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Global water resources

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Water is arguably the most important physical resource as it is the one that is essential to human survival. Understanding the global water cycle and how we use water is essential to planning a sustainable source of water for the future. In the UK there are areas where water supplies are limited, shown by recent droughts. Globally, there are many areas that do not have enough water to support the current population adequately. Decisions will have to be made on the best way to use water in a world where there is climate change. This free course, Global water resources, examines the options.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • discuss the future of global water resources, including problems of water scarcity and water security nationally and internationally.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 2 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 16th March 2016
  • Intermediate level
  • Posted under Environmental Science
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Global water resources


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The amount of water used on a global scale has increased rapidly in recent years. Increased demand is due to population growth and increased per capita consumption of water. The rate of increase in industrialised countries is the lowest; most of the increase is in the developing world, which has a much lower per capita water use at present: 70% of global water use is for agriculture, 22% for industry and 8% for domestic purposes. This division has a considerable regional variation: in Africa, India and Asia, agriculture is even more water-demanding, with Asia, for example, using 85% for agriculture. In Europe and the USA, industry uses a greater proportion: 55% and 49% respectively.

Water, however, is a resource in which 'used' is a relative term: some agricultural water and most industrial and domestic water is returned to rivers or groundwater after use, but usually with a change of quality. And, we have seen that rivers themselves have a residence time of only a few weeks, so the water in them is renewed on a very short timescale.

On a global scale, water is not scarce, but locally on a continental or national scale it often is, and with increasing demand is likely to be more so in the future.

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of level 2 study in Environment & Development [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

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