Only around 12% of freshwater is used for domestic purposes. The remainder is used for the production of goods and resources we use in our everyday lives. The challenge is that we use too much water in our production practices. With the world facing up to a global water shortage, it's time to review how we use this essential resource.
Here is an overview of how water is used in production.
Agriculture is the greatest user of water, accounting for around 70% of the overall freshwater use worldwide. This varies from just over 35% in Europe and Central Asia to over 90% in South Asia. Water is essential to grow food and sustain livestock around the world. Uses include crop cooling and the application of pesticides and fertilizers, but the vast majority is used for irrigation procedures.
At present, most water used in agricultural production is drawn from freshwater resources but there is pressure to turn to more sustainable sources such as rainwater and recycled water. This is especially important as global agricultural production is expected to increase by around 70% by 2050.
Around 15% of global freshwater use is for industrial production purposes. This is higher in more industrialised countries, standing at 30.7% in Europe and Central Asia. Water is used at every stage of the production process including product creation, washing, diluting, and cooling equipment and transportation of goods.
Non-agricultural industries that use the most water include textile, food & beverage, and automotive manufacturing. Aside from the over-use of water supplies in production, the main problem with industrial water use is pollution. Industrial production generates a lot of wastewater containing toxic pollutants, up to 70% of which is dumped untreated into rivers, lakes, and oceans in some developing countries, according to some reports.
The production of the energy sources that fuel households, businesses, vehicles, and appliances is also water-intensive. Separate statistics for water used in energy production are not always readily available as it tends to fall within the use of all three measured categories (household, industrial, and agricultural). According to one study, approximately 41% of freshwater use in the US in 2015 was down to energy production in thermoelectric plants.
Water is essential in all stages of fuel production including resource extraction, cooling equipment, and waste disposal.
Current industrial production methods are far too water-intensive. We need to greatly reduce our global water usage levels or intensify water recycling if we are to avoid a future crisis, and it's clear that we can't do this without looking into new production methods. Here are some statistics to put things into perspective:
There are a number of ways that agriculture and industry can look to reducing the amount of water that is used in production processes. This includes a wide variety of technological solutions now available to monitor usage and refine production processes, including smart technology solutions. Companies involved in agricultural and industrial production can also use alternative water sources other than freshwater extraction, such as recycling and reusing water supplies such as rainwater and wastewater.
New techniques are coming into play, such as sustainable farming and waterless dyeing in the textile industry, which will help alleviate pressure on global freshwater supplies. However, much needs to be done to mainstream such techniques if we are to avoid a future water crisis.
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