WATER CONSUMPTION AROUND THE WORLD
As the world population continues to grow, the ability to source clean water is becoming a more pressing concern.
Between 1900 and 1995, global water consumption rose six-fold and the United Nations expects the situation to become considerably worse over the next 30 years.1
One of the main problems is global water supplies are unevenly distributed. In some countries there is an abundance of water and in others a severe shortage. In some areas, such as India and Africa, the amount of water being used is so high that natural supplies are being depleted faster than they can be replenished. This situation affects every continent and in many countries, such as the UK, the growing demand for water has led to a significant increase in the amount of water that is imported.
In the United States the population growth is one of the highest in industrialized countries and the average American uses over 420 litres per day. This is one of the highest in the world, and with diminishing supplies this has forced the government to increase prices and change its approach to water supply. By 2050 14 states will face an extreme risk to water sustainability as demand will exceed supply. Figure 1 shows the areas most at risk and by 2050 over 1,100 counties will face a high risk of water shortage due to global warming.
The UK has now become the sixth largest importer of water in the world and only 38% of its water comes from its own resources. It is now dependent on the water systems of other countries to supply the rest, some of which are already facing serious water shortages. The amount of water used per day in the UK has been steadily increasing by 1% per year since 1930 and the average person now uses 150 litres a day. This growth in consumption is not sustainable and the UK now has less available water per person than many countries in Europe.2
Africa is a continent that is heavily divided with some areas receiving enough water and others experiencing constant droughts which can last up to five years. Access to water is a bigger problem in Africa than anywhere else on the planet. Out of the 25 nations with the greatest percentage of people who do not have access to safe drinking water, 19 of them are in Africa. This means that three out of every four African people rely on ground water that is not very clean. Africa also lacks the resources and finances to effectively manage and distribute its water and only 4% of the available water is used each year.3
Australia is the driest populated continent in the world and yet the average water consumption level is among the highest. 70% of the continent is classified as desert or semi-desert which means it has little or no annual rainfall. This makes the effective management of the water supply for agricultural, domestic and industrial use even more important than in many other countries.4
Water management is also a serious problem in Eastern Asia where there are a number of problems which compound the issue including floods, increased salinization and a loss of fresh water reserves due to agriculture. Pollution from sewage and industry is another serious problem which has severely damaged the water supply. As a result pathogens now exist in lakes and rivers which have dangerous effects on the health of local people. The population growth is also a major factor which is putting pressure on the entire infrastructure.5
Changes need to be made to combat climate change, global population growth and the increasing demand for water. Action is being taken in some countries to encourage people to use less water and create a sustainable water supply through harvesting and water conservation.
The first step in reducing consumption is often raising awareness of how much water is being used.
This can be done via a simple home monitoring device which can help families reduce their consumption and their water bill. Legislation has already been introduced in the US and Australia which encourages and rewards people who collect rainwater and it is expected this will become more widespread in the coming years.
- NSW Government – Environment Climate Change & Water
- WRc (formally the Water Research Centre) and UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR)