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World Water Facts

There are certain facts about U.S. and international freshwater that everyone should know. According to the World Health Organization, by 2025 the world's population will have increased by 30% and access to safe drinking water will be greatly reduced. As water experts remind us, freshwater is a finite resource there's the same amount of water available now as there was when the earth was formed.

Water Need to Know Facts

  • While 70% of the Earth's surface is covered by water, 97.5% of the world's water is salt water and 2.5% fresh water. Most of this fresh water is trapped in polar icecaps, with much of the rest found as soil moisture or kept in underground aquifers.

  • According to the World Health Organization, less than 1% of the world's freshwater, or 0.007% of all the water on Earth, is readily available for human world consumption.

  • March 22nd has been celebrated as 'World Water Day' since 1993.

  • 70% of water withdrawn from freshwater systems goes toward irrigation.

  • 17% of the world's irrigated cropland produces 30-40% of the world's crops.

  • 8% of fresh water resources go towards human consumption and sanitation purposes; the majority of fresh water resources - 70% - is allocated for agricultural purposes, with the remaining 22% used by industries.

  • Out of 191 nations in the world, 10 nations share 65% of the world's annual water resources.

  • 1.2 billion people - or almost 1 out of 5 people in the world - are without access to safe drinking water and half of the world's population lacks adequate water purification systems.

  • 2.4 billion people, or 40% of the world's population, do not have access to adequate sanitation.

  • According to Peter Gleick, a co-founder of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security, the average person needs a minimum of 50 L of water per day, with 5 L for drinking, 10 L for cooking, 15 L for bathing and 20 L spent on sanitation needs.

  • In 1998, 31 countries faced chronic freshwater shortages. By the year 2025, however, 48 countries are expected to face shortages, affecting nearly 3 billion people - 35% of the world's projected population. Countries in danger of running short of water in the next 25 years include Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Peru.

  • Residents of developing nations pay on average 12 times more per liter of water than those getting their water through municipal systems.

  • Industrialized country that pays the least for water: Canada - $0.31 per cubic meter. Industrialized country that pays the most for water: Germany - $2.16 per cubic meter.

  • According to the UN and the World Health Organization, 80% of diseases in developing nations stem from consumption of and exposure to unsafe water, which kills more than 25,000 people each day.

  • Did you know that people pay $366 billion a year - equal to 1% of the world's GDP - on water purification and consumption?

  • The demand for water from 1900 to 1995 increased sixfold - more than twice the rate of population growth during the same time interval.

  • The UN estimates that in less than 25 years, if present water consumption trends continue, 5 billion people will be living in areas where it will be impossible or difficult to meet basic water needs for sanitation, cooking and drinking.
More water facts and water-saving tips.

SOURCES: WATER RESOURCES, World Health ; About World Day for Water", UNESCO; "Pilot Analysis of Global Agroecosystems: Water Services", World Resources Institute, 2000; "Water: Facts and Figures" (SOURCES, no. 101, May 1998); Press Release WHO/73, World Health Organization, 11/22/00; "Solutions for a Water Short World", POPULATION REPORTS, v.26, no.1, Sept. 1998; Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health World Commission on Water for the 21st Century, August 1999 Findings Report; Peter H. Gleick, THE WORLD'S WATER 1998-1999: THE BIENNIAL REPORT ON FRESHWATER RESOURCES; "U.N. Warns of Severe Water Shortage" (The Associated Press, 3/22/02); "Water Used for Common Activities", Water Conservation/Recycling, City of Manhattan Beach, Department of Public Works.

Leasing the Rain is a co-production of NOW with Bill Moyers and FRONTLINE WORLD.

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