Posted: 9 July 2003

While freshwater supply is limited, demand keeps on escalating as populations grow and consumption per capita increases. During the last 70 years, the global population has tripled, but water withdrawals have increased over six times. Since 1940, annual global water withdrawals have increased by an average of nearly 3 per cent per year, while population growth has averaged between 1.5 and 2 per cent.

graphic Click here for an illustration showing freshwater use from 1900 to 2000 for the world's major regions, and projections for freshwater use for 2000 to 2025.

  • Global consumption of water is doubling every 20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth, while pollution and over-extraction in many regions of the world has reduced the ability of supplies to meet demand. According to the United Nations, more than one billion people on earth already lack access to fresh drink water. If current trends persists, by 2025 the demand for freshwater is expected to rise to 56 per cent more than the amount that is currently available.

  • More people mean increased water use and less available on a per capita basis. In 1989 there was some 9,000 cubic metres of freshwater per person available for human use. By 2000, that figure had dropped to 7,800 cubic metres and is expected to plummet to 5,100 cubic metres per person by 2025, when the global population is projected to reach 8 billion.

  • Population growth is a significant factor in the ability of countries, particularly low-income countries, to increase the coverage of drinking water. For example, just to maintain its 1990 coverage level of 74 per cent, Peru would have had to ensure drinking water services to more than 350,000 people a year, on average, over the period 1990 to 2002. In fact, it provided water to more than 480,000 people a year, raising coverage from 74 per cent to 81 per cent. On a global level, the number of people using improved water sources has increased by more than 90 million people a year since 1990. But because of population growth, the absolute number of people without coverage has only decreased by about 10 million people a year (WHO/UNICEF 2004 report, Meeting the MDG drinking water and sanitation target Goals).

Link:Blue Gold: The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World's Water Supply, published by the International Forum on Globalisation (IFG).