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Global water industry - statistics & facts

The global water industry is one of the most important industries in the world. It not only provides drinking water and wastewater services to the global population but also supplies the industrial and agricultural sectors. The agriculture sector alone accounts for almost three-quarters of global water withdrawals. Pressure on the water industry is expected to increase in the coming years as climate change shrinks water availability worldwide and populations continue to grow.

Wastewater treatment

Wastewater treatment is the process of removing contaminants from wastewater (sewage) before returning the remaining water safely back into the environment. Wastewater treatment had the largest share of the water market in 2020, followed by industrial water treatment. The global water and wastewater treatment market had a value of 263 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 and is projected to reach nearly 500 billion U.S. dollars by 2028 due to the growing demand for clean water.

Despite the importance of wastewater treatment, just 56 percent of the world’s domestic wastewater flow was treated safely in 2020. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, less than 30 percent of the populations had safely treated wastewater flow. In comparison, wastewater treatment was far more common in Europe, Northern America, Australia, and New Zealand. Households in these regions were also far more likely to have access to sewer connections than on-site systems like septic tanks. Although the share of people worldwide with sewer connections and on-site systems was equal in 2020, those living in urban locations were twice as likely to have sewer connections than on-site systems. Rural areas still relied heavily on septic tanks and latrines.

Drinking water supplies

Much like wastewater treatment, access to safe drinking water is considerably higher in developed regions. Again, access to safely managed drinking water is lowest in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa. However, clean drinking water can often be taken for granted in developed countries. While those living in wealthy countries typically get clean and safe drinking water at the turn of a tap at home, it is not always free from contaminants. In the United States, high concentrations of PFAs (forever chemicals) have been found in water supplies in several major metropolitan areas. This has exposed millions of people to harmful chemicals, raising concerns about the country’s aging and underfunded water infrastructure.

Water companies

Water supply networks are typically operated by public water utility companies. These utilities are responsible for providing clean and safe drinking water and sewerage services to the general public. Some of the world’s leading water companies include American Water Works, Suez, and United Utilities. There is growing pressure on water and wastewater utilities worldwide, especially due to climate change. Thus, innovation and technological advances are vital within the sector. Water solutions like improved monitoring equipment are being produced by companies to detect leakages and reduce water consumption. Technologies like this will be vital in a world facing dire water scarcity.


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