Water Facts for World Water Day

Clean drinking water...not self-evident for ev...

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Today, March 22, is World Water Day . The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. In honor of World Water Day, I’ve compiled some water facts from  water.org and dropinthebucket.org.


  • Approximately 1 in 8 people lack access to safe water supplies (884 million people)
  • 3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.
  • The water and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns.
  • An American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than a typical person in a developing country slum uses in a whole day.
  • Each flush of the toilet uses the same amount of water that one person in the developing world uses all day for washing, cleaning, cooking and drinking.


  • More people in the world have cell phones than access to a toilet.
  • Lack of sanitation is the world’s biggest cause of infection.


  • Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.
  • Diarrhea remains in the second leading cause of death among children under five globally. Nearly 1 in 5 child deaths, about 1.5 million each year, is due to diarrhea. It kills more young children than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.
  • 1000s of sixth graders will drop out of school this year because of water insecurity.


  • In just one day, more than 200 million hours of women’s time is consumed for the most basic of human needs — collecting water for domestic use.
  • The average distance that a woman in Africa or Asia walks to collect water each day is 6 km (3.75 miles).


  • At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
  • 88% of cases of diarrhea worldwide are attributable to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene.
  • It is estimated that improved sanitation facilities could reduce diarrhea-related deaths in young children by more than one-third. If hygiene promotion is added, such as teaching proper hand washing, deaths could be reduced by two thirds.


  • Almost 2 in every 3 people who need safe drinking water survive on less than $2 a day and 1 in 3 on less than $1 a day.
  • Investment in safe drinking water and sanitation contributes to economic growth. For each $1 invested, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates returns of $3 – $34, depending on the region and technology.
  • Investment in drinking-water and sanitation would result in 272 million more school attendance days a year. The value of deaths averted, based on discounted future earnings, would amount to US$ 3.6 billion a year.


  • Less than 1% of the world’s fresh water (or about 0.007% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for direct human use.
  • Approximately 77% of Americans could not accurately identify the source of their tap water.
  • Floods and droughts affect 1 in 3 people worldwide.
  • Climate change is expected to account for about 20% of the global increase in water scarcity this century.
  • More than 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas.
  • The UN estimates that by 2025, forty-eight nations, with combined population of 2.8 billion, will face freshwater “stress” or “scarcity”.
  • Agriculture is the largest consumer of freshwater by far: about 70% of all freshwater withdrawals go to irrigated agriculture.
  • Conserving water helps not only to preserve irreplaceable natural resources, but also to reduce the strain on urban wastewater management systems. Wastewater is costly to treat, and requires continuous investment to ensure that the water we return to our waterways is as clean as possible.

Access to clean drinking water is an issue that is fast-effecting the developed world as well. Last year, Broward County, Florida followed Miami-Dade County in enacting mandatory two-day irrigation restrictions. This comes after a succession of years of of driest winter months on record. Today, The South Florida Water Management District has officially declared a water shortage as the depth of Lake Okeechobee plummeted amid the record-breaking dry season. The water district covers sixteen counties in Florida and is home to 7.7 million residents.

Another concern to South Florida government and policy makers is salt-water intrusion into the Biscayne Aquifer (used for drinking water). As sea levels rise and aquifer levels are depleted, this becomes more and more a possibility. Already, in Hollywood, FL , salt water intrusion into the aquifer east of 15th Avenue have caused this water supply to be too salty even for landscape irrigation. Desalination is a costly and energy-intensive process, but in the future may be one that South Floridians rely on to get clean drinking water. We are rapidly approaching the end of inexpensive water, a thought worth pondering today as we commemorate World Water Day.

What is your water footprint? Check out this interactive map.

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