Our planet.




Vital Water Graphics
An overview of the world's fresh and marine waters



The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been at the forefront of assessing and monitoring global water resources and presenting information on their use and management for 30 years. UNEP has compiled this report in order to provide an easily accessible resource on the state of the world's waters. The goal of this publication is to produce a clear overview, through a set of graphics, maps and other illustrations, of the state of the world's fresh and marine waters. It also illustrates the causes, effects, trends and threats facing our water sources, with examples of areas of major concern and future scenarios for the use and management of fresh, coastal and marine waters.

Global freshwater consumption rose sixfold between 1900 and 1995 - more than twice the rate of population growth. About one third of the world's population already lives in countries considered to be 'water stressed' - that is, where consumption exceeds 10% of total supply. If present trends continue, two out of every three people on Earth will live in that condition by 2025.

-- Kofi Annan, in We The Peoples, 2000



Executive Summary

Published 10 years after the Rio Summit of 1992, Vital Water Graphics focuses on the critical issues of water quantity, quality and availability - issues that are vital to the quality of life on Earth. The assessment of global water resources and the provision of early warnings on water issues are enshrined in the mandate, vision and mission of the United Nations Environment Programme. UNEP, UN agencies, and collaborating centres and partners monitor and analyse water resources on a global scale. This partnership enables a wider involvement in assessing the status of the implementation of Chapters 17 and 18 of Agenda 21, which address coastal and marine waters and freshwater, respectively.

Highlights from assessment activities over the past two decades, which are used to establish present and future water trends, reveal that:

1. Freshwater resources are unevenly distributed, with much of the water located far from human populations. Many of the world's largest river basins run through thinly populated regions. There are an estimated 263 major international river basins in the world, covering ~231 059 898 km2 or 45.3% of the Earth's land surface area (excluding Antarctica).

2. Groundwater represents about 90% of the world's readily available freshwater resources, and some 1.5 billion people depend upon groundwater for their drinking water.

3. Agricultural water use accounts for about 75% of total global consumption, mainly through crop irrigation, while industrial use accounts for about 20%, and the remaining 5% is used for domestic purposes.

4. It is estimated that two out of every three people will live in water-stressed areas by the year 2025. In Africa alone, it is estimated that 25 countries will be experiencing water stress (below 1,700 m3 per capita per year) by 2025. Today, 450 million people in 29 countries suffer from water shortages.

5. Clean water supplies and sanitation remain major problems in many parts of the world, with 20% of the global population lacking access to safe drinking water. Water-borne diseases from faecal pollution of surface waters continue to be a major cause of illness in developing countries. Polluted water is estimated to affect the health of 1.2 billion people, and contributes to the death of 15 million children annually.

A wide variety of human activities also affects the coastal and marine environment. Population pressures, increasing demands for space and resources, and poor economic performances can all undermine the sustainable use of our oceans and coastal areas. Serious problems affecting the quality and use of these ecosystems include:

1. Alteration and destruction of habitats and ecosystems. Estimates show that almost 50% of the world's coasts are threatened by development-related activities.

2. Severe eutrophication has been discovered in several enclosed or semi-enclosed seas. It is estimated that about 80% of marine pollution originates from land-based sources and activities.

3. In marine fisheries, most areas are producing significantly lower yields than in the past. Substantial increases are never again likely to be recorded for global fish catches. In contrast, inland and marine aquaculture production is increasing and now contributes 30% of the total global fish yield.

4. Impacts of climate change may include a significant rise in the level of the world's oceans. This will cause some low-lying coastal areas to become completely submerged, and increase human vulnerability in other areas. Because they are highly dependent upon marine resources, small island developing states (SIDS) are especially vulnerable, due to both the effects of sea level rise and to changes in marine ecosystems.

UNEP is involved in promoting Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) through a broad variety of initiatives, as a way of resolving current and future problems at a local/ecosystem-based level. Through its different assessment activities, UNEP focuses on highlighting key areas to promote policy recommendations.



01 Freshwater resources
02 Water use and management
03 Problems related to freshwater resources.
04 Coastal and marine waters
05 links