Why It Matters
Globally, agriculture uses the highest percentage of freshwater, accounting for about 70% of total water withdrawals. While most of the water goes to irrigation, it also helps provide the energy and ecosystem services required for farming. As the planet’s population increases and consumption patterns change alongside economic prosperity, global demand for food will increase. Freshwater fish also provide an important source of protein and livelihoods for millions of people around the world.
Nearly every business is water-dependent in one way or another. In 2014, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Perception Survey ranked water crises third among 10 global risks of highest concern. Issues of water scarcity and poor water quality have significant and growing social, environmental and economic consequences. And although water risk is rising quickly on the agenda of business and investors, many businesses are just beginning to understand what fresh water means to them, their profits, and their company’s long-term viability.
Clean, fresh water is an essential ingredient for a healthy human life, but 1.1 billion people lack access to water and 2.4 billion don’t have adequate sanitation. Diseases caused by unsafe water and inadequate sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. The situation is predicted to get worse: by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may be facing water shortages. Sustainable access to fresh water and sanitation leads to healthier people and economic growth, which facilitate improved environmental management. In other words, healthy communities help preserve a healthy planet, and a healthy planet is the foundation for healthy communities.
Energy and water are interdependent. Energy is required for pumping, storing, transporting and treating water, and water is essential for producing almost all kinds of energy. While the role of water in hydropower is obvious, water also irrigates biofuels, plays an essential role in fracking, and cools thermoelectric power plants like coal, nuclear, natural gas, and oil. All of these methods of energy production can have serious environmental and social consequences.
Freshwater ecosystems cover less than 0.01% of the planet’s total surface area but they support more than 125,000 species, from fish to terrestrial animals. They also provide a myriad of ecosystem services, including helping to regulate the temperature of the land and sea, creating clouds and affecting the weather, transporting nutrients and minerals, and keeping nature clean and healthy by dissolving pollutants and sediment run off. However, more than half of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since 1900, and fewer than 70 of the world’s 177 longest rivers remain free of man-made obstructions.
What WWF Is Doing
- Michele Thieme Lead Conservation Scientist, Fresh Water
- Ryan Bartlett Director, Climate Risk Management & Resilience
- Jeff Opperman Global Freshwater Lead Scientist, Global Science
- Sarah Davidson Director of Water Policy
- Stephanie Cappa Deputy Director, Policy and Government Affairs
- Evan Freund Senior Director, Infrastructure and Large Initiatives, Freshwater