World Water Day

World Water Day 2011

Water is a basic requirement for all life, yet water resources are facing increasing demands from, and competition among, users. In 1992, the UN General Assembly designated 22 March of each year as the World Day for Water
(quoted from the WWD website).

Water is more than a chemical substance contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms. Water has become a reason for conflicts and a controversial commodity, and yet, it is inevitable for every human being on the planet. The range of issues that are important when looking at water is diverse, and all fields reveal the global inequalities in access to clean water. One of these issues is the commercialisation of water, which on a global scale finds its manifestation in the bottled water industry: Bottled water is one way of getting access to clean water if there is no reliable central water supply or local source of water.
Edward Stanley from University College London looked at the bottled water business for a Geography dissertation project, for which I created some worldmapper maps visualising his data from that research on ‘Commodification and Mass Consumption – The Case for Bottled Water‘.
The topics that we mapped focus on the countries of origin of the globally operating bottled water companies and the bottled water consumption in the world. The first map shows the total bottled water consumption including a world population cartogram as a reference. In addition, the countries are shaded by their per capita consumption of bottled water (a worldmapper-style version of this map is shown at the bottom of this page):

Map I: Global Bottled Water Consumption (total and per capita)Cartogram / Map of the Global Bottled Water Consumption (total and per capita)(click for larger view)

The map shows a high concentration of bottled water consumption in the industrialised world, where one generally expects a good access to high-quality tap water – which does not prevent people from consuming bottled water there. The large Asian economies India and China have a very low per capita consumption of bottled water, which explains their relatively small size compared to the global population distribution. And as much as the poorest countries play little role in the global bottled water consumption, so are some of the driest regions of the planet can hardly be identified on the map – both places, where bottled water access and consumption may probably be needed most.
The dominance of the affluent countries increases even more when taking a closer look at where the global players of bottled water production have their origins (by showing the number of bottled water brands in each of the countries). The bottled water industry is a market dominated by European water brands:

Map II: Global Bottled Water BrandsCartogram / Map of the Global Bottled Water Producers and Brands(click for larger view)

This is the world as seen trough a bottle of water – and provides the base for a vivid and controversial debate about the necessity of bottled water especially in those countries that are the biggest consumers. The following video made by The Story of Stuff project made a great video feature, providing one example for this debate in ‘The Story of Bottled Water’:
These new maps complement the existing resources that we provide on the Worldmapper website, some of which some provide a stark contrast to this view of global water issues. Most worldmapper maps focus on water as a resource, while the above maps show one perspective on the growing importance of water as an economic commodity. This contributes to growing inequalities in access to safe water (or water at all), which are already high.
Here are some of the water-related maps from worldmapper that help to put the bottled water-maps into perspective. The first map shows all water used for domestic purposes, which includes drinking water, use for public services, commercial service establishments (such as hotels), and homes. When comparing this map to a population cartogram, it can be seen that high domestic water use is not related to the global population distribution, but matches much more the distribution of wealth as shown in the maps of global GDP output.

Map III: Domestic Water UseCartogram / Map of Domestic Water Use
(see this map at

The underlying inequalities that these issues contain can be understood even more when looking at those countries where many people do not have reliable access to safe water which is shown in the next map – this is where better water supplies are needed most:

Map IV: Poor WaterCartogram / Map of Poor Water Access
(see this map at

The location of global bottled water suppliers also hardly matches the global distribution of freshwater resources, which is shown in the next map. That map also shows that the resource water is not always there where most people are living:

Map V: Water ResourcesCartogram / Map of Water Resources
(see this map at

Water resources become threatened when the water use is too high to allow the internal freshwater resources to renew themselves. This is shown in the next map:

Map VI: Water DepletionCartogram / Map of Water Depletion
(see this map at

Water depletion – and indeed many water-related issues – are not only relevant on a global scale and in those countries with insufficient water resources. Water insecurity is a global phenomenon, and in most of the populated places on earth water resources are under some form of stress that poses a potential risk. How water insecurity and the global population related to each other has been shown in a map published on this website last year. The map, which looks at data that goes beyond nation level, and more information about this topic can be found here: Global Water Insecurity remapped.
The last map in this series of water-related maps is a modified version of Map I ,showing the total water consumption using the worldmapper colour scheme which allows a direct comparison of this map to the other maps shown on this page:

Map VII: Global Bottled Water ConsumptionCartogram / Map of the Global Bottled Water Consumption(click for larger view)

The content on this page has been created by Benjamin Hennig. Please contact me for further details on the terms of use.

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