Did you know?.. Facts and Figures around Water

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Below is a strat about facts and figures around water (big credit goes to the UNESCO-Water Portal for the idea and parts of the facts)


Bottled Water

Bottled Water
Bottled Water
  • Over the last decade, sales of bottled water have increased dramatically to become what is estimated to be a US $100 billion industry
  • From 1999 to 2004, global bottled water consumption grew from approximately 118 billion litres to more than 182 billion litres.
  • In several cities of the developing world, demand for bottled water often stems from the fact that municipal water supplies – if available at all – fail to meet basic criteria for drinking water quality. But companies manufacturing bottled water are also generating large revenues in developed countries.
  • Bottled water sales in the United States in 2004 – higher than in any other country – totalled over US $9 billion for 30.8 billion litres of water, that is, enough water to meet the annual physiological needs of a population the size of Cambodia.
  • Countries in the top ten list of bottled water consumers include United States, Mexico, China, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Indonesia, Spain and India.
  • When asked why they are willing to pay so much for bottled water when they have access to tap water, consumers often list concerns about the safety of tap water as a major reason for preferring bottled water. While most companies market this product on the basis that it is safer than tap water, various studies indicate that bottled water regulations are in fact inadequate to ensure purity or safety. The World Health Organization warns that bottled water can actually have a greater bacterial count than municipal water.
  • In the United States, the standards by which bottled water is graded (regulated by the Food and Drug Administration) are actually lower than those for tap water (regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency).
  • Most water bottles are meant to be recyclable. However, only 20% of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the substance used for water bottles, is actually recycled. In addition, the PET manufacturing process releases harmful chemical emissions that compromise air quality.
  • In Greece, it is estimated that 1 billion plastic drinking water bottles are thrown away each year.
  • In China, where roughly 70% of rivers and lakes are polluted, the largest demand for bottled water comes from city dwellers, for in rural areas people are too poor to pay for this alternative.

Information from the 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report, 'Water, a shared responsibility' (http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/table_contents.shtml)

Water and Agriculture

  • Out of the world’s total land area of 13 billion hectares (ha), 12% is cultivated, and an estimated 27% is used for pasture. The 1.5 billion ha of cropland include 277 million ha of irrigated land, representing 18% of cropland.
  • In population terms, cropland amounts to a global average of 0.25 ha per person.
  • To satisfy the growing demand for food between 2000 and 2030, production of food crops in developing countries is projected to increase by 67%. At the same time, a continuing rise in productivity should make it possible to restrain the increase in water use for agriculture to about 14%.
  • Producing food requires from 2,000 to 5,000 litres/person/day, depending on diet and climate differences and the efficiency of local food production systems.
  • Most of the water used to produce food or other crops comes from rain that is stored in the soil (so-called green water), where it is captured by crop roots. Irrigation is practised in places and times where rainwater is insufficient for adequately supplying water to crops.
  • Globally, rainfall provides about 90% of the water used by crops. Although it covers only 10% of the water used in agriculture, irrigation claims 70% of all the freshwater (so-called blue water) used for human consumption.
  • In 2030, irrigated agriculture in 93 developing countries would account for over 70% of the projected increase in cereal production. In these countries, the area equipped for irrigation is expected to expand by 20% (40 million ha) between 1998 and 2030.
  • Thanks to increased cropping intensity, the area of harvested crops in irrigation is expected to increase by 34% by 2030. In the same period, the amount of freshwater that will be appropriated for irrigation is expected to grow by about 14% to 2,420 km3 in 2030.
  • In the global debate about increasing water scarcity, agriculture is often associated with the image of inefficient, wasteful water use. This image is conveyed by poor performance in terms of ‘water use efficiency,’ a term that was defined as the ratio between the irrigation water absorbed by the plants and the amount of water actually withdrawn from its source for the purpose of irrigation. FAO has estimated that overall water use efficiency in irrigation ranges around 38% in developing countries and has projected only a minor increase in overall water use efficiency in the forthcoming decades.

Information from the 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report, 'Water, a shared responsibility' (http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/table_contents.shtml)

Urban Water

  • During the 20th century, the world’s urban population increased more than tenfold, while rural population increased but twofold.
  • Today, half of the world’s population lives in urban centres, compared to less than 15% in 1900.
  • Human population growth and the expansion of economic activities are collectively placing huge demands on coastal and freshwater ecosystems. Water withdrawals, for instance, have increased sixfold since the 1900s, which is twice the rate of population growth.
  • In 1900, ‘million cities’ (cities with more than one million inhabitants) were unusual and cities with over 10 million unknown; by 2000, there were 387 million cities and 18 with more than 10 million inhabitants.
  • In most urban areas in low- and middle-income countries, between 25% and 50% of the population lacks provision for water and sanitation of a quality that greatly reduces the risk of human contamination with faecal-oral pathogens.
  • As the urban population increases, many major cities have had to draw freshwater from increasingly distant watersheds, as local surface and groundwater sources no longer meet the demand for water, or as they become depleted or polluted.
  • In 2000, more than 900 million urban dwellers (nearly a third of all urban dwellers worldwide) lived in slums. A slum dweller may only have 5 to 10 litres per day at his or her disposal. A middle- or high-income household in the same city, however, may use some 50 to 150 litres per day, if not more.
  • In many places of the world, a staggering 30 to 40% of water or more goes unaccounted for due to water leakages in pipes and canals and illegal tapping.
  • An analysis of provision for water and sanitation in urban areas of different sizes in 43 low- and middle-income nations showed that in almost every case, the smaller the size-class for urban centres, the worse the provision. It was found that the percentage of households with piped or well water on the premises or with flush toilets generally declined with city size, and that generally the worst served urban populations were those in urban centres with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants.

Information from 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report, 'Water, a shared responsibility' (http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/table_contents.shtml)

Water Footprints and Virtual water

The water footprint of an individual, business or nation is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the foods and services consumed by the individual, business or nation. A water footprint is generally expressed in terms of the volume of water use per year.

Since not all goods consumed in one particular country are produced in that country, the water footprint consists of two parts: use of domestic water resources and use of water outside the borders of the country. The water footprint includes both the water withdrawn from surface and groundwater and the use of soil water (in agricultural production). Virtual water is the water ’embedded’ in commodities. Producing goods and services requires water; the water used to produce agricultural or industrial products is called the virtual water of the product.

The global volume of virtual water flows related to the international trade in commodities is 1,600 Km3/yr. About 80% of these virtual water flows relate to the trade in agricultural products, while the remainder is related to industrial product trade.

The production of 1 kilogram of:

  • rice requires 3,000 litres of water
  • maize requires 900 litres of water
  • wheat requires 1,350 litres of water
  • beef requires 16,000 litres of water

140 litres of water are needed to produce 1 cup of coffee while the production of 1 litre of milk requires 1,000 litres of water.

Globally, water is saved if agricultural products are traded from regions with high water productivity to those with low water productivity. At present, if importing countries produced all imported agricultural products domestically, they would require 1,600 Km3 of water per year; however, the products are being produced with only 1.200 Km3/yr in the exporting countries, saving global water resources by roughly 400 billion m3/yr.

The per capita consumption of virtual water contained in our diets varies according to the type of diet, from 1 m3/day for a survival diet, to 2.6 m3/day for a vegetarian diet and over 5 m3 for a United States style meat based diet.

Only about 7% of the Chinese water footprint of 700 m3 per capita per year (m3/cap/yr) falls outside of China, whereas 65% of Japan’s total water footprint of 1150 m3/cap/yr is external. The United States appears to have an average water footprint of 2,480 m3/cap/yr, while the global average water footprint is 1,240 m3/cap/yr.

Information from the 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report, 'Water, a shared responsibility' (http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/) and from the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education’s ‘Water footprint’ website (http://www.waterfootprint.org/)

Water and Law

Because of its value and its importance in all aspects of life, water is a highly political issue.

International water law concerns the rights and obligations that exist, primarily between States, for the management of transboundary water resources. Such legal rules and principles are dedicated to preventing conflict and promoting cooperation of shared water resources.

The chief international legal document related to international water resources management is the ‘United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses’, adopted by the UN General Assembly in May 1997. This Convention applies to uses of international watercourses and of their waters for purposes other than navigation and to measures of protection, preservation and management related to the uses of those watercourses and their waters.

International water law has evolved and crystallized through state practice and the codification and progressive development efforts undertaken by the United Nations and private institutions. The treaty practice in this area encompasses a broad range of instruments, from general agreements (which provide basic principles for water resource development) to specific ‘contractual’ type legal and technical arrangements (which set forth detailed operational schemes).

In October 2000 the European Union Water Framework (WFD) was adopted and entered into force in December 2000. The purpose of the Directive is to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters (rivers and lakes), transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters and groundwater. It will ensure all aquatic ecosystems and, with regard to their water needs, terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands meet 'good status' by 2015.

While water users compete for the same resource and struggle for increasing control, they also need to cooperate if they want to make effective use of water and sustain the water’s quantity and quality in the long run. This often occurs in ‘pluralistic’ legal contexts, where formal and informal normative systems sometimes clash. For example, in South Africa, water management moved from a pre-colonial collective activity to a publicly regulated resource under Roman-Dutch law. It was then transformed under Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence when it was captured as a private resource to the benefit of a small minority. A main objective of the current 1998 Water Act in South Africa is to redistribute water rights by granting water permits to sections of society that were previously discriminated against.

Information from the 2nd United Nations World Water Development Report, 'Water, a shared responsibility' (http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr2/table_contents.shtml) and from the Policy and Law Section of the Water Page website (http://www.thewaterpage.com/policyandlaw.htm)

Water and gender

Women Carrying Water in Africa
Women Carrying Water in Africa

(see also Women and Water - Gender Dimension in Water Governance)

  • Women are most often responsible for domestic and community water management in developing societies.
  • On average:
    • women and children travel 10-15 kilometers,
    • spending 8 or more hours per day collecting water,
    • carrying up to 20 kilos or 15 liters per trip (2).

It was recently cited that in South Africa alone, women collectively walk the equivalent distance of 16 times to the moon and back per day gathering water for families (3) In this role, women are responsible for determining sources of water to collect, quantity of water to be taken and the water’s hygienic quality. However, in this era of globalization, women’s decisions in regard to water management are often dictated by their social position, geographic location and increasingly by market forces. (Read more..)

edit  ·  ToolkitGender and Water
Resource Guides and Tutorials: Why Gender Matters: A Tutorial for water managers | GWA - Gender and IWRM Resource Guide | UN-Water policy brief on Gender, Water and Sanitation
Featured materials and articles: Gender Disaggregated Data on Water and Sanitation | Gendered adaptation to water shortages and climate change | Gender Guidelines Water Supply and Sanitation | Gender and Water - Securing water for improved rural livelihoods (IFAD) | Gender in Water Management | GWA - Gender and IWRM Resource Guide | Mainstreaming Gender in Water Governance: A Resource Guide
"Gender and Water" article (stub; needs work!)
Selected Organisations: Gender and Water Alliance | Women for Water | SIDA | WECF - Women in Europe for a Common Future|
Other related articles: A Gender Perspective on Water Resources and Sanitation | Gender Guidelines Water Supply and Sanitation | Women and Water - Gender Dimension in Water Governance | Albania HDR: Pro-Poor and Pro-Women Policies and Development in Albania

Water and Sanitation

  • Water-related diseases, including diarrhea, are a leading cause of death in children of developing countries. However, they can be prevented and controlled by improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as domestic and personal hygiene.
  • The Millennium Development Goal’s Target 10 is to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
  • Globally, the drinking water target set by the seventh Millennium Development Goal is on schedule, but the sanitation target will not be met by 2015 without extra inputs and efforts.
  • In 1990, 77% of the world’s population used improved drinking water sources. Considerable progress was made between 1990 and 2002, with about 1.1 billion people gaining access to improved sources. Global coverage in 2002 reached 83%, keeping the world on track to achieve the MDG target; however, there are great regional disparities.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the trends observed since 1990 indicate that neither of the targets will be met by 2015. Meanwhile, the region that has made the greatest progress towards sustained access to safe drinking water is South Asia, where coverage increased from 71% to 84% between 1900 and 2002. This jump was fuelled primarily by increased access to improved water sources in India, home to over 1 billion people.
  • Global sanitation coverage rose from 49% in 1990 to 58% in 2002. Yet this falls short of the progress needed to achieve the Millenium Development Goal target of 75% coverage by 2015. Some 2.6 billion people – half of the developing world – live without improved sanitation. Sanitation coverage in developing countries (40%) is only half that of the developed world (98%). The proportion of the world’s population with improved sanitation has increased by just 9% since 1990, a rate far slower than that required to meet global targets.

edit  ·  ToolkitSanitation (Did you know...?)
Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) | International Year of Sanitation 2008 IYS Toolkits (external link)) | Global UNDP Assessment Exercise to Promote Water & Sanitation (related workspace) UNDP (regional) programme on HRBA to Water Governance
Related WaterWiki-articles: UN Committee urges states to take sanitation seriously | 10 Things You Need To Know About Sanitation | Access to WSS for the poor | Q&A: "Sanitation is a political orphin" | Dry Sanitation Technology | Water and Health | International Decade for Action: Water for Life | Overview of the Global Sanitation Problem | Rethinking Sanitation: Lessons and Innovation for Sustainability and Success in the New Millennium | Sanitation as a Key to Global Health:Voices From the Field
Related resources: UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Drinking Water and Sanitation (GLAAS) 2010 | Fast Facts: Clean Water and Sanitation for the Poor | A Framework for Action on Water and Sanitation | HDR 2006 - Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global Water Crisis | The Human Rights-Based Approach to Development - The Right to Water | Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) | Swiss Public-Private Partnerships for Water Supply and Sanitation | Projects on Sanitation in Europe & CIS | Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management Toolbox

Water and Energy

  • Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the crucial role of energy as a component in sustainable development has been widely recognized. Although Agenda 21 did not have a chapter specifically devoted to energy, its comprehensive programme for action to achieve sustainable patterns of production and consumption revealed how closely such aims are linked to the availability of affordable energy.
  • The world is facing a situation in which 2 billion people have no electricity at all, and 2.5 billion people in developing countries, mainly in rural areas, have little access to commercial energy services.
  • The world electricity consumption is expected to rise by 73% between 1999 and 2020, making electricity the fastest-growing form of energy. This growth will be driven mainly by developing countries.
  • Water is used in most means of generating power, and in many countries hydropower is the only really sustainable energy source.
  • Hydropower is already a major contributor to the world's energy balance, providing 19% of total electricity production.
  • Hydropower plants generate electricity or mechanical power by converting the power available in the flowing water of rivers, canals or streams. This requires a suitable rainfall catchment area, a hydraulic head, a means of transporting water from the intake to the turbine, such as a pipe or millrace, a power house containing the power generation equipment and a valve gear needed to regulate the water supply as well as all primary mechanical and electrical equipment components, and, finally, a tailrace to return the water to its natural course.
  • Hydropower supplies at least 50% of electricity production in 66 countries, and at least 90% in 24 countries. About half of this capacity and generation is in Europe and North America.

Water and Population

  • Rapid growth of the world's population has been one of the most visible and dramatic changes to the world over the last 100 years. Population growth has huge implications for all aspects of resource use, including water.
  • Although water is a renewable resource, it is only renewable within limits; the extent to which increasing demands can be met is finite.
  • Worldwide, per capita water supplies decreased by a third between 1970 and 1990, and there is little doubt that population growth has been and will continue to be one of the main drivers of changes to patterns of water resource use.
  • Although there are differences of opinion, most projections expect this slowdown of demographic growth rates to continue and for the world's population to stabilize at about 9.3 billion people (still over 50% higher than the 2001 population of 6.1 billion) somewhere in the middle of the 21st century.
  • The global overview of water availability versus population stresses continental disparities, and in particular the pressure put on the Asian continent, which supports 60% of the world's population with only 36% of the world's water resources. Europe has 13% of the world's population and 8% of the world's water resources; Africa has 13% of the world's population and 11% of the world's water resources; North and Central America has 8% of the population and 15% of the water; Oceania has less than 1% of the world's population but 5% of the world's water resources; and South America has 6% of the world's population yet 26% of the world's water resources.
  • Freshwater is distributed unevenly, with nearly 500 million people suffering from water stress or serious water scarcity.
  • A number of scenarios have been developed based on the most recent UN population projections. Based on these projections, the future for many parts of the world looks bleak. The most alarming projection suggests that nearly 7 billion people in 60 countries will suffer from water scarcity by 2050. Even according to conservative projections, just under 2 billion people in 48 countries will struggle against water scarcity in 2050.
  • Between now and 2025, it is expected that the world will need 17% more water to grow food for the increasing populations in developing countries and that total water use will increase by some 40%.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest level of access to safe water coverage of any region, with only 60% of the population served.

The World's Water Basins

  • In 2002, there were 263 transboundary basins listed, compared to 214 in 1978.
    • Africa: 59
    • Asia: 58
    • Europe: 73
    • Latin America and the Caribbean: 61
    • North America: 17
    • Oceania: 1
  • 145 nations have territory within a transboundary basin, and 21 lie entirely within one.
  • 12 countries have more than 95% of their territory within one or more transboundary basins.
  • Approximately one third of the 263 transboundary basins are shared by more than two countries.
  • 19 basins involve five or more different countries:
    • The Danube River basin is shared by 18 riparian nations.
    • Five basins are shared between 9 and 11 countries.
    • Thirteen basins have between 5 and 8 riparian nations

Water and the Environment

  • On average freshwater species populations were reduced by half between 1970 and 2005, a sharper decline than for other biomes.
  • As of 2000 there were more than 50,000 large dams in operation.
  • Some 589 large dams were built in Asia from 1999 to 2001.
  • Of the world’s 292 largest river systems in 2005 (accounting for 60% of the world’s runoff), more than a third (105) were considered to be strongly affected by fragmentation, and 68 moderately affected.


The section "Did You Know…?" is taken from the 1st United Nations World Water Development Report 'Water for People, Water for Life' (WWDR1, 2003), and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) publication "Global Population and Water: Access and Sustainability".

See Also

External Resources

2nd UN World Water Development Report
Facts & Figures
UNESCO Water-Portal newsletter (each of them with some facts & figures)

UN Ocean Atlas

The World's Water

Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database


Globallast Partnerships

“Linking Poverty Reduction and Water Resource Management”, produced by the Poverty-Environment Partnership - PEP (external link: http://www.undp.org/pei/aboutpep.html)

http://tcdc.undp.org/sie/experiences/vol11/content11new.asp (South-South cooperation unit - "Sharing Innovative Experiences (vol. 11: examples of successful experiences in providing safe drinking water)
Especially: Uzbekistan | Jordan | Tunesia
Soundbites / quotes

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