian aid isn’t barred by Western sanctions, there are plenty of other things desperately needed in northern Syria that are, including fuel and construction equipment critical to rescue efforts, to prop up battered buildings and to rebuild, so the displaced aren’t left to shelter in tents.

The United States has moved faster than the EU in recognizing that sanctions risk impeding quake assistance, issuing a six-month waiver for all transactions related to providing disaster relief to Syria.

 Navigating the political dilemmas all this will bring — getting in front of Assad exploiting the earthquake to force a normalization of relations, getting Turkey to coordinate with the Kurds of northern Syria, and dealing with HTS and the other feuding rebel groups — is undoubtedly going to be a tall order.

Aside from the imperatives of compassion, a slow and inadequate Western response will also feed into African and Middle Eastern countries’ perception — kindled by Moscow and Beijing — that Western powers only pay attention to them when they want or need something.

And if these challenges aren’t confronted, the immediate humanitarian crisis risks turning into a catastrophe.

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Experts Still Don’t Agree About How Much Water We Need Daily

Jan. 19, 2023 – Water is the key to human life. It helps cells survive, it lubricates our joints and helps our metabolism, breathing, waste removal, and temperature regulation. 

We can’t survive without it for longer than 3 days. And while scientists, doctors, public health authorities, dietitians, and nutritionists can agree on its importance, one critical question remains: How much water should we be drinking?

For years, we’ve heard that it would be best if humans had at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Recently, two studies, published only months apart, resulted in a barrage of headlines about daily water intake, only furthering confusion. 

  • “Why you don’t need to drink 8 cups of water a day” – The Washington Post, Dec. 6
  • “8 cups of water a day could be too much” — NPR, Dec. 7
  • “Drink more water: Staying well-hydrated linked to developing fewer chronic conditions, study says.” – USA Today, Jan. 3 

Recommendations to drink eight 8-ounce glasses (or 64 ounces, or 1 liter) have been misinterpreted, says Dale Schoeller, PhD, a professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of one of the studies fueling the latest questions. 

“The scientific recommendation was based on all water intake, water and food, you know – an apple contains so much water; soup, so much water per gram, things like that,” he says. “For the most part, there’s no accurate and precise method of water intake.” 

Schoeller is referring to a 1945 study published by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board that continues to provide fodder for research and arguments. In the decades since, researchers have continued to grapple over useful ways to calculate water needs, which, according to Schoeller’s findings, change regularly, depending on things like age, body size and composition, the amount of energy you put out each day, physical activity, as well as climate and temperature. The total movement of water through the body, or how much water gets into and out of our body daily, is known as water turnover. 

“Water turnover is closely related to the concept of water balance,” says Natalia Dmitrieva, PhD, a research scientist in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, MD, and co-author of the second study that explores hydration levels and their relationship to healthy aging.

“To maintain water balance, our body has to change water output depending on water intake,” she says. “When we don’t drink for a long time (or drink less fluid), the volume of our urine decreases, and it becomes much more concentrated because the kidneys conserve water to match water intake.” 

Dmitrieva’s study showed that an important sign of a lack of water balance is an increase in sodium in your blood, which, in turn, appears to promote the risk of chronic conditions and advance the aging process, including dying at a younger age.

Calculate Your Daily Water Needs

Depending who you ask, there is no hard and fast rule for determining how much water to drink every day. Nor do people appear to follow any specific guidance; an unofficial Facebook poll on water intake on my personal page generated answers ranging from ”80 to 96 ounces per day” to “about 6 ounces an hour during the more active part of the day.” Several people said that they had no idea how much they drank. 

These responses are hardly surprising. In fact, data demonstrates that fluid intake is often the result of habit or total targets rather than daily need. And as noted, daily needs change on a regular basis, depending on your body’s water turnover rate.

So how should you decide when and how much water to drink every day?

“If we drink low amounts of water, we have an increase in secretion of a hormone called arginine vasopressin from the brain that acts on the kidney to reabsorb as much water as possible; that coincides with an increased perception of thirst. People can use the perception of thirst to help guide them to drink more fluids,” says William Adams, PhD, a hydration expert and an adjunct assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. 

Being mindful of what our bodies may be telling us is key, albeit somewhat flawed. 

“Our thirst tells us a lot, but by the time we’re thirsty, we’re already 1% to 2% dehydrated, says Melissa Majumdar, a bariatric coordinator at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

This is a key reason why Jodi Stookey, a nutrition epidemiologist and water and hydration researcher based in San Francisco, suggests that a good rule of thumb is to “err on the side of a little more water than we feel thirsty for, for the day.”

A more reliable sign is urine color. “The darker the urine color, the more concentrated it is,” says Adams. “So, if you wake up in the morning and your urine is super dark (like apple juice color), you probably did a bad job the day before consuming fluids and should make an effort to address it going forward (that day).” 

The urine approach is evidence-based and came from research done on athletes in the mid-1990s. The goal? “Aim for a lemonade color,” says Majumdar.

Pacing is also important.

“To drink, you have to pace yourself throughout the day, or you’re inevitably not going to be getting enough,” says Majumdar. “I always tell my patients to have a water bottle with them (or by them on their desk), like it’s a third arm.”

Finally, what should you be drinking? 

Stookey says that the best choice is plain clear water if possible. 

“When you drink something else – like orange juice or Coca-Cola or milk – it’s more concentrated in the blood, so your own body water has to go into the gut to dilute it in order to absorb those things. Clean water is very different than the other sources,” she says.

Pairing and practice can also help with daily water consumption. So if you are a coffee drinker, perhaps pair a glass of water with it to help build better habits.

And for people who don’t care for plain water, most experts say that carbonated water is a good choice; adding fruit to it adds flavor, helps quench thirst, properly dilutes urine, and points hydration levels in the right direction.

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