Only 2.5 per cent of all water on the planet is fresh and 70 per cent of this is locked up in glaciers and permanent snow. The slow process of snow melting in the summer and being r eplaced in the winter is what has fed rivers and underground water stores (aquifers) since time immemorial.
But now, with global warming, glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate and the water is simply running into the sea.
More than 2.3 billion people in 21 countries live in areas which are ‘water stressed’ while a further 1.7 billion live in areas of water scarcity. More than one billion people have little access to clean water.
It is mostly in these places where animal agriculture and and human populations are growing and as a result, 64 per cent of the world’s population will live in ‘water stressed’ areas by 2025.
One-third of the world’s population will live in areas of ‘absolute water scarcity’, including Pakistan, South Africa and large parts of China and India, according to the International Water Management Institute (2000).
Agriculture is the biggest user of fresh water, taking 70 per cent of all that's available and in many third world countries it's as high as 85 to 95 per cent.
Agriculture is also responsible for 93 per cent of all 'depletion' – drawing water underground aquifers faster than it can be replaced. Water makes up 60 to 70 per cent of the body weight of most animals and a cow drinks up to 127 litres a day, a pig 46.7 litres and 100 chickens up to 62 litres.
The water used for cleaning, processing and slaughtering chickens can amount to 15 litres per kilo – nearly 40 litres for the average supermamrket broiler chicken.
The University of California studied water use in their state, where most agricultural land is irrigated, and said it takes between 20 to 30 gallons of water to produce one edible pound of vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes and carrots, yet takes 441 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
It's no coincidence that when poor countries appeal to Western governments for loans through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), they are often required to sell off their resources to the highest bidder. These, of course, includes water and the buyers are usually multinational agribusinesses involved in livestock production. What they're doing is ensuring their raw materials so they can continue to grow in the future.