What Is Causing Global Water Stress & Scarcity?

Safe water, sanitation and hygiene is one of the most basic requirements we need to ensure our health and wellbeing, but even now in the 21st century billions of people all over the world still struggle to access such services… and this number looks set to grow unless action is taken now.


Figures from the United Nations show that positive progress has been made as a result of investments in infrastructure and facilities, as well as the protection and restoration of water-based ecosystems, hygiene education and water efficiency improvements.


For example, between 2015 and 2022, the proportion of the global population with access to freshwater resources rose from 69 per cent to 73 per cent.


However, water availability is now becoming less predictable because of climate change, with droughts in some parts of the world making scarcity issues worse and having a big impact on both health and productivity.


Demand for water is now outpacing population growth and half the world’s population is already facing severe water scarcity concerns for at least one month out of the year… and this is expected to climb in line with global temperature increases, driven by the climate crisis.


The Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas


New data from the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, compiled by the Water Research Institute (WRI), shows that 25 countries now face extremely high water stress each year, using up nearly all their available water supply regularly.


Because water is so important for agriculture, farming, energy generation, human health, delivering equitable societies and hitting climate targets, this level of water stress puts a huge amount of 21st century life in serious jeopardy.


There are all sorts of factors now driving water stress, including population growth, climate change, economic development, poor water management and so on, which means that the solutions to the problem will need to be multifaceted and location specific.


Water stress itself is the ratio of water demand to renewable supply, measuring the competition that exists over local water resources. Countries facing extreme water stress are using at least 80 per cent of their available supply, while high water stress means they’re using 40 per cent.


These issues will only continue to get worse if intervention measures aren’t put in place, such as improved water governance and more investment in infrastructure. Those regions with rapidly growing populations and economies look set to be particularly affected in this regard.


Currently, the six most water-stressed countries have been identified as Bahrain, Cyprus, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Qatar. In these instances, water stress is largely related to low supply, coupled with pressure from agricultural, industrial and domestic use.


In the Middle East and North Africa, 83 per cent of the population is now exposed to extremely high water stress, while in South Asia 74 per cent of the population faces similar issues.


What does the future hold?


The WRI predicts that an additional one billion people will be living with extremely high water stress by the year 2050, even if global temperature increases are limited to 1.3 degrees C to 2.4 degrees C by 2100, which is itself an optimistic scenario.


It’s expected that water demand around the world will rise by 20-25 per cent come 2050, with the number of watersheds hit by annual variability and/or less predictable water supplies predicted to climb by 19 per cent.


For the Middle East and North Africa, the worst affected region in terms of water, this means that 100 per cent of the population will live with extremely high water stress by 2050, creating problems for people, industry and the political landscape, increasing the risk of water wars between competing regions.


However, in some parts of the world, water demand has levelled out, such as in Europe and North America, where investment in more efficient technologies and ways of working have helped to drive down in-country water use.


What is important to bear in mind regardless is that water use and dependencies aren’t limited to within one country and international trade will also see water stress issues increase in low and lower-middle income countries.


The benefits of improving water management


What is interesting to note is that water stress and scarcity doesn’t actually have to result in a water crisis.


The WRI points to the likes of Las Vegas and Singapore as shining examples of what can be achieved if water management is prioritised, with societies and economies able to thrive even when facing water scarcity by introducing measures like desalination, wastewater treatment and reuse, and getting rid of water-intensive grass.


Other strategies that countries can consider include integrated water resource management, nature-based solutions, green infrastructure and incentivising water efficiency in agriculture.


Banks and other lenders, meanwhile, could look into the likes of debt for nature swaps, strategic debt relief programmes and so on in return for committed investments in resilient infrastructure and biodiversity, such as wetland conservation and mangrove restoration.


What part do businesses have to play?


Everyone has their own individual roles in reducing pressure on freshwater resources in their local communities, but businesses can make a significant impact both locally and elsewhere by reviewing their water consumption habits across their entire supply chain.


There are various ways in which you can drive down your water usage but a good first step to take is to have a water audit carried out. This will reveal how and where you’re using water across your site so you can identify weak and vulnerable areas over time, allowing you to bring in the most appropriate water-saving solutions over time.


If you’d like to find out more about these kinds of services and how you could start saving water as a business right now, get in touch with the SwitchWaterSupplier.com team today to see how we can help.