In this guide, we provide an overview of the countries that use the most fresh water – both in total volume, and also per capita.
We also look at how much water other countries in the world use.
Summary – Which Countries Use The Most Water
In terms of total volume of water withdrawn, India uses the most water of any country in the world.
China and the US are in second and third.
But, there should be differentiation between the total water use (in volume) of a country, and water use per capita.
India for example has a much lower water usage footprint when measuring according to per capita rates, due to the size of it’s population.
America on the other hand has one the highest per capita fresh water withdrawal rates in the world at 2,842 cubic meters per year
The global average per capita fresh water withdrawal rate for comparison is 1,385 cubic meters
Some sets of data indicate that the US’ meat consumption and sugar consumption makes up around 45% of it’s per capita water footprint
Other countries that may not consume as much meat might have lower per capita water footprints – India might be an example of this, as India’s per capita water footprint comes in below the global average
A few additional notes:
– Different countries use their water in different % shares across the different sectors
These include 1. Agriculture, 2. Industry and energy generation, and 3. Household/domestic/municipal use.
– The type of water use also matters
For example, using sustainable or renewable water like rain water, is generally better than water from sources that aren’t sustainable, renewable or are not environmentally friendly or economically feasible
High water use isn’t as much of a problem for countries with plentiful water supplies, or the ability to generate fresh water with technology like desalination (although there are pros and cons to desalination and other modern water technology), or other types of water technology like water recycling and reclamation
It’s also worth noting that water withdrawn may not be as much of an issue as much as water consumed is. The reason for this is that water withdrawn is usually returned to it’s source to be re-used again, whereas water consumed is taken out of the water supply and must be regenerated in some way to maintain water supply levels
In the information below, we can see that the Australian water stats show a large % of water capacity being returned to the environment. Total consumptive use was smaller according to some data
Which Countries Use The Most Water In Total Volume?
In terms of total volume in 2014 – India, then China, then the US.
India had the largest freshwater withdrawals at over 760 billion cubic metres per year.
This was followed by China at just over 600 billion m3
and, the United States at around 480-90 billion m3.
Which Country Uses The Most Water Per Capita?
Different sets of data show either the US, or smaller countries having the higher per capita water footprints
The US according to different sets of data has a higher per capita, per year water footprint than India and the UK …
[when measuring] per capita (per person withdrawals), some smaller countries like Iceland and Turkmenistan [can] top the list.
… The U.S. had the world’s highest per capita water footprint, at 2,842 cubic meters per annum.
Meat consumption accounts for 30 percent of the American figure, and sugar consumption is responsible for another 15 percent …
[India’s] individual footprint is only 1,089 cubic meters a year [and India is a country where people consume less meat]
[For context] The global annual average per capita is 1,385 cubic meters.
In the UK, the average person uses 39 gallons per day compared to the American’s 110 gallons.
How Much Water Does The United States Use?
In 2014, the United States used around 480-90 billion m³ of water
In 2010, the US:
Water Withdrawn (Total) – 306,000 Mgal/d of freshwater total
Water Withdrawn From Surface Water (River, Lakes, etc) – 230,000 Mgal/d (million gallons a day)
Water Withdrawn From Ground Water – 76,000 Mgal/d
How Much Water Does China Use?
In 2014, China used around 600 billion m³ of water
How Much Water Does India Use?
In 2014, India used around 760 billion m³ of water
How Much Water Does The United Kingdom Use?
[Britain uses] in the order of 840 billion litres each year
How Much Water Does Canada Use?
Canadians currently use an average of 329 litres of water per person, per day — second only to the United States in the developed world, and more than twice as much as Europeans
statcan.gc.ca has further Canadian water use stats broken down by the sectors and thir volume of water use
How Much Water Does Australia Use?
An interesting things about Australia’s water stats below are how much water is non consumptive vs consumptive …
During 2015-16, an estimated 76,544 gigalitres (GL) of water was extracted from the environment to support the Australian economy.
A total of 60,702 gigalitres of the total 76,544 gigalitres … was used in-stream (for example hydro-electricity generation) and is a non-consumptive use of water.
Total consumptive use of water in 2015-16 was 16,132 gigalitres.
Both these resources further break down how Australia’s water is used amongst the different sectors and industries.
What Are The Trends For Global Water Use? (Are We Using More Water, Or Less?)
Due to factors such as a growing population and an increase in water intensive economic activity (meat consumption and the use of fossil fuels might be two examples of this), fresh water use has increased six fold since 1900, and has tripled over the last 50 years.
1. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2018) – “Water Access, Resources & Sanitation”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/water-access-resources-sanitation’ [Online Resource]
11. https://water.usgs.gov/edu/saline.html (saline water withdrawal)
12. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/mf/4610.0 (includes a good diagram showing water withdrawal, use and discharge within the Australian economy)
13. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Latestproducts/4610.0Main%20Features32015-16?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4610.0&issue=2015-16&num=&view=