Water and Energy

Water is fundamental to life and is the common denominator of all sustainable development challenges. We need water to produce food and we need water to produce energy. Improving access to freshwater is about enabling millions of girls to go to school instead of walking kilometres to fetch water. It is about improving maternal health, curbing child mortality and preserving the environment.

Design by Sana Sandler / Courtesy Argonne National Laboratory.

We need to better understand the complex interactions between resources that are closely interlinked, such as water, food and energy. And we must acknowledge that it is impossible to manage these resources sustainably if we treat them in isolation. Each mode of energy production has implications for the quantity and quality of water available. The choices made in one sector have repercussions on the other, for better and for worse. The World Water Development Report released today confirms, for example, that people who lack electricity are also those who lack water. This is no mere coincidence – water is required to produce energy, and energy is required to sanitize and convey water. Both are essential to human wellbeing and sustainable development.

CC alkhodarev/Flickr. Power plant at seal beach, USA.

Sustainability depends on our ability to understand all these connections and to develop more relevant policies that take an integrated approach to interconnected resources. The challenge is all the greater as the demand for water and energy is soaring, particularly in emerging economies, where agriculture, industry and cities are developing at a tremendous pace. We must find ways to ensure access to water and energy in sufficient quantity and quality, in a sustainable way.

Sustainability also requires better cooperation between all water stakeholders – policymakers, scientists and businesses, both public and private, who all too often ignore each other while in reality they depend on each other. The International Year of Water Cooperation in 2013 set important milestones. The initiative on sanitation of Mr Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, also calls for greater collective action for the better management of human waste and wastewater. Poor sanitation has devastating consequences, particularly for children, and the key to the problem includes energy.

There is enough water in the world for everyone. What we continue to lack is better governance and the collective courage to craft fair compromise solutions. These should be based on research results and reliable data. UNESCO will continue to commit its resources to this cause, in particular through our International Hydrological Programme, the Institute for Water Education in Delft, our centres and Chairs specialized in water, and the data from the World Water Assessment Programme, which are all ways of building capacity, carrying out research and sharing good practices.

China, May 2011: A teacher introduces ways to save water in daily life to children in a kindergarten in Yinchuan (northern China). A theme activity featuring water-saving was held here to mark the national urban water conservation week.

© Xinhua. A teacher introduces ways to save water in daily life to children in a kindergarten in Yinchuan (northern China)


Together, we can better integrate water and sanitation and the link between water and energy as positive levers for sustainable development.

     Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO,   
     on the occasion of World Water Day 2014    

     English ǀ Français ǀ Español ǀ Русский ǀ العربية ǀ 中文 (pdf)

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Water and Energy Report

UN World Water Development Report 2014

Demand for energy production will increase significantly in coming decades, especially in emerging economies. This may have a negative impact on water resources unless the management and coordination between both domains is dramatically improved, according to the report.

Download the report!

Did you know?

  • Energy is required for two components of water provision: pumping and treatment (before and after use).

  • In 2011, 768 million people did not use an improved source of drinking-water and 2.5 billion people did not use improved sanitation.

  • More than 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity, and roughly 2.6 billion use solid fuels (mainly biomass) for cooking.

  • Those who lack access to improved water sources and sanitation are often the same people who also lack access to energy.

  • Currently, 15%of global water withdrawal is used for energy production. This percentage is expected to increase by another 20% between now and 2035 as population growth, urbanization and changing consumption patterns drives up the demand for energy.

  • Roughly 75% of all industrial water withdrawals are used for energy production.

  • Hydroelectricity is the largest renewable source for power generation and its share in total electricity generation is expected to remain around 16% through 2035.

  • Although most of the water used for hydropower generation is returned to the river, there are important impacts on timing and quality of stream-flows, and part of the water evaporates.