Fresh clean water is not an infinitely available resource, demand is increasing, whilst availability is decreasing. Today over one billion people have no easy or ready access to safe drinking water. However, the problem is more complex - the principal use of fresh water is agriculture. On a global basis agriculture accounts for over 70% of fresh water usage. This percentage is often higher in regions that suffer from chronic water shortages. In the Middle East and North Africa, for example, up to 90% of available water is used in agriculture. Unfortunately traditional agriculture is very inefficient in its use of water with several hundred litres needed to produce just one kilogram of produce.
Source: New Scientist, 25th February 2006
©New Scientist 2006
The average water consumed per person increases with the economic development of a country. Studies have indicated that per capita water consumption generally increases at about twice the rate of GNP growth. High income countries typically consume in excess of 200 litres per person per day, with middle income countries averaging around 100 litres per person per day. Population growth coupled with economic development is therefore causing significant increase in demand for water that is not being matched by corresponding increases in supply. Climate change is adding to the problem. Lack of fresh water is therefore a progressive crisis facing the world. Goldman Sachs has estimated that global fresh water consumption is doubling every 20 years.
A country is considered “water stressed” if the annual availability of fresh water in the country is less than 1,700 m3 per person per year. The situation is considered critical if availability falls below 1,000 m3 per person per year. At this point typically supplies become scarce or periodically unavailable. By 2004 36 countries were considered either “critical” or “stressed” with a combined population of 600 million. By 2025 the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated 60 % of the world’s population will be living in “critical/stressed” countries and be facing significant water shortages. The limit of using the 1 % of the world’s fresh water available in rivers and lakes is being approached. The only long term solution is therefore to tap the 97 % of the water held in the world’s oceans.
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