As I’m sure my friends and colleagues in Australia will appreciate more than most, the question of access to water is shaping up as the ‘big issue’ of the noughties. No longer considered a ‘free gift’ of nature, Australia has an increasingly sophisticated market for water (see ‘Water trading becomes a liquid market for economic dries’ in the Australian Financial Review, 29 July 2004). How alert the rest of us are to the profligate nature of our water consumption is a moot point. The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), organiser of this week’s World Water Week conference presents a pretty gloomy picture. They make the link between water and food production and contend that the carnivorous amongst us are a big drain on water supplies because it takes so many more cubic metres of water to produce 1kg of meat compared to that required for 1kg of cereals. It should perhaps be of no surprise, therefore, that the US is top of the water consumption league table. What I found most interesting about the SIWI commentary, though, is the notion of water-poor Australia being an exporter of ‘virtual water’ on account of its meat exports.