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The increasing demand for water

Demand for water has increased vastly over recent decades. This fact sheet looks at where the current demand comes from

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- The amount of water used in the UK
- Declining water supplies

Our existence depends on water, and it dictates the location and survival of civilisations. But few fully appreciate the role it plays in our lives and the amount that is truly required to feed ourselves, and the implications this has for others.

Globally, agriculture is the biggest user of fresh water. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates farming accounts for 70% of global fresh water use.

Irrigation will play a greater role in global food production in the coming decades. So as the world's population continues to grow, we will need to apply more efficient water management techniques.

Demand for water has increased vastly over recent decades. According to the World Meteorological Organization, global water consumption increased by six times between 1900 and 1995, which was more than double the rate of population growth.

About 40% of the world's population currently lives in water stressed areas. With a global population increase of three billion people predicted by 2050, water scarcity will soon become a matter of life or death.

Experts at the United Nations Population Division predict that water scarcity will rise to between 50% and 65% by 2025

The Economist newspaper reported in September 2008 that the bank JPMorgan believes that the five major food and beverage companies consume 575 billion litres of water a year between them, enough to satisfy the daily water needs of every person on the planet.

The amount of water used in the UK

At a UK level, agriculture is not the main user of fresh water. The Environment Agency estimates that it accounts for only 3% of UK fresh water use. Households and industry, including the food and beverage industry, are the major users.

Envirowise has calculated that water usage by the UK's food and beverage sector is currently 307 million cubic metres per year. This equates to 24% of the total water used by industry and commerce in the UK, and nearly 5% of the total water used in the UK.

Declining water supplies

It is estimated that each of us in the UK uses about 150 litres of water a day. Waterwise, an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation and a leading authority on water efficiency, estimates levels of water usage in the UK have been rising by 1% every year since 1930. This rate of growth is not sustainable in the long-term. If we do not take action the UK will face increased water stress in the future.

Over the past 100 years the UK has lost 75% of its ponds and floodplain grasslands. With declining natural water supplies, the majority of the water used in the UK comes from abroad.

In fact, according to Waterwise about 70% of the UK’s water footprint is now generated overseas. This is because the goods the UK imports have vast amounts of 'embedded' water within them. Embedded water refers to the amount of water required to make a product.

For more information about this, read our Embedded Water in Food Production Factsheet here.

Related external links:

- Environment Agency

- Waterwise

- FAO Water

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