Thursday is World Water Day. The event, a brainchild of the United Nations, was first celebrated nearly two decades ago and is meant to focus attention on the need for fresh water around the globe.
Safe water isn’t available everywhere: This World Health Organization map shows the percentage of people in each country with access to an improved source of drinking water, such as a household connection or protected well, as of 2010. In some parts of Africa, less than half of people have access to safe drinking water.
Booming populations and shifting diets mean that water is expected to be in growing demand. More meat, for instance, means more water will be needed to support animals raised for slaughter. The United Nations predicts that 1.8 billion people will be living in areas where water is scarce by 2025.
Shortfalls have been especially severe in the Horn of Africa. In Somalia, less than a third of people have access to an improved source of drinking water, according to the most recent World Bank data.
Some countries use more water than others, partly because of differing diets: Each person in the United States consumed an average of 2,842 cubic meters of water annually between 1996 and 2005, more than five times as much as someone in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a recent UNESCO report.
Other countries with high water usage per person include Niger, Portugal, Spain, Serbia and Bolivia. You might be surprised to see developing countries such as Niger and Bolivia alongside wealthy countries such as Spain and the United States: The report explained that water consumption is high in those two countries because much more water is used to produce meat in Bolivia and cereals in Niger compared with elsewhere.
Want to figure out how much water you use? The nonprofit Water Footprint Network provides an online calculator to estimate your usage, based on how often you shower, what you eat and other choices. (source)