Freshwater resources are have significant environmental and economic importance for the world. Their distribution varies widely among and within countries. In arid regions, freshwater resources at times may be limited to the degree that demand for water can only be reached by surpassing sustainable use in terms of quantity. Freshwater abstractions, especially for public water supplies, irrigation, industrial processes and cooling of electric power plants, exert a major pressure on water resources. They have significant implications for the quantity and quality of water resources. Principal concerns relate to the inefficient use of water and its environmental and socio-economic consequences: low river flows, water shortages, salinisation of freshwater bodies in coastal areas, human health problems, loss of wetlands, desertification and reduced food production.
Water abstractions refer to freshwater taken from ground or surface water sources, either permanently or temporarily, and conveyed to the place of use. If the water is returned to a surface water source, abstraction of the same water by the downstream user is counted again in compiling total abstractions.
Mine water and drainage water are included. Water used for hydroelectricity generation is an in situ use and is excluded.
It should be noted that definitions and estimation methods of water consumption employed by member countries may vary considerably and change over time. In general, data availability and quality is best for abstractions for public supply, representing about 15% of the total water abstracted in OECD countries.
Most OECD countries increased their water abstractions over the 1960s and 1970s in response to demand by the agricultural and energy sectors. Since the 1980s, some countries have stabilised their abstractions through more efficient irrigation techniques, the decline of water-intensive industries (e.g. mining, steel), increased use of cleaner production technologies and reduced losses in pipe networks. More recently, this stabilisation partly reflects consequences of droughts while population growth continues to drive increases in public supply.
At a world level, it is estimated that water demand rose by more than double that of the rate of population growth in the last century, with agriculture being the largest user of water.
- OECD (2005), OECD Environmental Data Compendium 2004, updates from the 2004 OECD/Eurostat Questionnaire on the State of the Environment, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2006), Environment at a Glance: OECD Environmental Indicators, OECD, Paris.
- OECD, WHO (2003), Assessing Microbial Safety of Drinking Water: Improving Approaches and Methods, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2003), Water: Performance and Challenges in OECD Countries, OECD Environmental Performance Reviews, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2006), Environmental Performance Reviews - Water: the experience in OECD countries, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2006), China in the Global Economy - Environment, Water Resources and Agricultural Policies: Lessons from China and OECD Countries, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2006), Financing Water and Environment Infrastructure: The Case of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2006), OECD Trade Policy Studies - Liberalisation and Universal Access to Basic Services: Telecommunications, Water and Sanitation, Financial Services, and Electricity, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2008), OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2008), OECD Insights: Sustainable Development: Linking Economy, Society, Environment, OECD, Paris.
- OECD (2008), OECD Sustainable Development Studies: Conducting Sustainability Assessments, OECD, Paris.