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The global water situation

Fresh water is essential to our existence - it allows us to produce food, manufacture goods and sustain our health. It is also an essential part of the natural environment which supports all human, plant and animal life.

Global water consumption has risen almost tenfold since 1900, and many parts of the world, including many parts of Australia, are now reaching the limits of their supply. World population is expected to increase by 45% in the next thirty years, whilst freshwater runoff is expected to increase by 10%. UNESCO has predicted that by 2020 water shortage will be a serious worldwide problem.

One third of the world's population is already facing problems due to both water shortage and poor drinking water quality. Effects include massive outbreaks of disease, malnourishment and crop failure. In addition, excessive use of water has seen the degradation of the environment costing the world billions of dollars.


Some sobering examples of water consumption around the world include:

  • So much water is drawn from the Colorado River (which formed the Grand Canyon) that often it doesnít flow to the sea.
  • The Aral Sea, the fourth largest inland sea, will cease to exist within the next decade, as its waters are rapidly being used up for farming.
  • Our own cultural icon, the Snowy River, was reduced to about 1% of its original flow before action was taken to restore environmental flows.



The Australian situation

Australia is the driest populated continent on earth, (Antarctica is drier, but does not support the population of Australia), but we are the greatest consumers of water per person.

The average annual rainfall in Australia is 469 mm/yr, well below the global average of 746mm/yr. 70% of our continent is classified as desert or semi-desert, with little or no precipitation.

On average, each Australian consumes around 100,000 litres of fresh water per year. When you factor in the water used to produce the food we eat and the products that we use in everyday life, we are each responsible for using about 1 million litres of water per year, or a total of about 24,000 GigaLitres.

That's enough to fill Sydney Harbour 48 times over! About 70% is attributed to agricultural irrigation, 9% to other rural uses, 9% to industrial uses and 12% to domestic use.