Hold on to your office chairs, research-loving infographic fans – we’ve got a doozy for you here. Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have compiled a report on the “water footprint of humanity” (from 1996 to 2005) that comes complete with comprehensive water consumption statistics for every country on Earth – including water consumed by industry. The researchers found that 92% of freshwater use is in the agricultural industry, that the United States (with 3% of the world’s population) is the third-largest water consumer, and that 1/5 of water used on Earth is for products exported out of the country where they are made or grown. The report also comes complete with water pollution data, some interesting infographics, and it’s accompanied by a “product gallery” where you can see how much water goes into the production of say, a a cup of tea. When you add up all the water needed to make food, energy and other products, the average person on the planet Earth uses an incredible 1,056 gallons of water per day — that’s enough to fill up 21 standard bath tubs.
Consumption varies greatly from country to country, and some countries rely mostly on water supplies from other nations to prosper. For instance, in countries that import most of their products — like those in North Africa and the Middle East, where commercial agriculture is difficult — the researchers say consumption of “virtual water” is high. “Virtual water” refers to water used to create things in one place (food, clothes or other products) that are then exported to another place to be consumed.
On average, the researchers found that Americans consume about double the average amount of water as persons living in other countries. The growth and consumption of grains is the most intensive, with 27% of water use – meat follows closely with 22%, and dairy products clock in at 7% of total world water use. The study goes on to explore the idea that countries with an abundance of water could take advantage of this resource by focusing on water-intensive products, while countries without large water supplies could counter that by producing products that need little water. In the study, the researchers note that some countries depend heavily on external water sources — Malta is 92% dependent, Kuwait is 90% dependent and Jordan is 86% dependent — but places like the United States do not (we have a 20% dependency on external water sources). The study should provide insight for those interested in stabilizing the world’s water resources in coming years as concern over the scarcity of freshwater resources grows.