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How Does Water Use in the United States Compare to That in Africa?

How would the United States Live on only 5 gallons of water per day?

Every day, the average American family uses about 552 gallons of water. 

Compare this to the average African family, which uses about 5 gallons of water a day.

Most Americans get their water delivered to their home, usually through a tap, and can almost always count on it being sanitary.  In the United States alone, almost 34 billion gallons of water are treated every day at water facilities.

In developing countries, women have to walk an average of four miles a day to get water that may or may not be clean.  This results in an average 40 billion work hours being lost each year in Africa.

This video PSA by Designmatters, students at Art Center College of Design, plays up the differences in across the continents. 

According to the UN, the average person needs between 20 and 50 liters (5.3-13.2 gallons) of water each day to satisfy their drinking, cooking, cleaning, and sanitation needs.

However, 783 million people, or 11% of the global population, still do not have access to clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion people live without basic sanitation. 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 12% of the health budget is used to treat diarrhea, and often, at least half of a hospital’s beds are filled with people who have a fecal-related disease.  Every 20 seconds, a child dies because of a lack of proper sanitation.

Of Earth’s 1.4 billion km3 of water, only 35 million km3 (2.5%) is fresh water.  And of that, 24 million km3 (70%) is ice or permanent snow cover, another 30% is groundwater, 105,000 km3 (0.3%) is in freshwater lakes and rivers, and the atmosphere holds about 13,000 km3.  This leaves about 200,000 km3, which is less than 1% of all the water available on Earth, for human use, and even that must be split between humans and ecosystems.

Over the past century, water use has grown at a rate twice that of the population increase.  Right now, if the entire global population had the water habits of the average European or North American, we would need about three and a half Earths to sustain us.

By 2025, water withdrawals are expected to rise by 50% in developing countries and 18% in developed countries.

In the United States, freshwater is divided into multiple uses:  41.5% is used for thermoelectric power, 37% for irrigation, 2.6% for aquaculture, 5% for industrial use, 8.5% for domestic use, and 5.4% goes to other publicly supplied users.  The freshwater then used in the home usually gets broken down into these categories:  26.7% for the toilet, 21.7% for washing clothes, 16.8% for bathing, 15.7% for the faucets, 5.3% for other purposes, and 13.7% of the water is not used but wasted due to leaks.

Each year, the average American home wastes 11,000 gallons of water from running toilets, dripping faucets, and other leaks.  That’s a total of 1 trillion gallons across the nation.

In Africa, through, the vast majority (85%) of the water used is used for agricultural purposes.  Another 10% of the water is used in the household, and the remaining 5% is used in industry.

Right now, about 40% of the global population is facing a shortage of water, but if the trend of high water use continues, it could get a lot worse.  An estimated 1.8 billion people will be faced with severe water shortages and two-thirds of the global population will live in areas under pressure from a lack of water by the year 2025.  By 2030, 47% of the population will be facing major water shortages.

It’s important to become more water-aware before it’s too late.  Doing simple things such as fixing leaks, taking shorter showers, turning off the tap when brushing your teeth or shaving, and washing full loads of dishes or clothes will help save a lot of water.  If everyone is able to just do one or two of these things, pretty soon all the water saved will start to add up, and the future will look a whole lot wetter.  


Sydney Weil
About the Author

Sydney was a summer intern with AWF. She is entering her senior year of high school and has a passion for wildlife conservation. She hopes to one day be a wildlife vet.

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