Water Access Facts & Figures

In 2010, the United Nations declared that access to safe, clean drinking water is universal human right.

96.5% of all water on earth is in the oceans and undrinkable.

1.6% is locked up in the polar ice caps and glaciers.

2% of all the water on earth is “fresh.”

US Geological Survey

 21% of the fresh water in the world is in the North American Great Lakes.

How the world uses freshwater:
• Irrigation: 70%
• Industry: 22%
• Domestic use: 8%

World Water Assessment Program (WWAP)

Every day each person on earth drinks approximately .5 1 gallons of water but eats 500 1,250 gallons of water used in food. For example, vegetables require: 5 gallons of water, 1 slice of bread: 10 gallons, 1 apple: 17 gallons. Animals that provide meat however require much more water. For example, 1 steak: requires 1,006 gallons.

United Nations

The amount of water needed to produce:

A cup of tea = 8 gallons

1 slice of wheat bread = 10 gallons

1 load in the dishwasher = 15 gallons

A 10 minute shower = 25 gallons

10 minutes dishwashing by hand = 30 gallons

A glass of wine = 31 gallons

A load in the washing machine = 40 gallons

1 pound of sugar = 180 gallons

A cotton shirt = 700 gallons

A set of 4 new tires = 2,072 gallons

1 pound of coffee = 2,500 gallons

Loch Ness Water Gardens

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and 66% of the world’s population could be under stress conditions.

United Nations

Adaption to climate change is mainly about better water management

United Nations

Between 1991 and 2000 over 665,000 people died in 2,557 natural disasters of which 90% were water related.

United Nations

Access to clean water gives communities more time to grow food, earn an income, and go to school — all of which fight poverty.

It takes 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water.

Pacific Institute

Sometimes clean water must be purchased. The price is about .70  per 5 gallons, which is what a family of 6 drinks per day. The average expenditure of such a family monthly is about $20. 

Archdiocese of Milwaukee


The biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems has been degraded more than any other ecosystem.

United Nations

The major sources of water pollution are from human settlements and industrial and agricultural activities.

United Nations

Polluted drinking waters are a problem for about 50% of the world’s population. Each year there are about 250 million cases of water-based diseases, resulting in roughly 5 to 10 million deaths.

The Expedition Project

In developing countries, 80% of industrial wastes (about 300-400 million tons) are dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply.

United Nations

Some of the industries that pollute the most water are: chemicals, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, logging, metals, cement, paper, oil refining, power plants, airlines, automobile, leather & sugar processing, construction, waste management & “factory farming.”

Industrial water pollution includes: asbestos, sulfur, lead & mercury, oil, nitrates & phosphates (from fertilizers) & oils.

Nitrate from agriculture is the most common chemical contaminant in the world’s groundwater aquifers.

United Nations

An estimated 17 to 27 billion gallons of polluted water is generated by 40 mines (e.g. gold, copper, uranium mines) in the US each year. Water treatment for these mines will cost as much as $67 billion per year. 62% of these mines (25 out 40) are located partly on public lands so the cleanup costs will be shouldered by the American taxpayer if the mining companies are unable or unwilling to pay.


In the United States, 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, storm water, and industrial waste are discharged into US waters annually.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

44% of streams, 64% of lakes, and 30% of bays and estuaries are classified as polluted.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The head of China’s national development agency said that 25% of China’s main rivers were so poisoned the water harmed the skin.

In 1 week, a typical cruise ship generates: 200,000 gallons of sewage, 1 million gallons of ‘grey water’ from showers, sinks, dishwashers and washing machines, 37,000 gallons of oily bilge water, more than 2 tons of solid waste and toxic wastes from on board operations like dry cleaners and photo-processing bottles.


In the US, an estimated 200 million gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed off by dumping on the ground, tossed in the trash (ending up in landfills) and poured down sewers and drains.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Women & Girls

In Africa, 90% of the work of gathering water is done by women.  Women and girls often spend up to 6 hours a day fetching water spending about 40 billion hours a year walking for water.

Clean water helps keep kids in school, especially girls. Less time collecting water means more time in class. Clean water and proper toilets at school means teenage girls don’t have to stay home for a week out of every month.

When a community gets water, women and girls get their lives back. They start businesses, improve their homes, and take charge of their own futures.

Charity Water

Reducing the distance to a water source from 30 to 15 minutes increased girl’s school attendance by 12%

United Nations

With the same access to productive resources as men, women could increase yields on their farms by 20-30% and lift 150 million people out of hunger.

United Nations

Involving women can increase the effectiveness of water projects 6-7%

United Nations


Diseases from dirty water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.

15% of the world’s population (1 billion people) do not have access to safe drinking water

UN Human Development Report

35% of the world’s population, about 2.5 billion people , do not have proper toilets.


A lack of safe water and sanitation in cities leads to cholera, malaria and diarrhea & pneumonia.

World Health Organization (WHO)

Around 700,000 children die every year from unsafe water and poor sanitation—that’s almost 2,000 children a day. About 50% of these are under 5 years old.

United Nations

For every $1 spent on water, sanitation and hygiene programs, there is, on average, a $4 return in productivity.

Catholic Relief Services


It takes massive amounts of water to convert fossil fuels to electricity. Coal- and gas-fired power plants use water for cooling. During hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – a process for extracting oil and natural gas – large quantities of water are mixed with chemicals and sand and injected underground to help draw out the minerals. Renewables such as wind and solar, however, use negligible amounts of water in turning raw energy into usable electricity.

To power a home for a month, it takes:

687 gallons of water using coal

198 gallons of water using gas

26 gallons using solar

0 gallons using wind

Environmental Defense Fund