Water Scarcity

Background Information

Water covers 70% of our planet, and it is easy to think that it will always be plentiful. However, freshwater—the stuff we drink, bathe in, irrigate our farm fields with—is incredibly rare. Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water, and two-thirds of that is tucked away in frozen glaciers or otherwise unavailable for our use.

As a result, some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Inadequate sanitation is also a problem for 2.4 billion people—they are exposed to diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, and other water-borne illnesses. Two million people, mostly children, die each year from diarrheal diseases alone.

Many of the water systems that keep ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population have become stressed. Rivers, lakes and aquifers are drying up or becoming too polluted to use. More than half the world’s wetlands have disappeared. Agriculture consumes more water than any other source and wastes much of that through inefficiencies. Climate change is altering patterns of weather and water around the world, causing shortages and droughts in some areas and floods in others.

At the current consumption rate, this situation will only get worse. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages. And ecosystems around the world will suffer even more.

Water scarcity

Water scarcity is the lack of fresh water resources to meet water demand. It affects every continent and was listed in 2015 by the World Economic Forum as the largest global risk in terms of potential impact over the next decade. It is manifested by partial or no satisfaction of expressed demand, economic competition for water quantity or quality, disputes between users, irreversible depletion of groundwater, and negative impacts on the environment. One-thirds of the global population (2 billion people) live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least 1 month of the year. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round.[3] Half of the world’s largest cities experience water scarcity.

The essence of global water scarcity is the geographic and temporal mismatch between freshwater demand and availability. The increasing world population, improving living standards, changing consumption patterns, and expansion of irrigated agriculture are the main driving forces for the rising global demand for water. Climate change, such as altered weather-patterns (including droughts or floods), deforestation, increased pollution, green house gases, and wasteful use of water can cause insufficient supply. At the global level and on an annual basis, enough freshwater is available to meet such demand, but spatial and temporal variations of water demand and availability are large, leading to (physical) water scarcity in several parts of the world during specific times of the year. All causes of water scarcity are related to human interference with the water cycle.

Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region.

It already affects every continent and around 2.8 billion people around the world at least one month out of every year.

More than 1.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water.

Water scarcity involves water stress, water shortage or deficits, and water crisis.

While the concept of water stress is relatively new, it is the difficulty of obtaining sources of fresh water for use during a period of time and may result in further depletion and deterioration of available water resources.Water shortages may be caused by climate change, such as altered weather patterns including droughts or floods, increased pollution, and increased human demand and overuse of water.

A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region’s demand.

Water scarcity is being driven by two converging phenomena: growing freshwater use and depletion of usable freshwater resources.

Water scarcity can be a result of two mechanisms: physical (absolute) water scarcity and economic water scarcity, where physical water scarcity is a result of inadequate natural water resources to supply a region’s demand, and economic water scarcity is a result of poor management of the sufficient available water resources.