Statistics tell stories, though often there is more to them than meets the eye. Scroll down to find a selection of interesting and thought-provoking statistics on global and regional statistics and trends in a number of key water-related areas. Contact the Communications Department to set up an interview with a SIWI expert who can help you learn more of the full story behind the statistics.

  1. Water Resources and Scarcity
  2. Water Supply, Sanitation and Health
  3. Water, Economics and Finance
  4. Water and Climate, Disaster and Conflict
  5. Transboundary Waters
  6. Food, Agriculture and Bioenergy
  7. Water, Energy and Industry
  8. Water and Ecosystems


  • 1. Water Resources and Scarcity
  • Of all water on earth, 97 % is salt water, and of the remaining 3 % fresh water, some 70% is frozen in the polar icecaps. The other 30% is mostly present as soil moisture or lies in underground aquifers. [1]
  • Less than 1% of the world's fresh water is readily accessible for direct human uses. [1]
  • The global volume of stored groundwater is poorly known; estimates range from 15.3 to 60 million km3. [27]
  • Around 20% of total water used globally is from groundwater sources (renewable or not), and this share is rising rapidly, particularly in dry areas. [8]
  • Global aggregated groundwater use: Irrigation 67 %, Industry 11 %, Domestic use 22 %. [27]
  • The world's water crisis is not related to the physical availability of water, but to unbalanced power relations, poverty and related inequalities. [5]
  • Water scarcity can roughly be divided into two categories: "Apparent" scarcity exists when there is plenty of water, but is inefficiently and wastefully used; "real" scarcity is caused by insufficient rain-fall or large populations depending on a limited resource. [6]
  • A nation's water foot print is defined as the total volume of freshwater, both green and blue, that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the people of the nation, i.e. both food and other goods and services. [12]
  • The 10 largest water users (in volume) are India, China, the United States, Pakistan, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mexico and the Russian Federation. [3]
  • With rapid population growth, water withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years. [3]
  • Water withdrawals are predicted to increase by 50 % by 2025 in developing countries, and by 18 % in developed countries. [9]
  • Humans are overconsuming natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Around 3.5 planet Earths would be needed to sustain a global population achieving the current lifestyle of the average European or North American. [27]
  • A child born in the developed world consumes 30 to 50 times as much water as one in the developing world. [2]
  • According to UNDESA, the world population is predicted to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. At the same time, urban populations are projected to increase by 2.9 billion, to 6.3 billion in total 2050. [27]
  • An estimated 90% of the people expected to be added to the population by 2050 will be in developing countries, many in regions already in water stress where the current population does not have sustainable access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. [3]
  • In 2030, 47% of world population will be living in areas of high water stress. [10]
  • As the urban population increases rapidly, many major cities have had to draw freshwater from increasingly distant watersheds, as local surface and groundwater sources no longer meet the demand for water, or as they become depleted or polluted. [11]
  • Over 80% of wastewater worldwide is not collected or treated, and urban settlements are the main source of point-source pollution. [27]

    2. Water Supply, Sanitation and Health
  • To ensure our basic needs, we all need 20 to 50 litres of water free from harmful contaminants each and every day. [11]
  • In 2000, world leaders at the United Nations Millennium Summit committed themselves to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Goal 7, target 10 aims to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) added another target: to halve by 2015, the proportion of people who do not have access to basic sanitation.
  • With 2 billion people gaining access to clean water over the last two decades, the water target was reached in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. [30]
  • 87 % of the world's population uses drinking water from improved sources. 54 % uses a piped connection in their dwelling, plot or yard, and 33 % uses other improved drinking water sources such as public taps, standpipes, tube wells or boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collection. [13]
  • However, there are still 884 million people using unimproved sources for drinking water globally. [27]
  • Global progress of the sanitation target is off-track and 2.6 billion people, a third of the world's population, are still without access to improved sanitation. [30]
  • Resourcing of the water, sanitation and hygiene sector is relatively low prioritised compared to other sectors. In many countries, policies and programmes underemphasise adequate financing and human resource development to sustain the existing infrastructure and to expand access to sanitation, drinking-water and hygiene services. [29]
  • Water and sanitation aid is generally not well targeted to achieve the maximum impact on reducing poverty. The 28 countries accounting for 90% of people without basic sanitation receive only 47% of water and sanitation aid. [30]
  • Rapid urbanisation adds yet another dimension to water and sanitation issues. The numbers of people in cities who lack access to improved water supply and sanitation is estimated to have grown some 20% since the MDGs were established. [27]
  • Sanitation coverage in developing countries (49%) is only half that of the developed world (98%). [11]
  • 18% of the world's population, or 1.2 billion people (1 out of 3 in rural areas), defecate in the open. [13]
  • Up to 50% of malnutrition is related to repeated diarrhoea or intestinal nematode infections as a result of unclean water, inadequate sanitation or poor hygiene. [3]
  • 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera); 90% are children under 5, mostly in developing countries. [15]
  • The overall increase in the number of cholera cases for the decade 2000-2010 was 130%. [27]
  • Almost one-tenth of the global disease burden could be prevented by improving water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources. Such improvements reduce child mortality and improve health and nutritional status in a sustainable way. [3]
  • The provision of improved sanitation and safe drinking water could reduce diarrhoeal diseases by nearly 90%. [27] Improved water supply reduces diarrhoea morbidity by 21%, and improved sanitation reduces diarrhoea morbidity by 37.5%. [15]
  • Up to 90% of wastewater in developing countries flows untreated into rivers, lakes and highly productive coastal zones, threatening health, food security and access to safe drinking and bathing water. [27]
  • In many places of the world, a staggering 30 to 40% of water or more goes unaccounted for due to water leakages in pipes and canals and illegal tapping. [11]
  • Women are more than twice as likely as men to go and fetch drinking water. [13]

    3. Water, Economics and Finance
  • Almost two in three people lacking access to safe drinking water survive on less than $2 a day and one in three on less than $1 a day. More than 660 million people without adequate sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day. This evidence highlights clearly the financing difficulties of improving access through household investment. [5]
  • Economic losses, due to the lack of water and sanitation in Africa as a result of the mortality and morbidity impacts, are estimated at $28.4 billion or about 5% of GDP. [3]
  • Adequate investments in water management, infrastructure and services can yield a high economic return by avoiding costs related to water pollution, contamination and disasters. Estimations show that every $1 invested in improved water supply and sanitation yields gains of $4-$12. [3]
  • In aggregate, the total annual economic benefits of meeting the MDG target on water supply and sanitation accrue to USD 84 billion. [16]
  • Poor countries with access to clean water and sanitation services experience faster economic growth than those without: one study found that the annual economic growth rate was 3.7 % among poor countries with better access to improved water and sanitation services, while similarly poor countries without access had an annual growth of just 0.1 %. [25]
  • The financial and economic crises have deepened food insecurity in 2009: 915 million people around the world are undernourished according to FAO. [23]
  • While water and sanitation aid has grown gradually over the last few decades, with recent increases in bilateral aid, growth has been much lower than that in the health, education and governance sectors. Its share of total aid decreased from 8% in 1997 to 5% in 2008. [26]
  • The median reported government spending on sanitation and drinking-water is 0.48% of GDP. [26]
  • WHO estimates that $190 billion of investment is needed each year until 2015 in order to achieve and maintain the water and sanitation targets in all regions. This compared with $7.8 billion of global aid flows in 2010. [30]
  • Corruption in the water sector can raise the investment costs of achieving the Millennium Development Goals target for water and sanitation by almost $50 billion. [17]
  • In some countries corruption increases the cost of connecting a household to a water network by more than 30 %. [17]
  • Poor people living in the slums often pay 5-10 times more per litre of water than wealthy people living in the same city. [5]
  • The private sector's proportion in the water and sewerage sectors in developing countries is on average only 35%, whereas in the developed world it constitutes 80% of the market. [11]
  • The cost of adapting to the impacts of a 2°C rise in global average temperature could range from US$70 to $100 billion per year between 2020 and 2050, according to the World Bank. [27]

    4. Water and Climate, Disaster and Conflict
  • Water-related hazards account for 90% of all natural hazards, and their frequency and intensity is generally rising. [27]
  • Almost two billion people were affected by natural disasters in the last decade of the 20th century, 86% of them by floods and droughts. [15]
  • Droughts cause the most ill-health and death because they often trigger and exacerbate malnutrition and famine, and deny access to adequate water supplies. [15]
  • According to the UN Global Assessment Report, since 1900 more than 11 million people have died as a consequence of drought and more than 2 billion have been affected by drought, more than any other physical hazard. [27]
  • Flooding increases the ever-present health threat from contamination of drinking-water systems from inadequate sanitation, with industrial waste and by refuse dumps. [15]
  • Globally, the number of great inland flood catastrophes was twice as large per decade between 1996 and 2005 as between 1950 and 1980, and economic losses were five times as great. The dominant drivers of these upward trends are socioeconomic factors, such as population growth, land use change and greater use of vulnerable areas. [3]
  • By 2050, rising populations in flood-prone lands, climate change, deforestation, loss of wetlands and rising sea levels are expected to increase the number of people vulnerable to flood disaster to 2 billion. [27]
  • Current IPCC projections of rising temperatures and sea levels and increased intensity of droughts and storms suggest that substantial population displacements will take place within the next 30-50 years, particularly in coastal zones. [3]
  • A global temperature increase of 3-4°C could cause changed run-off patterns and glacial melt will force an additional 1.8 billion people to live in a water scarce environment by 2080. [18]
  • Land degradation is increasing. Nearly 2 billion hectares of land worldwide – an area twice the size of China – are already seriously degraded, some irreversibly. Globally, desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD) affects 1.5 billion people who depend on degrading areas, and it is closely associated with poor, marginalized and politically weak citizens. [27]
  • A study of 141 countries found that more women than men die from natural hazards, and that this disparity is linked most strongly to women's unequal socio-economic status. [27

    5. Transboundary Waters
  • There are 263 transboundary river and lake basins and around 300 transboundary aquifers worldwide. [19]
  • Transboundary lake and river basins account for an estimated 60 % of global freshwater flow and is home to 40 % of the world's population. [19]
  • An estimated 148 states have international basins within their territory, and 21 countries lie entirely within them. [27]
  • Around 60 % of the world's international river basins lack any type of cooperative management framework. [27]
  • In the 20th century, only seven minor skirmishes took place between nations over shared water resources, while over 300 treaties were signed during the same period of time. [19]
  • There are numerous examples where transboundary waters have proved to be a source of cooperation rather than conflict. [27] However, failure to engage the basin hegemon constructively will hamper effective cooperation on transboundary waters. [28]
  • There are several ways that improved transboundary water management arrangements may bring about benefits for poor people living within shared basins. More equitable and efficient water sharing amongst farmers across borders, for example, can lead to more sustainable water use and more secure yields. [28]
  • By jointly managing a river, riparians can generate 'public goods' such as flood and drought protection, increased biodiversity and improved conservation, enhanced water quality, and even greater possibilities for peace and regional stability. [20]

    6. Food, Agriculture and Bioenergy
  • Water for irrigation and food production constitutes one of the greatest pressures on freshwater resources. Agriculture accounts for around 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, even up to 90% in some fast-growing economies. [27]
  • Future global agricultural water consumption (including both rainfed and irrigated agriculture) are estimated to increase with 19% by 2050. [27]
  • Global population growth projections of 2-3 billion people over the next 40 years, combined with changing diets, result in a predicted increase in food demand of 70% by 2050. [27]
  • Feeding everyone in 2050 – including the undernourished and additional 3 billion people expected – could require 50 % more water than is needed now. [22]
  • The main challenge facing the agricultural sector is not as much growing 70% of additional food in 40 years, but making 70% more food available on the plate. [27]
  • The dietary shift from predominantly starch-based food to meat and dairy, which require more water, is the greatest to impact on water consumption over the past 30 years. Producing 1 kg of rice requires approximately 3,500 litres of water while 1 kg of beef requires 15,000 litres. [27
  • Producing 1 kg of meat requires as much water as an average domestic household does over 10 months (50l/person/day). [21]
  • Between one-third and one-half of the produced food is being lost early on in the supply chain segments or wasted at the consumer-end, amounting to about 1.3 billion tons per year globally. [33]
  • Estimations show that the per capita food waste by consumers in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/year, while this figure in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia is only 6-11 kg/year. [31]
  • The underlying factors that cause food losses and waste are significantly different between industrialised countries, where food waste and overeating is the bigger problem, and developing countries, where food losses and undernourishment are more extensive. [33]
  • Reducing food wastage by 50% – including post-harvest losses, losses in transport and handling, and losses in the household – might vastly reduce or even negate the need for additional water to grow more food, which will ensure sufficient water is available for food in the future. [21]
  • Estimates indicate that there will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in Western nations (3,000 kcal produced per capita, including 20 per cent of calories produced coming from animal proteins). [33]
  • Globally, irrigation water allocated to biofuel production is estimated at 44 km3, or 2% of all irrigation water. Under current production conditions it takes an average of roughly 2,500 litres of water (about 820 litres of it irrigation water) to produce 1 litre of liquid biofuel (the same amount needed on average to produce food for one person for one day). [3]
  • Irrigation is very important for overall food production by enabling 40% of the production on only 17% of the cropland. [7]
  • Implementing all current national biofuel policies and plans would take 30 million hectares of cropland and 180 km3 of additional irrigation water. [3]
  • As irrigation systems come under pressure to produce more with less water, there is a danger that unequal rights and entitlements will widen inequalities. [5]
  • For some countries, climate change may lead to an increase in food production, as in North America and Europe, where high gains are projected. [7]
  • For the 40 poorest countries, with a total population of some 1-3 billion, climate change may result in a loss of up to a fifth of the cereal production potential in the 2080s. [7]
  • As many as 40 % of the Sub-Saharan countries could lose a substantial part of their agricultural production due to climate change. [7]

    7. Water, Energy and Industry
  • Industry and energy together account for 20% of water demand. [3]
  • Hydropower supplies about 20% of the world’s electricity, a share that has remained stable since the 1990s. [3]
  • As of 2000 there were more than 50,000 large dams in operation. [3]
  • Over 1 billion people worldwide lack access to electricity and other clean sources of energy. The growing demand for energy will create increasing pressure on water resources, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and in the least developed countries of South Asia, which account for 80% of the 1.5 billion people lacking access to electricity globally. [27]
  • According to the International Energy Agency, electricity generation from hydropower and other renewable energy sources is projected to increase at an average annual rate of 1.7% from 2004 to 2030, for an overall increase of 60% through 2030. [3]
  • Only about 25% of the world's dams are involved in producing hydropower. [11]
  • Only 5% of total hydropower potential has been exploited in Africa, where many hydropower sites are situated on transboundary rivers, thus providing significant opportunities for increased cooperation on benefit sharing among neighbouring states. [27]
  • Industrial water productivity varies greatly across countries and is only partially linked to a country's level of industrialisation. As an example, industrial water productivity is $138 per cubic metre in Denmark and less than $10 per cubic metre in the United States. [3]
  • The anticipated water requirements for energy production will increase by 11.2% by 2050 if current consumption modes are kept. [27]

    8. Water and Ecosystems
  • It is estimated that less than 20% of the world’s drainage basins exhibit nearly pristine water quality. [3]
  • Of the world's 292 largest river systems in 2005 (accounting for 60% of the world's runoff), more than a third (105) were considered to be strongly affected by fragmentation, and 68 moderately affected. [11]
  • Dams play a major role in altering water regimes. They transform river systems, damage ecosystems and create barriers for migrating species. Social impacts of dams are also forced migration and population displacement of humans. [3]
  • On average freshwater species populations were reduced by half between 1970 and 2005, a sharper decline than for other biomes. [3]
  • 70% of untreated industrial wastes in developing countries are disposed into water where they contaminate existing water supplies. [24]
  • More than 80% of sewage in developing countries is discharged untreated, polluting rivers, lakes and coastal areas. [3]
  • Naturally occurring arsenic pollution in groundwater now affects nearly 140 million people in 70 countries on all continents. [3]

[1] U.S. Geological Survey, 2009
[2] 1st UN World Water Development Report, 2003
[3] 3rd UN World Water Development Report, 2009
[4] International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD), 2007
[5] UNDP: Human Development Report, 2006
[6] SIWI: On the Verge of a New Water Scarcity, 2007
[7] SIWI: Let it Reign: The New Water Paradigm for Global Food Security, 2005
[8] Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, 2007
[9] UNEP: Global Environment Outlook Report GEO-4, 2007
[10] OECD: OECD environmental outlook to 2030, 2008
[11] 2nd UN World Water Development Report, 2006
[12] UNESCO-IHE: A Quantifi cation of Virtual Water Flows Between Nations in Relation to International Crop Trade, 2002
[13] WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP): Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation, 2008
[14] WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP): Meeting the MDG Drinking Water and Sanitation Target, A mid-term assessment of progress, 2004
[15] WHO: Water, sanitation and hygiene links to health, 2004
[16] SIWI: Making Water a Part of Economic Development: The Economic Benefits of Improved Water Management and Services, 2005
[17] Transparency International: Global Corruption Report, 2008
[18] UNDP: Human Development Report, 2007/2008
[19] UN-Water: Transboundary Waters: Sharing Benefits, Sharing Responsibilities, 2008
[20] SIWI: The TWO Analysis – Introducing a Methodology for the Transboundary Waters Opportunity Analysis, 2008
[21] SIWI: Saving Water: From Field to Fork - Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain, 2008
[22] Falkenmark, M. and J. Rockström: Balancing Water for Humans and Nature. The New Approach in Ecohydrology, 2004
[23] FAO: The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009
[24] UN-Water: Transboundary Waters: Shared Waters, Shared Opportunities, 2009
[25] Sachs, J: Macroeconomics and Health: Investing in Health for Economic Development, Report of the Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, Prepared for WHO, 2001
[26] UN-Water: GLAAS, 2010
[27] 4th UN World Water Development Report, 2012
[28] SIWI: Addressing Power Asymmetry: How Transboundary Water Management May Serve to Reduce Poverty, 2011
[29] UN-Water: GLAAS, 2012
[30] WaterAid and Development Initiatives: Addressing the shortfall, 2012
[31] FAO: Global Food Losses and Food Waste, 2011
[32] Worldwatch Institute: State of the World Report, 2011
[33] SIWI: Feeding a Thirsty World – Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future, 2012