Water use

Posted: 25 March 2008

Water use is increasing everywhere. The world's 6.7 billion people are already appropriating 55 per cent of all the accessible freshwater contained in rivers, lakes and underground aquifers.

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.

  • Currently, on a global basis, 69 per cent of all water withdrawn for human use on an annual basis is soaked up by agriculture (mostly in the form of irrigation); industry accounts for 23 per cent and domestic use (household, drinking water, sanitation) accounts for about 8 per cent. These global averages vary a great deal between regions. In Africa, for instance, agriculture guzzles 88 per cent of all water withdrawn for human use, while domestic use accounts for 7 per cent and industry for 5 per cent. In Europe, most water is used in industry (54 per cent), while agriculture's share is 33 per cent and domestic use 13 per cent.

  • Water problems are more related to mismanagement than scarcity. Up to 50 per cent of urban water and 60 per cent of water used in agriculture is wasted through leaks and evaporation (UNEP).

    water withdrawal mapsClick here for maps and charts showing the relative proportion of water use by the agricultural, industrial and domestic sectors in 2000.

  • The average person needs a minimum of five litres (1.3 gallons) of water per day to survive in a moderate climate at an average activity level, according to UN figures. The minimum amount of water needed for drinking and cooking, bathing and sanitation is 50 litres (13 gallons).

  • The average person in the United States uses between 250 to 300 litres of water (65-78 gallons) per day for drinking, cooking bathing, and watering their yard. The average person in the Netherlands uses only 104 litres (27 gallons) per day.

  • The average person in the African nation of Gambia uses on 4.5 litres (1.17 gallons) of water per day.