Water: Going Down the Drain

Our key facts on the global community’s water supply — and its pending scarcity.

July 6, 2002

Our key facts on the global community's water supply — and its pending scarcity.

Water is the most basic of life's necessities. Without it, life is impossible. But just as with so many other things, water is not equally distributed among various regions and populations. Some people open a faucet to have access to virtually unlimited supplies — while others have to walk for hours to get it. Our new Globalist Factsheet takes a closer look at the source of life.

Where is the largest reservoir of fresh water?

The continent of Antarctica is roughly the size of the United States. The Antarctic ice sheet — 1.5 miles thick in some areas — contains over 90% of the world’s fresh water.

(Earth Policy Institute)

Which developed countries consume the least water?

Britain and Denmark have some of the lowest water usage per person among wealthy countries. Both countries have reduced their water usage by more than one fifth since 1980.


What are the future prospects of the global water supply?

By 2015, nearly half the world’s population — more than three billion people — will live in countries that are considered “water-stressed.” They have less than 1,700 cubic meters of water per person.

(National Intelligence Council)

Who consumes the most water?

The United States consumes over 90 gallons of water per person each day, more than seven times the per-capita average in the rest of the world — and more than twice Europe’s level.

(Washington Post)

What explains the difference in water use between the United States and Europe?

The average American uses 350 liters (91 gallons) a day — 80 liters (20.8 gallons) just for flushing the toilet — while the average European and Japanese use 165 liters (42.9 gallons).

(Club of Budapest)

What is the basic water requirement of an individual?

Each person requires five liters (1.3 gallons) of water a day for drinking and cooking and 25 liters (6.5 gallons) for personal hygiene.

(Club of Budapest)

Why is golf a questionable sport — environmentally speaking?

As of 2000, each golf course in the United States uses enough water to supply a town of 8,000 for a year.

(National Geographic Society)

Will this situation get worse?

Each year, up to 5,000 hectares of the earth’s land surface — an area half the size of Paris — is cleared for golf courses. One 18-hole course can consume more than 2.3 million liters (or 608,465 gallons) of water daily.

(Worldwatch Institute)

From which nation could the United States learn something about water conservation?

As of 2001, China feeds 22% of the world’s population with 7% of the world’s agricultural land — and 7% of the world’s fresh water reserves.

(Club of Budapest)

What do people in developing countries mostly use their water for?

In the developing world, 80% of water usage goes into agriculture — a proportion that scientists have deemed unsustainable.

(National Intelligence Council)

What price do some people have to pay for hydroelectric power?

Nearly two million Chinese will be displaced by the rising water level of the Three Gorges Dam. When completed in 2009, the dam's reservoir will submerge 250,000 acres of crop land and several cities.

(Panos Institute)

What is the strategic dimension of water supply?

More than 30 nations around the world receive more than one-third of their water from outside their borders.

(National Intelligence Council)

How easy is water access in the developing world?

As of 2001, in African cities, such as Nairobi and Lagos, more than 60% of the population has no running water.

(United Nations)