World Water Day: How many of these 10 water scarcity facts did you know?

21 March 2019
Spongebob dried out in a particularly water scarce moment.

If a bucket contained all the world’s water, one teacup of that would be freshwater, and just one teaspoon of that would be available for us to use.

In theory, this is enough to meet all the daily, basic needs of all the people around the world. So why is it that access to water for drinking, cooking and washing depends on who you are, and where you live?

To mark World Water Day 2019, here are ten things worth knowing about the current state of the world’s water.

We use six times as much water today than we did 100 years ago.

And that’s not just down to population growth. The food we eat, the stuff we buy… it all adds up.

There’s way more water in a cup of coffee than you can see.

When you add up the water used to produce the ground coffee, from irrigating coffee plants to processing the beans, your 125ml cup actually equates to 132 litres.

Now, we don’t want to drag avocados into the equation too but….

The brunch favourite accounts for 2,000 litres of water per kilogram. In Chile’s bone-dry Petorca region, villagers rely on water supplies being trucked in to grow them, and for their personal daily use.

There’s a thing called virtual water, and it’s nothing to do with science fiction.

Your smashed avo and coffee breakfast is an example of water footprints in action – the amount of water that goes into creating a product that we don’t see. Having more money, whether you’re a person, a company or a country, gives you more access to ‘virtual’ water – water exported in the form of goods.

Washing your dirty laundry, gulping down a glass of water, cooking up dinner and flushing the loo is just a tiny portion of the water you consume.

On average, people in the UK use 170 jerrycans worth of water a day (that’s 3,400 litres) – only nine of those jerrycans are for ‘physical’ uses. The rest of it is hidden away in products.

The UK imports 75% of its virtual water…

...and half of that comes from countries with unsustainable levels of water use – including Spain, the USA and South Africa. When that virtual water comes from countries where people struggle to access water, like Pakistan, it effects the poorest and most marginalised.

No, all that water isn’t just replaced by rainfall.

Groundwater is a like a hidden savings bank with a low interest rate. Whatever's taken out will eventually trickle back in through the ground – but usually at a much a slower rate than it's being used. And in some places, changing weather patterns means that interest rate is only getting smaller.

Water scarcity isn’t something only people in poorer countries experience.

For example, 130 million people in the USA are affected for at least part of the year. At current rates, London, Tokyo and Moscow are likely to struggle with water availability in the coming years. We're all in this boat together.

Changing your habits will help.

Did you know that throwing away half an avocado and buying another wastes six bathtubs of water? Probably not – it’s not always easy to find out how big of a water footprint is built into the food that we eat or the clothes we wear.

By buying less, eating less water-intensive food (like meat) and wasting less, we can play our part in reducing water shortages

But it’s not just down to you…

A global problem needs a global solution. Companies should reduce the amount of water used in production, especially in areas where water is scarce. Retailers should make sure their supplies come from sustainable sources. Governments should put limits on water extraction, especially in water scarce areas. 

Take a deeper dive into the State of the World's Water by reading our Beneath the Surface report >