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March 22, 2011

New Releases: World Water Day and The Big Thirst

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:35 AM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, World Water Day is held annually on March 22. It's a day to focus attention on the importance of freshwater and sustainable management of water resources that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. With over half of the world's population now living in cities, this year's focus is understandably on water and urbanization, under the slogan "Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge."

To observe the day, we'd like to share some sobering (yet mind-boggling) statistics that Charles Fishman, author of the upcoming The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water, was kind enough to share with us.

But first, a little background on Fishman. He has been a favorite of ours for years here at 800-CEO-READ. His previous book, The Wal-Mart Effect, was a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week bestseller, a finalist for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award, and a Jack Covert Selects in 2006. And we've used his 2007 article for Fast Company, Message in a Bottle, as an example of superb writing in our writing sessions at past author pow-wows (author gatherings we host every year).

The statistics and factoids below come from his new book, the aforementioned Big Thirst, being released on April 12 by Free Press.

➻ Water is the oldest substance you’ll ever come in contact with. The water coming from your kitchen faucet is about 4.3 billion years old.

➻ A typical American uses 99 gallons of actual water a day—for cooking, washing, and the #1 personal use in the U.S., toilet flushing.

➻ The average cost of water at home in the U.S.—for always-on, purified drinking water—is $1.12 per day, less than the cost of a single half liter of Evian at a convenience store.

➻ Americans spend almost as much each year on bottled water ($21 billion) as they do maintaining the nation’s entire water infrastructure ($29 billion).

➻ Microchip factories require water that is so clean it is considered dangerous to drink.

➻ The difference in price between home tap water and a half-liter bottle of water at the convenience store is a factor of 3,000—you could take the bottle of Poland Spring that you buy for $1.29 at the local 7-Eleven and refill it every day for 8 years before the cost of the tap water would equal that original price, $1.29.

➻ We often hear that “only” 2 percent of the water on Earth is fresh and available for human use, outside of the polar ice caps.

The “only” 2 percent comes to 1.5 billion liters of fresh water for each person on the planet. It’s 400 million gallons for every person alive. That’s a cube of fresh water for each us as long as a football field and as tall as a 30 story building.

➻ The U.S. uses more water in a single day than it uses oil in a year.

The U.S. uses more water in four days than the world uses oil in a year.

➻ Enough water leaks from aging water pipes in the U.S. each day to supply all the residents of any of 30 states.

➻ The city of London loses 25 percent of the water it pumps.

➻ Seventy-one percent of earth is covered with water, but water is small compared to earth. If Earth were the size of a minivan, all the water on Earth would fit in a half-liter bottle in a single cup holder.

➻ Not one of the 35 largest cities in India has 24-hour-a-day water service. Even the global brand-name cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai offer water service only an hour or two a day.

➻ Treating diarrhea consumes 2 percent of the GDP of India. The nation spends $20 billion a year on diarrhea—$400 million a week—more than the total economies of half the nations in the world.

➻ A common statistic is the 1 billion people in the world—one in six—don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water.

But a less well-known statistic is equally stunning: 1.6 billion people in the world—one in four—have to walk at least 1 km each day to get water and carry it home, or depend on someone who does the water walk.

Just the basic water needs of a family of four—50 gallons total—means carrying (on your head) 400 pounds of water, walking 1 km or more, for as many trips as required, each day.

➻ Between 1900 and 1936, clean water in U.S. cities cut the rate of child deaths in half.

➻ Cooling water a typical U.S. nuclear power plan requires: 30 million gallons per hour

Water that New York City requires: 46 million gallons per hour

➻ Water required to maintain a typical Las Vegas golf course: 2,507 gallons for every 18-hole round of golf

Each hole of golf, for each golfer, requires 139 gallons of irrigation water.

➻ Average time a molecule of water spends in the atmosphere, after evaporating, before returning to Earth as rain or snow: 9 days

➻ Amount of water that falls on a single acre of ground when it receives 1 inch of rain: 27,154 gallons


This year's official World Water Day ceremonies are being held in Cape Town, but there are events being held worldwide. To see if there is one in your area, visit the World Water Day website.