The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity

April 15, 2013 • Water, Daily Email Recap

The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity


Some 1.2 billion people-almost one fifth of the world-live in areas of physical water scarcity, while another 1.6 billion face what can be called economic water shortage.1 The situation is only expected to worsen as population growth, climate change, investment and management shortfalls, and inefficient use of existing resources restrict the amount of water available to people. It is estimated that by 2025 fully 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, with almost half of the world living in conditions of water stress.2

Water scarcity has several definitions. Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet demand; its symptoms include severe environmental degradation, declining groundwater, and unequal water distribution.3 Economic water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to meet the demand of people who do not have the financial means to use existing water sources; the symptoms in this case normally include poor infrastructure.4 Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity. (See Figure 1.)


To measure water scarcity, hydrologists compare the size of a population with the amount of available water. According to the United Nations, an area is said to be experiencing water stress when annual water supplies fall below 1,700 cubic meters per person.5 A region is said to face water scarcity when supplies fall below 1,000 cubic meters per person, and absolute water scarcity is when supplies drop below 500 cubic meters a year.6

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