All life needs water. It is the world's most precious resource, essential for producing the food we eat, growing the cotton we wear, and in many countries driving the energy we use. We're even made of it: the average human is 60 percent water.

Freshwater habitats-such as lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands-house an incredible proportion of the world's biodiversity: more than 10 percent of all known animals and about 50 percent of all known fish species.

Yet despite the massive role water plays for people and nature, it is a finite resource. Part of the problem is that only 3 percent of the world's water is freshwater, and less than one percent of that is freely available; the rest is frozen - caught up as glaciers, snowcaps and icebergs.

Our demands on freshwater are growing much faster than it pours from our taps. In March 2015, the United Nations revealed that in the next 15 years we face a 40 percent shortfall in water supplies globally as a result of increasing populations, urbanisation and increasing demands from industrial production. Climate change is altering patterns of weather and rainfall around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others.

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New Zealand is not immune either. Although we have a high average annual rainfall of 550 billion cubic metres - enough to fill Lake Taupo nine times over - we have a growing problem with water quality. According to 2013 Environment Ministry figures, more than 60 percent of monitored rivers in New Zealand are unsafe for swimming. Worse still, New Zealand's wetlands occupy just 10 percent of their original extent.

"We depend on water in many different and surprising ways. It's easy to forget as we sip our tea that the water we all depend on, whether virtually or directly, doesn't really come from the tap, the tank or the pipe. It comes from rainfall or rivers, lakes or aquifers. It comes from nature," says Dave Tickner, Head of Freshwater at WWF-UK.

"As the world is becoming more crowded and hungrier, it is also getting thirstier. Many rivers, lakes and aquifers are already alarmingly depleted or polluted. Habitats are being destroyed and aquatic wildlife is declining. The implications of these changes are stark and much broader than just our environment."

Without water, famine may become more prevalent as agricultural production declines. Poor quality drinking water can lead to a spread in waterborne diseases like typhoid and dysentery, and as water becomes increasingly scarce it can lead to conflicts between countries.

We must use water more efficiently. There's lots of ways to do this - simple things like turning off taps when brushing our teeth, taking showers instead of baths and fixing dripping taps can all make a big difference in the long term.

Businesses can do more too. By partnering with big water users to transform their business, like WWF has with fashion label H&M, we can directly influence the behaviour of industries that contribute greatly to our water footprint.

Globally, WWF is working to protect freshwater ecosystems and improve water access, efficiency, and allocation for people and the environment - an essential component of saving many of the world's most important places and species and reducing the impact of humanity's water footprint.

Locally, WWF funds community conservation groups working on freshwater issues in their own backyards, and in 2013 began working with the HSBC Water Programme and other partners on Reconnecting Northland - an ambitious conservation project at a landscape scale. You can read about these on the next page.

Protecting freshwater cannot happen unless we all work together. But if we do, a water-secure future is absolutely possible.

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