Water Industry News

The Effects Of Refugee Migration On Water Stress

Despite the fact that there is a lot of water to be found around the world, the reality is that only around three per cent or so of this is potable water, able to be used for drinking, washing, irrigation and so on. Furthermore, two-thirds of this three per cent can only be found in glaciers, or is otherwise unavailable for use.


This in itself is bad enough but when you factor in climate change, agriculture, population growth, pollution, water mismanagement and more frequent extreme weather events, you can perhaps understand why climate experts the world over are starting to become increasingly concerned about the challenges posed by water stress and scarcity.


Currently, 1.1 billion people or thereabouts do not have access to water around the world, while over two billion experience water scarcity for at least one month out of the year.


Human health aside, water shortages also represent a risk to local wildlife and biodiversity, with wetlands now disappearing and rivers, lakes and aquifers drying up, which is putting even more pressure on ecosystems around the world.


Another issue that is only now being investigated but one that could increasingly cause problems in the future is that of conflict-related migration.


Millions of those who have been displaced because of war and conflict in their home countries have been forced to seek refuge elsewhere, countries that are already experiencing water stress and scarcity… and because of this influx of people, local water security conversations have been affected by their perceived impact on water availability.


New research published in the Nature Communications journal has been looking into how refugee migrations affect water stress in host countries through the food demand displaced by refugees and the water required for food production.


Between 2005 and 2016, the water footprint of refugee displacement rose by almost 75 per cent around the world. Although in the majority of countries the effects were minimal, there are potentially severe implications in those nations that are already facing significant water stress. For example, in Jordan, refugees may have contributed up to 75 percentage points to water stress.


The conclusion was ultimately drawn that water stress associated with increased food consumption isn’t a major issue in the vast majority of host countries. And, in fact, this is an important finding because of increasing far-right rhetoric that presents refugees and migrants as drains on the resources of destination countries.


However, extra water demand linked to refugee food consumption was found to have the potential to destabilise an overextended water sector in some specific countries.


The researchers concluded that there is now both a pressing need and a moral imperative for higher-income nations not facing water stress issues to support resettlement efforts and make increased resettlement pledges to help the 1.44 million refugees of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees plan, with just three per cent currently successfully relocated (as of 2021).


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