The biggest water user and the main cause of the global water crisis, is agriculture.

Three-quarters of the Earth‘s surface is covered with water, yet 98 percent is salt water and not fit for consumption. Less than one percent of all the water on Earth is freshwater available for human consumption. Source 
Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s available freshwater!

The growth of the world’s livestock industry will worsen the overuse of rivers and lakes. It’s not that animals are particularly thirsty; but a lot of water is needed to grow the fodder they eat and the dung from the factory farms pollutes the groundwater with nitrates and antibiotic residues.

One third of humanity does not have enough water

Consumption of the world’s most important form of sustenance — fresh water — has increased eightfold over the past century. It continues to increase at more than double the rate of human population growth. As a a result,  one-third of humanity does not have enough water. Lakes, rivers and oceans are pumped full of nutrients and pollutants. At the same time the water table is drooping dramatically in many parts of the world.

Big rivers such as the Colorado in the United States and the Yellow River in China, no longer reach the sea for months because so much of their water has been extracted.

agriculture consumes 70% of the world’s available freshwater

A scenic fresh water lake in the alps. An experience which our children’s children might not be able to enjoy if we do not change our behavior straight away. ©Ruth Nelson-Andorf 2018

The biggest water user and the main cause of the global water crisis, is agriculture. It consumes 70% of the world’s available freshwater, while households /10%) and industry (20%) make do with a lot less. One third of agriculture’s share goes into raising livestock. This is not because cows. pigs and chickens are particularly thirsty, it is because they consume water indirectly, as feed.

It takes 15,500 liters (15.5 cubic meters) of water to produce just one kilogram of beef, according to a WWF study. A small swimming pool full of water for four steaks?

The effect of livestock on water is not limited to consumption

Producing 1,000 calories of food in the form of cereals takes about half a cubic meter of water. Producing the same number of calories as meat takes four cubic meters. Remember though, not all cows are equal,: an intensively raised cow = factory farming, uses a lot more water than one put outside to graze.

The effect of livestock on water is not limited to consumption. Water pollution caused by nitrates and phosphorus fron manure and fertilizers are a big problem for the livestock industry. Plants cannot absorb the nutrients that percolate down into the soil and end up in groundwater as well as rivers and lakes.

water_collapseIf meat consumption continues to rise rapidly, the amount of water needed to grow animal feed will double by the middle of this century, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Human population growth alone means we have to find ways to use water more economically, because the same amount of water will have to go around for more people. Global warming through climate change is likely to reduce water availability further.

The logical question; should we continue to pump an already scarce resource into the raising of livestock? 

Some 2.5 billion people already live in areas subject to water stress; by 2025, it will be over half of humanity and conflicts over water are expected to become more acute.

Source Meat Atlas | Facts & Figures about the meat we eat | Heinrich Böll Stiftung 2014 | creative commons license

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