The many uses of water include agricultural, industrial, household, recreational and environmental activities. At the global level, it's estimated that 70 percent of water use is in agriculture, 20-22 percent is used in industry, and 8-10 percent in the municipal sector including household uses. Water demand is disproportionate to its supply in many parts of the world, and the gross imbalances are expected to continue into the near future. Increasing human population further strains water resources and creates unparalleled competition for water in many of the poorest countries. Climate change will majorly disrupt the water cycle and directly impact water resources for many communities around the world.
Up until the 1990s, the common understanding of most people was that water was an infinite resource. There was less than half the current population living on the planet, and less people consuming a water-intense diet and lifestyle. Today, there are 8 billion people on earth and they are consuming more water-intensive foods (i.e. meats, almonds, rice), so an increased amount of water is being siphoned off to agriculture to keep up with the demand. Along with increased water usage for agriculture, there is also increased competition for water from industry and urbanization. The overall population is forecast to rise to 9.8 billion by 2050, which means a higher number of people consuming a meat-heavy diet, and an even heavier demand on already tight water resources.
Just over 70 percent of the earth's surface is covered in water. Of this, 97 percent is salt water, and 3 percent is freshwater.
Just about two thirds (69 percent) of freshwater is frozen in glaciers and ice caps, roughly 30 percent is ground water, and a tiny fraction (around 0.3 percent) is surface water, or water that is above ground or in the air.
Worldwide, 70 percent of water use is in agriculture, 19 percent is used in industry, and 11 percent in the municipal sector including household uses.
Agricultural use: OECD states that: "Agriculture irrigation accounts for 70% of water use worldwide and over 40% in many OECD countries. Intensive groundwater pumping for irrigation depletes aquifers and can lead to negative environmental externalities, causing significant economic impact on the sector and beyond. In addition, agriculture remains a major source of water pollution; agricultural fertiliser run-off, pesticide use and livestock effluents all contribute to the pollution of waterways and groundwater.
Industrial use: According to the UN World Water Development Report 2022: Industry and energy account for 19% of global freshwater withdrawals, including groundwater.
Household use: The World Health Organization states that: "Over 2 billion people live in water-stressed countries, which is expected to be exacerbated in some regions as result of climate change and population growth. Re-use of wastewater to recover water, nutrients or energy is becoming an important strategy. Increasingly countries are using wastewater for irrigation; in developing countries this represents 7% of irrigated land. While this practice if done inappropriately poses health risks, safe management of wastewater can yield multiple benefits, including increased food production."
As the population continues to increase, the water levels will become increasingly stressed.
AI-augmented agriculture will increase the resource efficiency of the agriculture industry, lowering the use of water, fertilisers and pesticides which cause damage to important ecosystems, and increase resilience to climate extremes.