In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated March 22 as World Water Day as a means of advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. In 2013—the “International Year of Water Cooperation”— the day also is being dedicated to the theme of mutual aid to preserve and provide freshwater resources.
But how much do we really know about water worldwide? The UN is a fount of wisdom when it comes to the subject. Here are a few interesting and alarming facts about the world’s water supply:
- Fully 85 percent of the world’s population lives in the driest half of the planet.
- More than 780 million people do not have access to clean water.
- Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global freshwater withdrawals (and up to 90 percent in some fast-growing economies).
- Global agricultural water consumption, alone, is estimated to increase by about 19 percent by 2050, and will be even greater in the absence of any technological progress or policy intervention.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts with high confidence that water stress will increase in central and southern Europe and that, by the 2070s, the number of people affected will rise from 28 million to 44 million.
- The cost of adapting to the impacts of a 2°C rise in global average temperature could range from US$70 to US$100 billion per year between 2020 and 2050, according to the World Bank. Of this cost, between US$13.7 billion (drier scenario) and $19.2 billion (wetter scenario) will be related to water—predominantly through water supply and flood management
- Rich nations are tending to maintain or increase their consumption of natural resources, but are exporting their footprints to producer (and typically, poorer) nations. European and North American populations consume a considerable amount of virtual water embedded in imported food and products.
- Over 80 percent of used water worldwide is not collected or treated
- The treatment of wastewater requires significant amounts of energy, and demand for energy to do this is expected to increase globally by 44 percent between 2006 and 2030—especially in non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, where wastewater currently receives little or no treatment.
- Pollution knows no borders either. Up to 90 percent of wastewater in developing countries flows untreated into rivers, lakes and highly productive coastal zones; threatening health, food security and access to safe drinking and bathing water
- Nearly 450 agreements on international waters were signed between 1820 and 2007.
Edited by Brooke Neuman