We demand more of our planet than we ever have. By 2050, population is expected to increase 25 % in the United States and 50% the world over. Exponential population increase coincides with the recent exponential rise in food prices, and it will continue to push demand for fuel, food, and goods. But perhaps the most vital resource affected by the population rise – and the one whose future availability is most uncertain – is fresh water.
The use of fresh water in food, materials, and fuel production, as well as municipal and residential consumption, makes it the most integral part of our lives. It is the resource we can least afford to give up, and an increase in water use will not come without consequences. Sustainable agricultural standards may be the primary line of defense against a growing global water situation.
With data provided by AQUASTAT, a component of the UN’s Food and Agriculture website, we can see how different areas of the world use water. World Green generated a report on all countries to compare agricultural water withdrawal, total freshwater withdrawal, percentage of annual renewable water, and freshwater withdrawal per capita. When comparing these stats we learn how different types of countries depend on water.
India, China, the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil draw the largest amounts of freshwater, with India topping out at 610.4 billion cubic meters each year. The top five are listed in the table below.
|Total freshwater withdrawal (surface + groundwater)||(10^9 m3/yr)|
For reference, France and Germany both use 32 billion per year.
When analyzing what percent of a country’s yearly total renewable water resources are consumed by agriculture, we begin to have questions about how sustainable some countries are.
|Total renewable water resources withdrawn by agriculture||(%)|
For reference, the U.S. uses 6.269, and India uses 29.39. It’s worth mentioning Egypt, which narrowly misses this list of top 5 with 103% of its annual renewable water going to agriculture.
Next we look at what percent of the annual water withdrawal goes toward agriculture. Here, also, we find some stunning numbers.
|Agricultural water withdrawal as % of total water withdrawal||(%)|
For reference, Spain uses 64% and Hungary uses 12%.
Finally, a look at freshwater draw per capita puts into perspective the need for sustainable standards on freshwater consumption.
|Total water withdrawal per capita||(m3/inhab/yr)|
As a frame of reference, the U.S. withdraws 1,600 cubic meters of water per inhabitant per year, and India uses 566.2.
Agriculture will be impacted enormously by changes in water availability and cost, since it is one of the largest users of water in most countries. In the U.S., for example, approximately 40% of the water withdrawn from surface and groundwater sources is used for agricultural irrigation. 40% might seem like a lot, but compared to other countries, it’s reasonable – internationally, that percentage averages 70%.
The numbers might be surprising, but the effects are not – these findings only reinforce what we already know. The mining of groundwater is resulting in declining water tables, increased costs of water withdrawal, and the deterioration of water quality. Extended drought conditions regularly decrease surface water flows. The way we respond to these challenges, though, will determine the long-term availability of water for municipal and agricultural use. Increasing industrial and residential water use will continue to limit the water available to agriculture, and we face a future with less water available unless we press sustainable agricultural standards and make water-use more productive and efficient.