Understanding the Global Supply of Water
As the world’s population and its agricultural needs have grown, so too has the demand for water, putting the world’s supply of water under the microscope.
A century ago, freshwater consumption was six times lower than in modern times. This increase in demand and usage has resulted in rising stress on freshwater resources and further depletion of reservoirs.
This graphic by Chesca Kirkland uses insights from Our World in Data to break down water supply and also withdrawals per capita. The latter measures the quantity of water taken from both groundwater and freshwater sources for agricultural, industrial, or domestic use.
How Much Water Do We Have?
Many people know that more than 70% of the Earth’s surface is water. That’s 326 million trillion gallons of water, yet humanity still faces a tight supply. Why is that?
It’s because 97% of this water is saline and unfit for consumption. Of the remaining 3% of freshwater, about two-thirds are locked away in the form of snow, glaciers, and polar ice caps. Meanwhile, just under a third of freshwater is found in fast-depleting groundwater resources.
That leaves just 1% of global freshwater as “easily” sourced supply from rainfall as well as freshwater reservoirs including rivers and lakes.
Per Capita Water Withdrawals
Any look at a world map of rivers and lakes will reveal that fresh water distribution is highly uneven across different regions of the world.
Yet developed and developing countries alike require a lot of water for both commercial and personal use. Agriculture use alone accounts for an estimated 70% of the world’s available freshwater.
Below we can see how water withdrawals per capita have grown over the past decades, using the latest available data from each.
Many of the countries with the largest water withdrawals per capita are located in the arid deserts of Central Asia, including top-ranked Turkmenistan at 5,753 cubic meters of annual water withdrawals per person in 2005.
And for developing countries with high water usage, from Turkmenistan to Guyana, most of their water withdrawals are for agriculture. For example, an estimated 95% of available water in Turkmenistan goes towards agriculture.
Developed nations like Finland, New Zealand and the U.S. also withdraw tons of water, at more than 1,000 cubic meters annually per person, but their uses are notably different. In the United States, for example, 41% of water withdrawals in 2015 went to thermoelectric power generation, while 37% went towards irrigation and livestock. For Finland, on the other hand, 80% of water was used for industrial production.
Most of the countries with lower water withdrawals per capita, meanwhile, are concentrated in Africa. They include very populated countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya, which both withdrew around 75 cubic meters of water per person in 2015 and 2010 respectively. This also highlights the continent’s water accessibility and infrastructure issues.
Bridging the Water Inequity Gap
Over the years, various initiatives have emerged to mitigate the world’s water inequality gap.
Efforts include promoting water conservation practices, investing in efficient irrigation systems, and enhancing water infrastructure in regions most affected by scarcity.
Some nations in arid climates with coastal access, such as Saudi Arabia, are also converting ocean salt water to fresh water through desalination plants.
This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.
Hotter Than Ever: 2023 Sets New Global Temperature Records
Four days straight in July 2023 set or equaled global temperature records on average.
Charting Record-Breaking Monthly Global Temperatures
As local heat records are being broken across the planet, July 2023 also saw the global average temperature soar to an unprecedented 17.2°C (62.9°F).
In fact, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the four hottest days on record occurred from July 4 to July 7, 2023, breaking the previous record of 16.9°C (62.4°F) set in mid-August 2016.
The above graphic charts the average air temperature at 2 meters above the surface, since 1979, using data from Climate Reanalyzer.
What is Causing Record High Temperatures?
Temperature records were shattered in both 2023 and 2016 as a result of the dual impact of the El Niño climate phenomenon, which causes a significant rise in Pacific Ocean temperatures, and climate change.
Earth’s average global temperature has risen by at least 1.1°C (1.9°F) since 1880, and the pace has significantly increased in the last century alongside the burning of fossil fuels. The majority of the warming has occurred since 1975, with temperatures rising 0.15 to 0.20°C per decade.
According to the NOAA, six of the most recent months of July (typically the hottest month) were among the seven hottest months recorded by average global surface temperature:
by Avg. Temp.
*As of July 12, 2023
Although these figures show marginal increases in the world’s average temperatures, the effects are far more noticeable on a local scale.
In July 2023, temperatures in Texas surpassed those of Northern Africa, as they reached 43.3°C (110°F). Across the Pacific, cities around China used bomb shelters as cooling centers during a 10-day streak of days above 35°C (95°F).
“We are in uncharted territory and we can expect more records to fall as El Niño develops further and these impacts will extend into 2024,”
– Christopher Hewitt, World Meteorological Organization
How to Mitigate Climate Change?
Transitioning to renewable energy sources, reducing or capturing greenhouse gas emissions, and implementing sustainable practices are considered key steps towards slowing climate change.
According to NASA, the future will also require adaptation, reducing our risks from the harmful effects of climate change (such as sea-level rise, more intense extreme weather events, or food insecurity) as well as taking advantage of any potential positive opportunities associated with climate change (such as longer growing seasons and higher yields in some regions).
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