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World issues

Water supply

Irrigated fields and an aqueduct in Arizona, USAIrrigated fields and an aqueduct in Arizona, USA The total mass of water over, on and under the surface of a planet is called the hydrosphere. The volume of water in Earth’s hydrosphere is 1.4 billion cubic kilometres (320 million cubic miles), but only about 3% of this is fresh water, rather than seawater. A supply of clean, fresh water is vital for drinking, sanitation, farming and industry. Because of pollution and the overuse of our limited fresh water supply, a global water shortage is likely to occur during the 21st century. By tackling overconsumption, recycling waste and reducing pollution, we can conserve our water supply.

The Three Gorges Dam, a hydro-electric power stationThe Three Gorges Dam, a hydro-electric power station

What do we use
water for?

Around 70% of the world’s fresh water supply is used in agriculture: water is used to irrigate crops and feed livestock. Industrial uses, accounting for 20%, include hydro-electric power stations, steam turbines, food processing and cleaning. Domestic uses, including drinking, toilet flushing, washing, cooking and garden watering, take up the remaining 10%.

Every year, around 3.4 million people die because of lack of access to clean drinking water or sanitation—the equivalent of the entire population of Los Angeles.

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