Last modified on 10 August 2014, at 19:05

Drinking water/Scarcity

Following is about water security and water scarcity. Water security is the capacity of a population to ensure that they continue to have access to potable water. It is an increasing concern arising from population growth, drought, climate change, oscillation between El Niño and La Niña effects, urbanisation, salinity, upstream pollution, over-allocation of water licences by government agencies and over-utilisation of groundwater from artesian basin. Water security is rapidly declining in many parts of the world.[1]

According to the Pacific Institute "While regional impacts will vary, global climate change will potentially alter agricultural productivity, freshwater availability and quality, access to vital minerals, coastal and island flooding, and more. Among the consequences of these impacts will be challenges to political relationships, realignment of energy markets and regional economies, and threats to security".[2]

Water security is sometimes sought by implementing water desalination, pipelines between sources and users, water licences with different security levels and war.

Causes of water stressEdit

The concepts of water stress and water scarcity are relatively new. Fifty years ago, when there were fewer than half the current number of people on the planet, the common perception was that water was an infinite resource. People were not as wealthy then as they are today, consumed fewer calories and ate less meat, so less water was needed to produce their food. They required a third of the volume of water we presently take from rivers. Today, the competition for water resources is much more intense. This is because there are now nearly seven billion people on the planet, their consumption of water-thirsty meat and vegetables is rising, and there is increasing competition for water from industry, urbanisation and biofuel crops.

The total amount of available freshwater supply is also decreasing because of climate change, which has caused receding glaciers, reduced stream and river flow, and shrinking lakes. Many aquifers have been over-pumped and are not recharging quickly. Although the total fresh water supply is not used up, much has become polluted, salted, unsuitable or otherwise unavailable for drinking, industry and agriculture. To avoid a global water crisis, farmers will have to strive to increase productivity to meet growing demands for food, while industry and cities find ways to use water more efficiently.[3]


Economic water scarcity, meanwhile, is caused by a lack of investment in water or insufficient human capacity to satisfy the demand for water. Symptoms of economic water scarcity include a lack of infrastructure, with people often having to fetch water from rivers for domestic and agricultural uses. Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity; developing water infrastructure there could therefore help to reduce poverty. Critical conditions often arise for economically poor and politically weak communities living in already dry environments.[4] Some 2.8 billion people currently live in water-scarce areas, as defined by this method. Water allocation between competing users is increasingly determined by application of market-based pricing for either water licenses or actual water.[5]


A popular approach has been to rank countries according to the amount of annual water resources available per person. For example, according to the Falkenmark Water Stress Indicator[6], a country or region is said to experience "water stress" when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 cubic metres per person per year. At levels between 1,700 and 1,000 cubic metres per person per year, periodic or limited water shortages can be expected. When water supplies drop below 1,000 cubic metres per person per year, the country faces "water scarcity".[7] The Unitied Nations' FAO states that by 2025, 1.9 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under stress conditions.[8] Water stress is considered "set to become a permanent feature of British life".[9] The World Bank adds that climate change could profoundly alter future patterns of both water availability and use,thereby increasing levels of water stress and insecurity, both at the global scale and in sectors that depend on water.[10]

Another measurement, calculated as part of a wider assessment of water management in 2007[11], aimed to relate water availability to how the resource was actually used. It therefore divided water scarcity into ‘physical’ and ‘economic’. Physical water scarcity is where there is not enough water to meet all demands, including that needed for ecosystems to function effectively. Arid regions frequently suffer from physical water scarcity. It also occurs where water seems abundant but where resources are over-committed, such as when there is over-development of hydraulic infrastructure for irrigation. Symptoms of physical water scarcity include environmental degradation and declining groundwater.

Water crisesEdit

A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region's demand.[12] The United Nations and other world organizations consider a variety of regions to have water crises such that it is a global concern.[13][14] Other organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization, argue that there is no water crises in such places, but that steps must still be taken to avoid one.[15]


There are several principal manifestations of the water crisis.

w:Waterborne diseases and the absence of sanitary domestic water are one of the leading causes of death worldwide. For children under age five, waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death. At any given time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases.[19] According to the World Bank, 88 percent of all waterborne diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.[20]

Water is the underlying tenuous balance of safe water supply, but controllable factors such as the management and distribution of the water supply itself contribute to further scarcity.

A 2006 United Nations report focuses on issues of governance as the core of the water crisis, saying "There is enough water for everyone" and "Water insufficiency is often due to mismanagement, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of investment in both human capacity and physical infrastructure".[21] Official data also shows a clear correlation between access to safe water and GDP per capita.[22]

It has also been claimed, primarily by economists, that the water situation has occurred because of a lack of property rights, government regulations and subsidies in the water sector, causing prices to be too low and consumption too high.[23][24][25]

Vegetation and wildlife are fundamentally dependent upon adequate freshwater resources. marshes, bogs and riparians are more obviously dependent upon sustainable water supply, but forests and other upland ecosystems are equally at risk of significant productivity changes as water availability is diminished. In the case of wetlands, considerable area has been simply taken from wildlife use to feed and house the expanding human population. But other areas have suffered reduced productivity from gradual diminishing of freshwater inflow, as upstream sources are diverted for human use. In seven states of the U.S. over 80 percent of all historic wetlands were filled by the 1980s, when Congress acted to create a “no net loss” of wetlands.

In Europe extensive loss of wetlands has also occurred with resulting loss of biodiversity. For example many bogs in Scotland have been developed or diminished through human population expansion. One example is the Portlethen Moss in Aberdeenshire.

On Madagascar’s highland plateau, a massive transformation occurred that eliminated virtually all the heavily forested vegetation in the period 1970 to 2000. The slash and burn agriculture eliminated about ten percent of the total country’s native biomass and converted it to a barren wasteland. These effects were from overpopulation and the necessity to feed poor indigenous peoples, but the adverse effects included widespread gully erosion that in turn produced heavily silted rivers that “run red” decades after the deforestation. This eliminated a large amount of usable fresh water and also destroyed much of the riverine ecosystems of several large west-flowing rivers. Several fish species have been driven to the edge of extinction and some, such as the disturbed Tokios coral reef formations in the Indian Ocean, are effectively lost.

In October 2008, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman and former chief executive of Nestlé, warned that the production of biofuels will further deplete the world's water supply.

Overview of regions suffering crisis impactsEdit

Two abandoned ships in the former Aral Sea, near Aral Kazakhstan.

There are many other countries of the world that are severely impacted with regard to human health and inadequate drinking water. The following is a partial list of some of the countries with significant populations (numerical population of affected population listed) whose only consumption is of contaminated water:[26]

Several world maps showing various aspects of the problem can be found in this graph article.[27]

According to the California Department of Resources, if more supplies aren’t found by 2020, the region will face a shortfall nearly as great as the amount consumed today. Los Angeles is a coastal desert able to support at most 1 million people on its own water; the Los Angeles basin now is the core of a megacity that spans 220 miles (350 km) from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. The region’s population is expected to reach 41 million by 2020, up from 28 million in 2009. The population of California continues to grow by more than two million a year and is expected to reach 75 million in 2030, up from 49 million in 2009. But water shortage is likely to surface well before then.[28]

Water deficits, which are already spurring heavy grain imports in numerous smaller countries, may soon do the same in larger countries, such as China and India.[29] The water tables are falling in scores of countries (including Northern China, the US, and India) due to widespread overpumping using powerful diesel and electric pumps. Other countries affected include Pakistan, Iran, and Mexico. This will eventually lead to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest. Even with the overpumping of its aquifers, China is developing a grain deficit. When this happens, it will almost certainly drive grain prices upward. Most of the 3 billion people projected to be added worldwide by mid-century will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages. Unless population growth can be slowed quickly it is feared that there may not be a practical non-violent or humane solution to the emerging world water shortage.[30][31][32]

After China and India, there is a second tier of smaller countries with large water deficits — Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan. Four of these already import a large share of their grain. But with a population expanding by 4 million a year, it will also likely soon turn to the world market for grain.[33]

According to a UN climate report, the Himalayan glaciers that are the sources of Asia's biggest rivers - Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Yellow - could disappear by 2035 as temperatures rise.[34] It was later revealed that the source used by the UN climate report actually stated 2350, not 2035.[35] Approximately 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of the Himalayan rivers.[36] India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar could experience floods followed by droughts in coming decades. In India alone, the Ganges provides water for drinking and farming for more than 500 million people.[37][38][39] The west coast of North America, which gets much of its water from glaciers in mountain ranges such as the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, also would be affected.[40][41]

International regionsEdit

Further information: Drinking water/Scarcity/Africa, Drinking water/Scarcity/Australia, and Drinking water/Scarcity/Americas

During history there has been much conflict over use of water from rivers such as the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.[42] It impacts regions, states and countries. Tensions exist between upstream and downstream users of water within individual jurisdictions.[43]

Based on the map published by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR),[44] the countries and regions suffering most water stress are North Africa, the Middle East,[45] India, Central Asia, China, Chile, South Africa and Australia. Water scarcity is also increasing in South Asia.[46]

More than 50 countries on five continents are said to be at risk of conflict over water.[47]

Turkey's Southeastern Anatolia Project (Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi, or GAP) on the Euphrates has potentially serious consequences for water supplies in Syria and Iraq.[42].

See alsoEdit


  1. Retrieved 2009-01-19
  3. Chartres, C. and Varma, S. Out of water. From Abundance to Scarcity and How to Solve the World’s Water Problems FT Press (USA), 2010
  4. "Learn More: Water Scarcity". w:Columbia Water Center. Retrieved 2009-09-11. 
  5. w:Patrick Webb and Maria Iskandarani, Water Insecurity and the Poor: Issues and Research Needs., Center for Development Research, Discussion Papers on Development Policy No. 2, Bonn, October 1998
  6. Falkenmark and Lindh 1976, quoted in UNEP/WMO. "Climate Change 2001: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability". w:UNEP. Retrieved 2009-02-03. 
  7. Samuel T. L. Larsen. "Lack of Freshwater Throughout the World". w:Evergreen State College. Retrieved 2009-02-01. 
  8. FAO Hot issues: Water scarcity
  9. Vanessa Taylor and Frank Trentmann (July 2008). "Hosepipes, history and a sustainable future" (in English). History & Policy. w:United Kingdom: History & Policy. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  10. The World Bank, 2009 "Water and Climate Change: Understanding the Risks and Making Climate-Smart Investment Decisions". pp. 21–24. Retrieved 2011-24-10. 
  11. Molden, D. (Ed). Water for food, Water for life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. Earthscan/IWMI, 2007.
  12. Freshwater: lifeblood of the planet[dead link]
  13. "United Nations statement on water crisis". 2006-02-20. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  14. UN World Summit on Sustainable Development addresses the water crisis[dead link]
  15. "No global water crisis - but may developing countries will face water scarcity", 12 March 2003
  16. Progress in Drinking-water and Sanitation: special focus on sanitation. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. July 17, 2008. p. 25. 
  17. "Updated Numbers: WHO-UNICEF JMP Report 2008". Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  18. "Water is Life - Groundwater drawdown". Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  19. w:WaterPartners International: Learn about the Water Crisis
  20. "All About: Water and Health". CNN. December 18, 2007. 
  21. Water, a shared responsibility. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2, 2006
  22. "Public Services""]. Gapminder video. 
  23. w:Fredrik Segerfeldt (2005), "Private Water Saves Lives", Financial Times 25 August
  24. David Zetland, "Running Out of Water"
  25. David Zetland, "Water Crisis"
  27. "Looming water crisis simply a management problem" by [[w:Jonathan Chenoweth|]], [[w:New Scientist|]] 28 Aug., 2008, pp. 28-32.
  28. "U.S. Water Supply". Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  29. Jul 21, 2006 (2006-07-21). "India grows a grain crisis". Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  30. "Water Scarcity Crossing National Borders". 2006-09-27. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  31. Water Shortages May Cause Food Shortages
  32. Yemen's Capital Facing Water Shortage Due to Rapid Increase in Population[dead link]
  33. "The Food Bubble Economy". 2002-04-12. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  34. "Vanishing Himalayan Glaciers Threaten a Billion". 2007-06-05. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  35. Bagla, Pallava (December 5, 2009). "Himalayan glaciers melting deadline 'a mistake'". BBC. Retrieved 2009-12-12. 
  36. Big melt threatens millions, says UN[dead link]
  37. "Ganges, Indus may not survive: climatologists". 2004-12-31. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  38. (2007-07-24). "Glaciers melting at alarming speed". Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  39. Singh, Navin (2004-11-10). "Himalaya glaciers melt unnoticed". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  40. "Glaciers Are Melting Faster Than Expected, UN Reports". 2008-03-18. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
  41. Water shortage worst in decades, official says, Los Angeles Times
  42. a b Retrieved 2009-01-19
  43. Retrieved 2009-01-19
  44. Retrieved 2009-01-19
  45. Jameel M. Zayed, No Peace Without Water – The Role of Hydropolitics in the Israel-Palestine Conflict“no-peace-without-water”-–-the-role-of-hydropolitics-in-the-israel-palestine-conflict
  46. w:World Bank Climate Change Water: South Asia’s Lifeline at Risk, w:World Bank Washington D.C
  47. Retrieved 2009-01-19

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit