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Backstory: Tapping the world

Wednesday is World Water Day. Essential for life - and key to global politics and economies - clean water is an extremely scarce resource in much of the world. Here's a glimpse at global patterns of water access, value, and consumption.

Access to Water

• 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, including 42 percent of all sub-Saharan Africans.

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• As of 2005, 4,700 people died on average every day - mostly children under the age of 5 - due to lack of potable water.

• The cost of a household connection to water pipes can be five times greater than the per capita income in Benin, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mauritania, and Uganda.

• Households without plumbing spend on average 90 minutes every day hauling water for family needs. The average American tap delivers the same amount of water in two minutes.

• Women are usually responsible for fetching water when households in the undeveloped world lack plumbing. On average, they carry about 45 pounds of water at a time.

Water Use

• 30 to 50 liters of clean water is considered the basic daily need ofeveryhuman for drinking, cooking, and sanitation.

• Africans consume 37 liters of water a day on average; Americans consume 420 liters a day.

• Humans consume 950 trillion gallons of water annually - 70 percent of that is used for agriculture.

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• Americans - who comprise less than 5 percent of the world population - consumed 15 percent of the total amount of water used in the world in 2000.

• Water use increased at more than twice the rate of world population growth in the 20th century.

Bottled water

• Global sales of bottled water last year reached $100 billion. By contrast, only $10 billion a year would be required to meet the UN goal of providing safe drinking water by 2015 to half of the 1.1 billion people who now lack it.

• 1.5 million barrels of crude oil are required to produce the 2.7 million tons of plastic used to bottle water annually.