Human use of water is beyond sustainable levels in many parts of the world, and Americans are among the biggest culprits. The average U.S. lifestyle takes 1,800 gallons (6,814 liters) of water a day to support -- twice the global average.
The shortage of freshwater is a crucial problem facing our planet. A mere 3 percent of the Earth's water is fresh. Two percent is locked in snow and ice, leaving just 1 percent available for consumption. Nearly a billion people -- one-sixth of the world's population -- have no access to safe drinking water, 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation, and more than 3 million people die from water-related diseases each year. Forty-six percent of people on Earth do not have water piped to their homes, and much of the burden of collecting water falls to women -- women in developing countries walk an average of 3.7 miles to get water.
Freshwater species are disappearing four to six times faster than land or sea animals -- in the United States, nearly half the 573 animals on the threatened and endangered list are freshwater species.
National Geographic has long been a global observer of the impact of freshwater shortages over time. In this role, we have come to identify water scarcity as one of the most critical issues facing us today. In line with our mission to "inspire people to care about the planet," the National Geographic Society is marking World Water Day 2010 (March 22) by launching a wide-ranging, multiyear effort to educate and encourage individuals and communities to live within their water means and to take part in solving water problems in their own backyards and across the globe.
As part of this effort, the April 2010 issue of National Geographic Magazine is a special edition devoted entirely to water. It's an essential primer on the state of the world's fresh water and it explores the global implications of the water crisis.
Because we believe the concerns highlighted in this special water issue so important, we are offering the magazine free to policymakers, educators, students and the public from March 22 to April 2. The special water issue can be downloaded at our freshwater Web site at www.nationalgeographic.com/freshwater.
This dedicated Web site is part of our efforts to motivate people around the world to care about and conserve freshwater and the extraordinary diversity of life it sustains. All of us need to learn to use and manage water in ways that not only meet our needs but allow the rest of life on this planet to thrive too.
As National Geographic's newly appointed Freshwater Fellow and internationally renowned water authority Sandra Postel says, "Water is life. Water is finite. All the water on Earth now is all there ever was -- and ever will be. It's all about sharing it -- with nature and each other."
We're on a critical mission -- and we hope you'll join us.