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Page added on February 13, 2018

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Water: Why the taps run dry


The world has abundant freshwater but it is unevenly distributed and under increasing pressure, UN agencies say, as highlighted by the severe shortages in Cape Town.


More than 97 per cent of the planet’s water is salty, most of it in the oceans and seas, but there is also a good supply of freshwater.

Every year around 42.8 trillion cubic metres of renewable freshwater circulates as rain, surface water or groundwater, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This equals 16,216 litres per person per day – four times the amount required in the United States, for example, for personal and domestic consumption, industry and agriculture.

Depending on diet and lifestyle, a person needs between 2,000 and 5,000 litres of water a day to produce their food and meet their drinking and sanitation requirements, the FAO says.

About 60 per cent of the planet’s freshwater reserves is locked in the Antarctic.

Of the rest, more than a quarter is in Central and Latin America, which is 60 times more than that available in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The fact is there is enough water to meet the world’s growing needs, but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared,” the United Nations said in 2015.

“The global water crisis is one of governance.”


In its most recent data (2014), the FAO said 45 countries were experiencing water shortages, defined as less than a thousand cubic metres (one million litres) per person a year. They include South Africa, Cyprus and Morocco.

Twenty-nine of them, including Algeria, Israel or Qatar, were in a situation of extreme shortage with less than 500 m3 per person a year.

A third of the planet’s population depends on groundwater and the UN has warned of the danger of overusing these reserves.

Groundwater reserves in part of India’s Ganges basin, southern Spain, Italy and California’s central valley could be drained dry in decades, it says.

Countries like Canada, Russia and Peru use just one per cent of their renewable freshwater.

But others far overuse supply, such as Israel at 261 per cent and Bahrain at 8,935 per cent.

Countries that use more than their renewable supply draw from nonrenewable underground water or desalinate sea water, as in the case of Bahrain.


Freetown, La Paz and Ouagadougou in 2016 suffered severe water shortages following drought, much as Cape Town is today.

The global use of freshwater doubled between 1964 and 2014 because of population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and increased production and consumption, the UN says.

The demand for water in cities is expected to grow by 50 per cent by 2030.

“Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to six per cent of their GDP, spur migration, and spark conflict,” the World Bank said in 2016.


Farming is the single biggest consumer of water globally (70 per cent), most of it for irrigation. Industry uses 19 per cent and households 11 per cent, according to the FAO.

But there are wide disparities at the regional level. In South Asia, agriculture accounts for 91 per cent of water use, against only seven percent in homes and two per cent in industry.

In the European Union and North America, however, industry consumes more than half of freshwater supply, ahead of agriculture (under 34 per cent) and domestic use (under 18 per cent).


The UN’s climate science panel, the IPCC, said in a 2014 report that for every degree Celsius of global warming, about seven per cent of the world’s population will see a drop of at least 20 per cent in renewable water resources.

The IPCC projects more frequent and severe droughts in already dry regions, reducing surface water and groundwater stocks. The impact will depend on the level of warming.

11 Comments on "Water: Why the taps run dry"

  1. Norman Pagett on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 11:44 am 

    every biological species needs water, the amount dependent on physical size.

    people adjusted their living to water availability.

    you walked to get a drink, carrying more than a day’s supply is inconvenient and requires a lot of energy.

    as our society grew in size and sophistication, we used other methods to get our water, but the more complex the method, the more energy was required.

    when energy was cheap this wasnt a problem, but now energy is getting much more expensive, as a result, the energy delivery system is breaking down as more and more people demand their share of water.

    compound this with inevitable depletion caused by global warming, and it becomes obvious that catastrophe is inevitable.

    water is a survival issue. conflict over it is inevitable

  2. bobinget on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 12:33 pm 

    Clearly, Norman is correct. Add pollution on that short list. The horse I’m betting on for survival has to be recycling so called ‘grey water’.Now, there are many shades of grey water-;) Once heavy metals are removed, treated water can be used for agriculture.
    Does it make sense to use gallons of drinking quality water to flush away a few ounces of pee? Dish, clothes washers ‘waste’ tons of treated water every minute.

    Currently I’m ‘stock’ing up on GE’s state-of-the-art
    water recycling technology. $14.67
    (14.23 low for like ever)

  3. Sissyfuss on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 1:27 pm 

    I don’t remember reading about there being any major water shortages when the population was much lower but I guess that’s because I wasn’t smart enough to realize that ” the global water crisis is one of governance.”

  4. Boat on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 2:07 pm 


    Doomers have been around for hundreds of years. Most of their depletion ideas have a sense of truth that gets distorted by their timing being so far off.

  5. GregT on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 2:56 pm 

    “Doomers have been around for hundreds of years.”

    Climate change, peak conventional oil and the resultant global financial crisis that we will never recover from, have not.

  6. Sissyfuss on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 3:06 pm 

    Saved me the effort, Greg.

  7. Boat on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 5:06 pm 

    Sorry boys the issues are believable enough but what about the timing of these terrible events. Why is/was there so much premature ejaculation of doom. My god, still over 80 million being added every year. Isn’t that the key metric? The carrying capacity peak for humans?

  8. Steve on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:20 pm 

    Drinking water and lithium:

  9. Davy on Tue, 13th Feb 2018 6:27 pm 

    great site Steve!

  10. makati1 on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 6:28 pm 

    Mother Nature is bring out her big guns.

    “If the Yellowstone volcano nestled mostly in Wyoming were to erupt, an estimated 87,000 people would be killed immediately and two-thirds of the USA would instantly be made uninhabitable. The large spew of ash into the atmosphere would block out sunlight and directly affect life beneath it creating a “nuclear winter.”

    Is this a cause for alarm? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s interesting this new Yellowstone information is coinciding with news that a pole reversal is near, the Ring of Fire is waking up, and the sun is approaching its solar minimum which could cause a mini ice age.”

    Will she kill the Empire? We shall see.

  11. Davy on Wed, 14th Feb 2018 6:34 pm 

    “Will she kill the Empire? We shall see.”

    Old news billyT and if it happens you will be one of those to starve shortly afterwards. You don’t have long to live anyway.

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